We should start by identifying what is this "urbanism" of which we speak? Fortunately, a serious thinker from California--Dave Alden, who writes the blog Where Do We Go from Here?--spent most of last winter pondering this very question, so we don't have to. Here is what he came up with (SOURCE: Dave Alden, "Is There Such a Thing as Bad Urbanism?" Where Do We Go from Here?, 15 February 2015):
(1) The study, promotion, and implementation of development concepts for settings that are significantly denser in residential, working, and commercial opportunities than rural or suburban locations.
In what became a ten-part series that is well worth reading, Alden explored some of the different questions that urbanism answers, including "How do we create settings in which more people walk, resulting in improved public health, less traffic, and fewer auto emissions?... How do we preserve nearby farmlands, encouraging the farm-to-table movement and reducing the transportation costs of produce?... How do we address the increasing crisis in municipal budgets?... What can we do about the risk of climate change, which may well be driven by carbon emissions?" (See the full list here.) My attempt here to parse urbanism owes much to his approach, although the specific content is different.
(2) The advocacy of concepts for (1) that meet beneficial goals such as improved walkability, reduced energy consumption, stronger social networks, more stable municipal finances, or other identified positive outcomes.
I see four species of urbanist trees. These are not, of course, hard and fast categories.
|Dairy Queen on 16th St NE is a summer gathering place in the Mound View neighborhood|
|Celebrating Bike-to-Work Week on 3rd Ave SE, May 2014|
|Prairie near the Indian Creek Nature Center, Otis Rd SE|
|1st Avenue West at the edge of town (2013)|
[No doubt there are other classifications of urbanism. And I'm not sure where historical preservationists, for one, fit into this. But Community-Lifestyle-Environmental-Fiscal forms an acronym that is not only clever, but musical!]
So what difference do the different species make? Let's think about bike lanes.
|Protected bike lane on 3rd Av SE|
There are a lot of reasons for urbanists of every species to like bike lanes. C: Getting people out of their cars brings them together, which strengthens the community. L: Bike lanes help make cautious bikers feel safer, giving them a genuine alternative to getting places by car. E: Bicycles do not produce exhaust or run on oil. F: A city dense enough for people to bike to work, school and shop is more fiscally sustainable. So urbanists are likely to be in agreement that bike lanes are good, and we should have more of them.
Now let's get out of our heads and into the political process. Urbanists quickly find that some citizens support bike lanes, others hate them, and a significant middle chunk is willing to support our bike lanes in exchange for our support for their project (say, widening a road through a commercial strip, or subsidizing the reconstruction of a failing mall). Do we go for it or not? "L" urbanists who prioritize the bike infrastructure might well accept the political compromises needed to get them done. "F" urbanists would call it logrolling, and worry that the city was getting further into the financial soup.
Here's another, which finds me at war with myself:
|Land use plan for the area around the Highway 100 extension. (This poster can be seen in greater detail on page 85 of Envision CR)|
As a Strong Towns member, the "F" urbanist in me shudders at the $200+ million my state is spending to extend Route 100 around the western side of the city ("to accommodate future growth," as depicted in the diagram above). My inner "E" urbanist is disturbed by further expansion into open land by a city that is already the opposite of dense. At the same time, the city's planning document, EnvisionCR, calls for the new development to be human-scaled and walkable, particularly the orange sections in the diagram, which intrigues the "C" which is at the root of my urbanism. (See the quotes at the top of the blog.) Assuming a developer appears who is willing to do it, this could get very interesting. Expensive, but interesting.
SEE ALSO: "Gleanings from the New Urbanism," 19 April 2013, http://brucefnesmith.blogspot.com/2013/04/gleanings-from-new-urbanism.html