Smart Growth? Or Not So Bright Idea?

Smart GrowthHennipenVillageAlley-R Harrison.jpg

Smart Growth and New Urbanism have increasingly merged into a loosely aligned set of ideas. The benefits of this high-density housing viewpoint are fast becoming a ‘given’ to planners and city governments, but studies that promote the advantages often omit the obvious disadvantages. Here are some downsides that show a much different story:

Smart Growth or Dumb Idea?

One goal of Smart Growth is to move our society away from dependence on cars, and many Smart Growth plans intentionally make it difficult to drive through the neighborhood, making walking more inviting. Smart Growth planners advocate short blocks in a grid pattern to distribute traffic (vehicular and pedestrian) evenly within a development. These short blocks produce a multitude of 4-way intersections, and add a multitude of those trendy “turnabouts,” to make a bland site plan look more interesting.

But all of this together destroys “flow”. On the other hand, in a grid planned neighborhood you might drive a straight line with an occasional turn, giving the impression of a much shorter drive than a curved subdivision. But with short blocks, a driver must stop completely, pause, then when safe accelerate through the intersection onto the next intersection, then repeat… multiple times. This scenario uses a tremendous amount of energy; the car eats gas.

To understand this point clearly, go out and try to push a modern car. All the safety and convenience features, even in the most basic car sold today, add weight. Even a Toyota Prius is just under 3,000 lbs. While a given model may get great mileage the bulk of energy consumed is in getting the thing moving from a full stop. Should a vehicle maintain a constant flow (at any speed), the energy usage plummets, compared to stop-and-go traffic patterns that intentionally force conflicts.

To make matters worse, the majority of vehicular vs. pedestrian accidents occur at intersections. Smart Growth designs have many more intersections than conventional suburban plans . Even more dangerous, Smart Growth walkways are placed close to the where the cars turns. Check out Traffic by Vanderbilt for an understanding of the psychology of driving.

One may argue that cars will become more efficient. So what? This stop and go scenario also consumes time.

Rooting Out Tree Issues

Nobody can argue against the character of a tree-lined street… no one, that is, except the city Public Works department that must maintain structures being destroyed by trees growing in close confines to concrete walks and curbs. Smart Growth/New Urbanist compact front yard spaces are typically 10 feet or less. This simply cannot provide for enough room for tree growth when there is a 4’ wide walk typically a few feet away from the curb, the area where street trees grow. Without trees to define the street, these solutions have very little organic life to offset the vast volume of paving in front of each porch.

Now and in the near future there will be a new era of solar heat and power, most of which will be mounted on the roofs of homes. Guess what blocks the sun's energy? Yep – street trees! High density means that the proximity of trees to roofs will deter the sun’s energy from reaching those solar panels.

Get Real About Presentations, Porches and People

Typically, when a high-density development is proposed, the renderings show large green common areas bounded by homes with grand porches. The presentations usually show only a few cars parked along the street, and plenty of residents enjoying the spaces lined by mature trees that have had about 20 years of growth. This misrepresentation helps to win over councils, planning commissions and concerned neighbors. What is not shown in the presentations for approvals are claustrophobic, intense areas, such as the typical street most residents will live on, or perhaps the views down the alleys.

There may be some neighborhoods that are built as represented, but architectural and land planning consultants are likely to stretch the truth more than a wee bit to gain approvals. Where can we see the original presentation images compared to what actually gets built?

Those inviting large porches where neighbors sit and gossip in the presentation: Do they ultimately end up as stoops hardly large enough to fit a standing person? Those large mature trees: Are they actually just seedlings? Does the real streetscape have people walking on the typically narrow 4 foot wide walkways? How many people are walking along the roadway instead? Are the streets lined with just a few cars, as the renderings show, or are they packed with unsightly vehicles, while the nice cars are likely stored in the rear garage?

The Evolution of Pavement

Suburbs have changed during the last few decades. For example, in Minnesota thirty years ago an average suburban lot would have been 15,000 square feet and 90 to 100 feet wide. Today, 8,000 square feet and 70 feet wide would be more typical. In a conventional suburban plan, there weren’t any alleys, and the front loaded driveways were appropriately tapered. There were few side streets. The lots might have been 20% larger than in a Smart Growth high density plan, but the street layout might have had about 30% less linear feet of street compared to a Smart Growth grid layout. In the south, where the typical suburban lot is about the same size as that high density lot, the numbers favor the conventional layout even more; the total paved surface area could be 50% or more lower. So, the Smart Growth/New Urban plans place a greater burden on the tax payers to municipally maintain (more) paved surfaces.

A Final Consolation...

In reality, fire and police departments, as well as traffic engineers, review suburban development plans. And often the original high-density narrow street proposal doesn’t make it all the way to approvals. With or without the popularity of Smart Growth and New Urbanism, a much wider paved section or a compromised width is often the ultimate result.

Rick Harrison is President of Rick Harrison Site Design Studio and author of Prefurbia: Reinventing The Suburbs From Disdainable To Sustainable. His websites are rhsdplanning and prefurbia.com.



















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Crime

While not a particular problem in most suburbs yet, grid based streets and a preference for public space over private space facilitates crime to a greater degree than the alternatives.

My particular problem with new urbanism and smart growth, however, has little to do with crime or even many of the issues brought up in the original article.

It has more to do with ideology and forced central planning. There is too often, imho, planning that leaves no alternatives once a jurisdiction has bought into smart growth.

And most of the new urbanist communities that I have seen offer little housing at workforce pricing levels. With America about to downsize its housing expectations financially, it will be interesting to see if this changes.

Disagreeing Points

Gridded street have nothing to do with crime. Neither does density. New York City has the same crime rate as Boise, ID. One is extremely more dense than the other.

Street network has nothing to do with "breeding" crime, although it has a lot to do with responding to or deterring certain crimes from occurring.

All told, socio-economic status of neighborhoods is the biggest indicator of criminal activity. No matter how a neighborhood is designed, this will be the ultimate deciding factor.

    And most of the new urbanist communities that I have seen offer little housing at workforce pricing levels. With America about to downsize its housing expectations financially, it will be interesting to see if this changes.

I feel this is more of a testament to supply and demand. People want these types of neighborhoods. More demand for NU communities means higher prices, and while "workforce" housing (unfortunately, the only way to word low-income housing) is always an issue - the developers who put in the homes are of course going to want to get the most for their money.

Over the years we've been told that people "prefer" sprawl because they live in it. This is not true, it is really the only choice between living in a degraded city, an expensive traditional neighborhood, or living in auto-dependent sprawl.

Assuming everything in the suburbs was "new urbanism" - the costs of the homes would be substantially less. I'd argue that any extra cost of NU communities has more to do with architects needing to design them out because the contemporary home builders and developers don't understand that type of architectural typology. And there's no reason they shouldn't - they have contemporary sprawl down to a science - no architects needed.

thanks for agreeing

"Street network has nothing to do with "breeding" crime, although it has a lot to do with responding to or deterring certain crimes from occurring."

Thank you for agreeing that street patterns can facilitate crime.

"Over the years we've been told that people 'prefer' sprawl because they live in it. This is not true, it is really the only choice between living in a degraded city, an expensive traditional neighborhood, or living in auto-dependent sprawl."

That is an interesting take on marketing and supply and demand. People may have really wanted smart growth and new urbaninst communities, but unsavvy marketeers decided not to give them what they wanted. Those large and well funded developers ignored their market research and crammed what they wanted to do down the throats of buyers because they liked building sprawl.

It's Policy

"That is an interesting take on marketing and supply and demand. People may have really wanted smart growth and new urbaninst communities, but unsavvy marketeers decided not to give them what they wanted. Those large and well funded developers ignored their market research and crammed what they wanted to do down the throats of buyers because they liked building sprawl."

In a way, that's sort of what happened. It's important to look at history here. After WWII, increased housing demand necessitated a significant increase in the supply of cheap, affordable housing. The Levittowns were built and that same model of development has been replicated thousands of times since. The developers of Levittown sold the idea that the American dream was one of their homes in a quiet suburban neighborhood with a car or two in the driveway. The ideal of a perfect suburban life spread to become the desire of every American family and has shaped our transportation and urban policy ever since. For the last 50 years, development in the U.S. has been overwhelmingly centered around the automobile. And at least a couple generations now have grown up being told that this the ideal way of living (ie. suburbs are good and safe, cities are bad and crime-ridden).

This sort of sprawl has had significant, deferred costs that are now finally being realized. Our national transportation and urban policy has significantly contributed to environmental, social, and even national security problems (ie. our dependence on oil).

If our policy had been more oriented toward smart growth and creating traditional communities, America's suburbs would look much different and would be much more livable.

I found Mr. Harrison's article against smart growth and new urbanism very unconvincing, full of weak and for the most part, inconsequential arguments. He makes no attempt to truly define or distinguish new urbanism and smart growth. Rather he lumps them together as a single straw man and then tears it down. While they are closely related, they are two completely different concepts. True, neither is always done right, so there are probably a few bad examples to point to. But when properly implemented, both can contribute to the creation of wonderful places to work and live.

Take smart growth. One only has to look at Arlington, Virginia to know that when done right, it can be a resounding success. I live in Arlington and none of Mr. Harrison's arguments are much of a problem here. Arlington saw the value of mass transit and smart growth in the 1960s, at a time when the federal government was attempting to force feed highways down its throat. Instead, Arlington fought back and was able to develop in a way that has become a model of smart growth success. Driving here is quite easy (there is less automobile traffic today than in the 1970s) and there are numerous alternative transportation options such as bike paths, buses, and metrorail. For an in-depth look at Arlington's success, I recommend watching the documentary produced by the county, on the history of its smart growth. It can be found at http://www.arlingtonva.us/Departments/AVN/programs/page69227.aspx

Suburbs and central planning

It's ironic that you resist smart growth design principles because of its central planning tendencies. The alternative growth model, suburban sprawl, severely restricts what a homeowner, developer, or businessman may build or do on his parcel. Just try subdividing a lot or building a home targeted at a slightly lower income in your typical suburb and see how far you get. And heaven forbid you try to build a garden apartment or a corner store in a single-family subdivision! Given how the moden suburbs restrict individual choice, its absurd to say that they reflect the outcome of a "free market". The worst part is that you don't even get the efficiency gains of central planning with suburban sprawl, as it burns through land at an alarming rate and doesn't even pay for itself at low densities!

It's not so much that developers like sprawl, and they hardly desire to cram it down the throats of buyers. Like any entrepreneur, they'll maximize their profit within the legal and regulatory framework they operate in. Unfortunately, in 99% of municipalities, zoning law dictates sprawl as the only option.

Replies to comments...

First - the comment implying that I must have never planned anything - that person obviously did not bother to visit my web site. I have a 41 year history in the design end of land planning with several areas of overlap: 2 1/2 decades in designing developments, a year as a builder/developer, a decade in land surveying and civil engineering, and over 3 decades in the design, marketing, coding and development of software specific to the fields of Civil Engineering, Land Surveying, GIS, and Precision Mapping. This new era of design we coined Prefurbia has been a two decade journey into the creation of new methods that redefine how we can design neighborhoods and cities. Experience? In just the past two decades I have designed over 650 neighborhoods in 46 States and 12 Countries with 100% approval record for the neighborhoods we design and present. Without a single charette. I am speaking this year at several conferences which at most I'm keynote along with follow up workshops for Sustainable Design sponsored by APA, AIA, and various "Green" organizations - again we update our website with dates. Many of our neighborhoods are award winning and about 30% are lower income - most without tax dollar help. City planning? How about designing the largest development in this country, the Ranch at White Hills, the 47 square mile region which is essentially the southern expansion of the Las Vegas, or the City of Madrid in Columbia, the first town in that country that provides security and pedestrian ways for it's 30,000 inhabitants... of course there is much more if only one would take the time to visit our web site. www.rhsdplanning.com, www.prefurbia.com and www.performanceplanningsystem.com

The Prius does not get better mileage in the city because of "Brake Regeneration" but because at highway cruise it runs on gas only (we have a Toyota Hybrid), where in the city it runs on gas and electric. To suggest that brake regeneration contributes the difference would be like implying that a NY Taxi using a Chevy Volt (I have one ordered) would have limitless range. I used a Prius for weight because it's popular and is easily identified. It really does not matter if we are using a 10 MPG Hummer or a 200 MPG Aptera - energy waste is waste - time waste, well there are no magic shortcuts or technologies for that!

Street Trees - Last year I sold a home at 2620 Huntington Ave S - St Louis Park, Minnesota - use Mapquest and turn on Image - My home is 90% Covered by a elm street tree and the neighbor's back yard elm - their home is 100% blocked by that back yard elm and their front yard elm. The lots are 60' wide and 140' deep. My home was 50' wide and 50' deep, the neighbors home even larger. The distance from front of the home to the elm tree was 35'. Work the numbers - Smart Growth would be far worse for blocking the sun. Yes winter trees might allow sun, but for electric power which will be most prevalent in the future, that is what matters most - electricity blocked in winter. As far as damage from street trees - I regularly am asked to speak and teach at street tree conferences because of damage and other problems caused by them- additionally our planning does not place the trees in a rigid pattern reducing the problems associated with traditional street tree placement.

If you mapquested my old address you may have noticed that it was an old gridded subdivision as was mentioned by the commentors using similar examples - but it's not a "Smart Growth" model as the blocks are far too long. It is the unfronted side streets that make "Smart Growth" have more linear feet of street than a well designed suburban development - the problem is that most suburban developments are not designed well. Those that had a professional experienced planner involved are likely to have efficiant streets. However, most development is planned by a land surveyor or civil engineer, which is unfortunately the norm. Back to these grid neighborhoods with the abundant 4 way intersections with dominant through streets, yes it is true you can go quickly, but that means trusting that no one will blow through a four way intersection. We discovered early on when we first moved to St. Louis Park after being involved in TWO accidents (with minor injuries) involving drivers who ignored stop signs. We now slow down at every intersection (then accelerate)and have not had an accident in the past decade. Smart Growth would significantly increase the number of 4-way intersections compared to our neighborhood.

This is clearly demonstrated should you visit our web site - www.rhsdplanning.com - you should check out both San Cristobal Village (in Santa Fe) and Heritage Village, in Freeport Bahamas on our portfolio... both of these began as approved Smart Growth New Urban Models, and then approved as replanned using methods of Prefurbia. San Cristobal maintained ALL of the requirements of New Urbanism while reducing the linear feet of street by 9 miles, reduced the number of intersections from 350 to 150, gained 300 units with an average lot size if 1000 square feet greater - yet had better connectivity and 250% more open space. Numbers? Remember we develop software for civil engineering and land surveying - consider that 66 of our Military's Air Bases use software I designed because of the extreme accuracy - also the Navy uses our topography technology to map the ocean's floor. We have the worlds first software with a "Green" feature that automatically determines impervious surface ratio's without any extra effort on the planner! In the 31 years I've been in the software business, we had never been called into litigation because of software induced errors - that itself should be proof of the accuracy and reliability of our systems.

For the person who claimed that all the New Urban planners he knew always used 5 or 6 foot wide walks - great! I've been to Middleton Hills, Kentlands, I'On, Celebration and those walks were quite narrow - I've also been to well over 100 other TND based neighborhoods in my travels - I've never seen one with wide walks - so I'm happy there are some who do this on a regular basis. I'm also not against rear loaded housing as you would have found if you would have actually visited our web site!

Finally - the comments about mis-representing plans - my background in the first six years of planning was the production not just of the plan, but the material to get approvals... that material always showed more "greenness" and openness than would actually be built. Two decades ago when I got back into planning I wanted to only show what was actually going to be built (see the examples on our web that show the initial plans morphing into the built finished developments). Again I've visited well over 100 developments based upon forms of Smart Growth in my travels on the ground and at low level in the air (I have 4500 logged hours as pilot in command), and it's astonishing how many of these neighborhoods lack the front porch or other elements that must have been represented at the aproval process to justify the density - that was just a point I was making, and in someways it is a problem with all forms of planning where the developer and builders often do not perform as intended... that was the point I was trying to make.

Anyhow I do appreciate the comments and hope these help answer your concerns - Please visit my web site to see if we are speaking in your area - I look forward to meeting you.

"... that person obviously

"... that person obviously did not bother to visit my web site. I have a 41 year history in the design end of land planning..."

~No, of course not! What difference should your website make? An idea should stand or fall on its own merits. If you're wrong about something, do you think you should get credit for having a lot of experience being wrong? Repeating a mistake for years is far worse than making a mistake for the first time, isn't it?

When I saw Rick's response today, I originally planned to do a point-by-point response, but I simply don't have that much time on my hands. Maybe some other time.

I concur with some of your

I concur with some of your points that the problems are often bad design, whether new urbanist or suburban, and performance by the developer, but the major distinction is that new urbanist development attempts to create a community geared toward people, while suburban and prefurban) still is auto-oriented. Yes, it may take longer to drive through a grid. That's the whole point!

As far as the Ranch at White Hills, I wouldn't brag about involvement in that project. It represents the worst of western urban sprawl, relying on taxpayer supported infrastructure (the new highway bypass of Hoover Dam) to build miles from the employment center. From what I saw on their website, it is simply the largest example of a long list of inappropriate suburban sprawl in western states, no matter how nicely designed it may be. With over 16 sections of land dedicated to .5 and 1 du/ac density, an hour or more away from the nearest city, there is nothing efficient about this development.

Too many Strawmen

Rick:
I've visited your website several times over the years and really enjoyed the articles you put together a few years ago for Land Development Today. As a result, I'm really surprised to see that your New Urbanist neighborhood is occupied by members of the Strawman family.

Most importantly, I think a reduction in pervious pavement is important for all new developments, and certainly your plans have contributed toward that reduction. As I read your post, you object to the 'short blocks' created by double-loaded alleys (blocks consisting of two strips of houses separated by an alley) because there are no/few houses facing the street. This is fairly typical in places like Philly and Baltimore. (http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=1173108288038134...)

I would argue that the benefit of New Urbanist designs that feature multiple routes (rather than the feeder-collection model that predominates) means you can provide a roadway that is 7-13' narrower (29' width rather than 36-40'). Just as your coving designs reduce paved areas, so can a well-designed gridded system. The key is of course that these designs are not automatic and require some thought.

Several of your other points are unpersuasive. The complaint about four way intersections reducing travel speeds confuses a feature for a bug. I believe that multiple intersections (which could be alternately stop signed) cause drivers to be more aware of their surroundings and less likely to cause injury. I'll echo the point above about the likelihood of surviving an auto-pedestrian collision at 25mph vs. 35mph. Neighborhoods should not be designed solely for the convenience of one form of transportation.

I also think that choosing appropriate trees gets short shrift in your example. Somehow trees in Savannah, Charleston, Georgetown, and New York survive. Choosing trees with the right root structure, canopy, and life cycle again requires a little bit of knowledge. In some areas, the use of rubberized sidewalks can reduce cracking or spalling of sidewalks near root growth.

Finally, are you really attacking renderings? I think the seriousness of your argument is significantly reduced by going after watercolors created for presentations. These are marketing pieces designed to sell a project. As long as every staffer and council member consider themselves an architect (landscape or otherwise), developers will present their projects in the best light possible. This does nothing for your argument, and I'm frankly surprised you even bother with it. Not only is it non-specific for New Urbanism, it's just absurd to criticize developers for trying to sell (or 'envision') their projects.

Finally, if these street designs and multiple intersections are such a danger for emergency vehicles and financial drain for upkeep, why has VDOT completely overhauled their interconnection standards to require these types of street designs?
(http://multifamilyguide.com/2009/03/27/more-land-use-changes-va-nixes-cu...)

http://multifamilyguide.com

Reply

    My home is 90% Covered by a elm street tree and the neighbor's back yard elm - their home is 100% blocked by that back yard elm and their front yard elm. The lots are 60' wide and 140' deep. My home was 50' wide and 50' deep, the neighbors home even larger. The distance from front of the home to the elm tree was 35'. Work the numbers - Smart Growth would be far worse for blocking the sun.

Elm trees are just about the biggest tree you can use canopy wise. If the goal, in a NU community, was to generate energy from the sun, more site appropriate trees could be selected. So many new developments put in street tree strips of 3-4' wide; most any municipalities will not even let you plant a large tree in that size of tree strip anyway.

Personally, I'd rather live in a nice neighborhood with large canopy of trees that block the sun so I don't need to generate energy in the hot months.

    If you mapquested my old address you may have noticed that it was an old gridded subdivision as was mentioned by the commentors using similar examples - but it's not a "Smart Growth" model as the blocks are far too long.

I do not know your criteria of what is a long block and short block. Portland has 200' by 200' blocks for its downtown, whereas Manhattan has 200' by 900' blocks. Regarding your past traditional neighborhood in MN, they are *about* 350' by 800'.

I've seen NU neighborhoods myself, and while I would agree that their blocks are *generally* shorter than most grid street networks in cities, it is not necessarily always the case. I can find a block sections less than 200' in some parts of Kentlands, but also find ones more than 600-1000' feet in length in the same neighborhood.

    This is clearly demonstrated should you visit our web site - www.rhsdplanning.com - you should check out both San Cristobal Village (in Santa Fe) and Heritage Village, in Freeport Bahamas on our portfolio... both of these began as approved Smart Growth New Urban Models, and then approved as replanned using methods of Prefurbia.

I've actually been on your site and I find almost no photos that take the viewer inside your development plans - mostly base maps and aerials. The one in the Bahamas has a dead URL.

    Back to these grid neighborhoods with the abundant 4 way intersections with dominant through streets, yes it is true you can go quickly, but that means trusting that no one will blow through a four way intersection. We discovered early on when we first moved to St. Louis Park after being involved in TWO accidents (with minor injuries) involving drivers who ignored stop signs. We now slow down at every intersection (then accelerate)and have not had an accident in the past decade. Smart Growth would significantly increase the number of 4-way intersections compared to our neighborhood.

I don't think the goal is to "go quickly" when you're in any neighborhood. Designing a road that does not slow down the driver by having limited intersections is just going to promote speeding and reduce automobile connectivity to other streets. I agree that too many intersections is not appropriate and creates unnecessary infrastructure - but I have my own criteria for determining that.

Once again, if safety were the issue, you'd be promoting homes that do not have driveways. They are a major source of accidents and injury for such an innocuous action. On a personal note much like yours, I have had two incidents backing up.

Inefficient stop and go?

Even a Toyota Prius is just under 3,000 lbs. While a given model may get great mileage the bulk of energy consumed is in getting the thing moving from a full stop.

It's odd that he brings up the Prius, since I thought it was well-known that the Prius generates an electric charge through braking, and gets slightly better mileage in the city than on the highway. All those stops are just powering it up.

It doesn't matter though, since as Steve Mouzon points out, this is not really an accurate description of the typical pre-war (not just New Urbanist) gridded neighborhood. All the ones I am aware of (in Nashville anyways) have a couple wider, uninterrupted (except for one stoplight) east/west and north/south streets for through traffic. Proper location of these through streets means that, even if you live in the neighborhood, you need only go through one or two stop signs to get home.

Seriously Flawed Article

Wow, there are just so many errors and half-truths here... where to start?

As for "destroying flow," New Urbanist neighborhoods aren't usually one big fabric of 4-way stops. Vicksburg, Mississippi is... and it's really aggravating driving there. What normally happens is that the smaller streets have the stop signs and the bigger streets at the edges of the neighborhoods do not, for the most part. So if you're on the edges, you can drive quite a distance without stopping. We want people to slow down so the kids are safer, but you don't have to stop people at every corner.

As for the majority of pedestrian/auto accidents occurring at intersections, of course that's right... many cities have jaywalking laws, and you can get arrested or ticketed for crossing the street anywhere else. So that's where the accidents occur in anybody's development, New Urbanist or not. The key is slowing down the traffic so that you don't get killed. If you're a pedestrian and get hit by someone driving 25 MPH, you might have a broken bone or two, but if you're a pedestrian and get hit by someone driving just 10 MPH faster (35 MPH,) you're almost guaranteed to ket killed. Shorter blocks have been proven again and again to slow traffic. Long blocks create speedways. New Urbanism keeps you safer.

As for street trees, why does this article bring front yards into the discussion? Street trees by definition grow in the street right-of-way, usually between the sidewalk and the curb. The size of the front yard has nothing whatsoever to do with the issues the article is complaining about. As for the Public Works Department carping about having to maintain sidewalks near street trees... what do you propose? Cutting all the trees down and having a barren, ugly, hot street instead just so the city doesn't have to occasionally do a little maintenance? If that's what you want, then there are plenty of really ugly suburban streets you can choose to live on. Me, I love my tree-lined street that is not only beautiful, but probably 15 degrees cooler in the summer than if it were barren. I know. I walk to work, and part of the walk is on the tree-lined street, and part is on a barren street. I experience the huge temperature difference and beauty/ugliness difference every day.

And what's this about 4' sidewalks? I don't know any New Urbanist planner that uses those. Most of us use 5' or even 6' sidewalks because they're more comfortable to walk side-by-side. We're trying to encourage people to walk.

As for solar access, street trees aren't directly over very much of the roof of the house, so they only shade significant parts of the house very early or late in the day, when the efficiency of any solar collectors would be steeply reduced. And let's get real about solar collectors; all the PV's you need for electricity and all the hot water collectors you need still only take up a minority of the roof space of a 2-story home. So just exercise your design abilities and don't put them near the street trees. Do you really want solar collectors on the very front of your house anyway?

As for the presentation, this article carps about showing trees that have had 20 years to grow. So do you think the neighborhood is going to get bulldozed before 20 years have passed? Or maybe you're proposing to just cut the trees? If not, then ... news flash ... trees grow! And they really will look like that! Just not on Day 1.

As for the alleys, this complaint makes no sense whatsoever. Guess what happens with all that messy stuff on the alley (garbage cans, utility boxes, etc.) if you DON'T build an alley and build a normal suburban street instead? All that stuff is on the FRONT of the house... on the street. Alleys allow the street to be beautiful by moving all the messy stuff around back.

As for the porches, no New Urbanist I'm aware of allows porches less than 8' deep. And many are deeper. The author is getting New Urbanist porches confused with the completely useless 3'-4' deep porches found on typical suburban houses. Those are nothing more than expensive decoration. New Urbanist porches, because they are deeper, can actually function as outdoor rooms.

As for the lot size/infrastructure issues, this is just plain wrong. Let's do the math. A typical suburban street in most cities is 36-40' wide. Let's use 40' for easier math. Because two houses across the street from each other share 40' of pavement, each is responsible for 20'. So for the 100' wide lot the article mentions, each lot requires 20 x 100 = 2,000 square feet of street pavement. Meanwhile, a 50' lot is slightly wider than average in most New Urbanist developments. And we're always working to make the streets narrower to slow the cars so the kids are safer. So if you have two 9' travel lanes and a 7' parking lane on one side, that's a total of 25' of street width which two lots share, or 12.5' x 50' = 625 square feet of pavement. Now, assuming the alley is paved, add half of the 12' wide alley (since you share the alley with the house behind you) for 50' x 6' = 300 square feet of alley paving, or a grand total of 925 square feet of paving... less than HALF the paving per lot of the suburban model. How about the rest of the infrastructure? A complete no brainer, since infrastructure per lot is equal to the lot frontage. So the New Urbanist lots averaging 50' wide require HALF the water lines, sewer lines, cable, electrical conduit, etc., of the 100' lots.

This is an open invitation for the author of this article to contact us... whoever has been advising him has been giving him some excruciatingly bad advice, and I'd like for him to get the real picture.

Steve Mouzon
http://www.newurbanguild.com
http://www.originalgreen.org
http://www.mouzon.com

Steve Mouzon: As for the

    Steve Mouzon: As for the presentation, this article carps about showing trees that have had 20 years to grow. So do you think the neighborhood is going to get bulldozed before 20 years have passed? Or maybe you're proposing to just cut the trees? If not, then ... news flash ... trees grow! And they really will look like that! Just not on Day 1.

Thanks for bringing that up, I noticed that error too. You always show trees at about 2/3 maturity in plans and perspectives!

I wonder if this "prefurbia" guy has actually designed something in real life. Do you have any drawings of built works to show us? Any case study examples of "prefurbia"?

But with short blocks, a

    But with short blocks, a driver must stop completely, pause, then when safe accelerate through the intersection onto the next intersection, then repeat… multiple times. This scenario uses a tremendous amount of energy; the car eats gas.

Not all four way stops even have stop signs, and many four way intersections allow for one flow of traffic to move through without stopping (and the other side to stops).

If energy is the issue, then the random "flowing" and inefficient streets that go nowhere in particular of most suburban developments should be criticized.

    To make matters worse, the majority of vehicular vs. pedestrian accidents occur at intersections.

If safety is the issue, you should address backing up - which is very dangerous and every typical suburban house has a driveway leading to a garage.

221 people were killed in 2007 from backing up of a car, and 14,000 injured. 44% of all fatal nontraffic injuries of children under 15 were from cars backing up.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/12/automobiles/12VIEW.html?_r=1&ref=autom...

The culprit isn't just intersections (you can't avoid those), but backing up.

I am not familiar with cars jumping the curb on turns in properly designed streets. How often do you hear of a car running a curb even in a dense urban environment? However, I have seen cars in a parking lots accidentally push the gas instead of the brake and run right through storefronts.

    This simply cannot provide for enough room for tree growth when there is a 4’ wide walk typically a few feet away from the curb, the area where street trees grow. Without trees to define the street, these solutions have very little organic life to offset the vast volume of paving in front of each porch.

    Now and in the near future there will be a new era of solar heat and power, most of which will be mounted on the roofs of homes. Guess what blocks the sun's energy? Yep – street trees! High density means that the proximity of trees to roofs will deter the sun’s energy from reaching those solar panels.

10' is plenty room for almost any street tree species for most municipalities (in designated street tree strips).

Here is a streetscape of Savannah, GA. It shows a live oak lined street with fairly wide street tree pits and absolute building frontage to the street - no front yards. You're making it sound complicated, which it is not:

Savannah, GA Streetscape

Regarding solar access, tree coverage over your home during summer months reduces energy costs drastically as opposed to being exposed. You'd essential be generating electricity to cool your home, which is perplexing (I've actually seen solar panels on a home in a NU neighborhood).

A street section of a 7 foot tree strip, 4 foot sidewalk, and 10 foot setback - with a nice mature tree of 30 feet wide is not going to entirely kill your solar access. Coupled with the fact that many buildings rise higher than the tree tops.

Density is not the issue as large buildings in dense settings are going to be great at capturing the sun in the future.

    The lots might have been 20% larger than in a Smart Growth high density plan, but the street layout might have had about 30% less linear feet of street compared to a Smart Growth grid layout

I'd also disagree with your assessment of more pavement in NU communities (although I do feel that alleys shouldn't be paved). There are more total dwelling units within a given "slice" of street, which maximizes the infrastructure.

unpaved alleys - What?!

"although I do feel that alleys shouldn't be paved"

What?!

Dirt alleys! No way. My alley is paved with asphalt and I don't like it one bit. I want concrete like the rest of my neighborhood. Concrete is easy to keep clean.

Dave Barnes
+1.303.744.9024
http://www.MarketingTactics.com

I think gravel alleys work

I think gravel alleys work well. Nobody said anything about bare soil alleys!

I'd take porous asphalt or interlocking pavers (like Chicago "green alleys" have) any day over pure concrete.

Have you tried to wash gravel?

Concrete alleys can be hosed down and made very clean and sparkling. The others can not. I want my alley to be as clean as my concrete floor garage.

Gravel? Right! Not. I can just image what the garbage trucks would do to a gravel alley during their weekly visit.

Grass pavers? And who is going to water them? God (if you believe in such things) provides 40+ inches of water each year in Chicago. Only 15 inches in a "normal" year in Denver. Last year it was 10 inches. Not enough for grass in an alley.

Dave Barnes
+1.303.744.9024
http://www.MarketingTactics.com

I have never heard of a

I have never heard of a grass alley, and I was referring to concrete, interlocking pavers.