Urban dreams

New Urbanism has had its share of critics. Some … have criticized New Urbanism because many new developments built along its principles occupy higher price points in the real estate market. They tend to be exclusive and unaffordable. The high prices, however, reflect the level of demand for such places. They are indeed attractive. And rare. The solution to that problem is to build more of them, not less.

My interest in walkable city neighborhoods is not merely theoretical. It’s also part of my experience. I have lived in such a neighborhood in Grand Rapids for the past 30 years. It goes by the name of Eastown. It’s an old streetcar suburb that was largely built out in the 1910s, before car ownership was widespread. People, primarily professionals in that day, would take the streetcar downtown to work, return, and walk home. Home may have been a single-family detached house. Or it may have been a duplex or apartment. Eastown contains a variety of residential options. The neighborhood had its own retail section that supplied residents with their daily and weekly needs within a comfortable walking distance.

Much has changed since then. A good number of buildings have been lost to parking lots. Some of the retail has moved out to big box stores on the edge of the city. But the community still has good bone structure, a fine network of connected streets. And many walkable destinations. Within a five-minute walk of my house lies a farmer’s market, a supermarket, three churches, two elementary schools, a civic theater, two coffee shops, a pizza parlor, a donut shop, three restaurants, two bakeries, a brewery, a park, a college, a creek, two used-book stores, a shoe store, a yoga studio, a massage therapist, two beauty salons, a gift shop, a gym, a butcher shop, a delicatessen, a post office, a bike shop, and a bus stop. My wife and I make do with one car, since I can ride my bike or moped to work in fair weather and take the bus in foul.

(Lee Hardy) I’d encourage you to click that link if only to note the two photos of what a human-scaled built environment looks like.

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“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

2 thoughts on “Urban dreams

  1. I don’t remember whether the articles were linked directly by you in one or more of your blog entries or whether I found them through my own meanderings around the Internet, but within recent months I found two articles that help to explain why communities like Eastown are not more plentiful:

    1. When racial segregation became illegal, there was a wave of new zoning ordinances that prescribed minimum sizes of lots and buildings, and numbers of parking spaces — in order to “price out” “the wrong kind of people.”

    2. Mortgage-lending guidelines (if not actually rules) came to favor large homes (in order to benefit the furniture industry) away from existing public-transport systems (in order to benefit the automobile industry).

    • I did not link those stories, but they are facially plausible. However, I have trouble fitting them with some of the chronology as I’ve read it.
      For instance, General Motors bought street car companies and then mothballed them as early as the 20s and 30s, as I recall. And the suburban boom began immediately after WWII, half a decade or so before Brown vs. Board of Education (which was merely a harbinger of the end of segregation, not the death-knell). So I’ll buy your two as contributing factors, of which there probably are many more. If you’re keen on the topic, James Howard Kunstler’s book The Geography of Nowhere is pretty informative.
      Thanks for reading and responding, Alan.

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