Remember to register for the Context Sensitive Solutions National Dialogue Workshop and Webcast taking place in Olympia, WA next Tuesday, August 13th. As part of the event, we'll will be presenting two projects: Winslow Way on Bainbridge Island and the work we did with Public Health - Seattle/King County on the Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) grant. We hope to see you there!
There are going to be tipping points: thresholds where we decide that the rutted road we've been traveling has, inadvertently, lead us astray. This week certainly saw some cultural tipping points. But recent readings on two fronts in the built environment have us thinking that interesting new constituencies are coalescing around some interesting themes that will reset past assumptions to strategically position us for the future. More Constrained Ex-Urban Growth
The limitless sprawl of various American urban areas into surrounding farms and resource lands has long been derided for its impacts to the environment (deforestation, species loss, polluted waterways, etc), but more recently, fiscal conservatives like Charles Marohn of Strong Towns have been giving the financial model supporting this type of growth pattern a serious, well-argued drubbing. This week, Charles began digging deeper with a series called Dumb Money. It is wonky, but fantastic.
The hard-nosed fiscal analysis by Strong Towns, based in the heartland, resonates well with the coastal capitalists who read Fast Company. Covering a new report from Smart Growth America, FC reports that the smart growth model, by concentrating growth and capital, has a higher return on investment and offers better economic resilience.
It finds, on average, that smart growth costs 38% less in upfront infrastructure (roads, water, sewers, libraries, and so on). For example, Champaign, Illinois, concluded that smart growth could save $52 million, or 42%, over 20 years.
Then, the report looks at the relative cost of services like fire, police, and ambulances. It finds a 10% saving, on average. Charlotte, North Carolina, for example, worked out that a "smart growth neighborhood" would cost a quarter of a conventional one.
Accelerating this more constrained growth condition may be the loss of one of the economic drivers for the sprawling suburban housing market: the mortgage interest tax deduction, or, as Streetsblog recently called it, The Granddaddy of Sprawl Subsidies. In recent budget negotiations in Washington, repealing this deduction has found resonance across party lines, so we may soon be seeing it disappear from our tax forms.
Less Constrained Urban Growth
The opposite ideological flip is happening amongst progressive environmental urbanists. Influenced by more libertarian-leaning writers like Edward Glaeser, writers like Slate's Matt Yglesiasand Sightline Institute's Alan Durning have recently been calling for "less-regulated urbanism" that would, "allow taller buildings, which would accommodate dramatically more people, office space, and shops in the most efficient and desirable locations: close to city centers."
Sightline's most recent exploration of how excessive(?) regulations create less-desirable built environments focuses on parking. First, Alan unpacks the perverse parking economics along his Seattle single-family street:
The net effect—one mandatory off-street parking space plus one car-less household—is a one-space reduction of parking supply on my block. Repeat: my obligatory driveway and garage deprive the universe of one on-street slot. This is ironic, but it’s only the tip of the irony iceberg where car-storage is concerned.
If I did own a car to keep in my garage, the net effect would no longer be a net reduction. It would be zero. My driveway subtracts one on-street space; my garage adds it back. Think about that for a while. The 4.6 million single-family houses in cities across the Northwest, and tens of millions more elsewhere, are each required to have at least one off-street parking space. Yet many of these city rules add no net parking spaces to their cities’ supplies. Worse, if you’ve ever narrowly escaped a car backing out of a garage, or almost backed into someone while you were driving, you can quickly grasp the fact that all these millions of mandated off-street parking spaces turn sidewalks into danger zones, especially for children and the disabled.
Then Sightline contributor Alyse Nelson provides a wide-ranging photo essay, entitled Ugly by Law, about the aesthetic impacts of parking lots on the built landscape. Warning: you can't un-see some of these things.
The tragic collision that took the lives of two members of our community and injured two others shook us to our core. The lives of three generations of one family were irrevocably, horribly altered. An entire community is in mourning. The news media has often labelled this incident as an "accident," an oft-used but imprecise word that unintentionally adds insult to the injury that our community has already endured. This was a collision, with actors, causality and agency; it was a collision that we can learn from and prevent.
While we all reach to assign blame, its important to remember our own role in this tragedy. We know that speed kills no matter who is at the wheel, yet part of the sad truth is that we too often prioritize the quick movement of vehicles over the safe movement of citizens. Over-wide roadways, excessive in-city speeds, community resistance to common-sense safety improvements and the media's repetition of an ideologically-driven "war on cars" narrative: these all indict a system that failed the Ulriksen-Schulte family and thousands like them every year.
Words matter and we hope that in editorial rooms around the Sound they are reconsidering the use of accident in describing these preventable tragedies.