Over at the New York Times I was told about a great blog post concerning an agrarian life and how the city life is fast and detached from such a basic life. She describes a simpler life that leads to great enrichment and happiness. click here
Recently one of the hot topics for our local political race for Mayor of Charlotte, NC has been what we call our light rail. It has been debated heatedly on both sides and recently had some wins for it. The big issue with the light rail and street cars is that it has been historically not very well managed. Charlotte’s sprawl is pretty insane for the population it has roughly 1.8 million people in the “city” of Charlotte. I put The word city in quotes because it’s about the looses use in terms of a densely packed city as you can get. Our city or downtown area is no more than 10 block by 10 blocks, where everyone lives outside the city. The sprawl is immense, going over a hundred miles in any direction.
It’s pretty funny when you are in Fort Mill South Carolina and you ask them where they live and they reply “Charlotte” but that is the mentality of the Charlotte area, we all want to live in Charlotte, but we want a full on house with a 2/3 acre lot.
I found these great videos about Cincinnati’s push for mass transit and it sounds like our own here in Charlotte in a way. Now being from Charlotte, not Cincinnati I can’t really speak on house close these two scenarios are, but they do share some similarities and makes a case for mass transit in general.
First up is a viral marketing ad they made about their street car which is pretty funny.
What impact did/does mass transit have?
Here is a news report about the street car
So the other night I had just went to see a movie and soon afterwards ran into some other folks from my high school years. We started talking about what everyone was doing when one of my friends chimed in that he was writing a thesis about New Urbanism. We started talking about all these issues surrounding this topic: gentrification, neighborhood schools, the need for anchors in the community and how Charlotte, NC has approached the issues surrounding new urbanism.
Later we talked about how the Tiny House Movement fits into this notion of urbanism. My friend noted that when he reads this site, he gets the notion of building the Tiny House in the woods, away from it all. It’s true, I tend to focus on this, which I am at odds with. The fact is to truly maximize sustainability in the highly populated world we live in today, we must come together and live in a more dense area. I know that to truly usher in my way of living, one that is green and ecofriendly, one that is sustainable, one that focuses on local, one that focuses on community I must live in an area that is more densely packed. The issues of course is how do you live in close proximity to others, while still having room to roam, to connect with nature and ensure a high quality of life.
Today’s urban centers are as my favorite author/speaker James Kunstler “the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world, you can call it a technosis externality clusterfuck and it’s a tremendous problem for us, the outstanding problem is that there are places no one cares about”. And that’s the rub, the urban manifestation is a place that no one cares about, that pushes out the poor, the minorities or if that isn’t possible, we turn to the phenomenon of “white flight”. We talked about how we need to create places that are local, have your anchors (schools, stores, grocery, churches, living, office space and a non-salient parking plan for double the intended capacity), how these need to be with in walking distance to each other, but where you can go to other centers via mass transit that people actually want to ride. Preferably we want a place where cars aren’t allowed in the main pedestrian areas, so long as you have lots of parking underground that allows the area to be permeable.
As we discussed all these huge issues I realized that this was a really extraordinary event happening, I was in awe! Each person standing in that circle, talking about these huge issues, these progressive issues, these ideas that I feel will change the world in an impactful way, we were from such wildly different backgrounds. I am the only self described “eco friendly” person, the others were not a polar opposite, but represented many different sects of society. I was astonished, not that I think of them as stupid, but that they don’t have a logical reason to know this much about new urbanism and surrounding issues. That essentially regular people had their finger on the pulse of such progressive and important issues was amazing.
It gave me a glimmer of hope that this dialogue that we were having about new urbanism, environmental issues, sustainability and community/local focus might be happening as a whole with people my age, that this generation, which has been sometimes labeled as useless, might be growing to inspire a new age of responsible and progressive thinking.
Now before I get too excited I took a step back to really look at the group and who we were. I am seeking a PhD, working for Americorp and running a Tiny House blog, my other friend is a researcher at Duke University, the next girl is a social psychologist pursing her masters at Columbia, finally my friend who is a politician/going to Davidson College, who lost while running for a major office in Charlotte by only 3% at the age of 22 with no money. These are admittedly not normal people. But I hope that this dialogue is happening outside of these circles. That my generation is talking about these issues with their friends, so that when we start taking hold as the baby boomers slip into retirement, that we can usher in a new age of socially and environmentally responsible corporatism in all areas of our lives.
Over at GOOD they have an interesting brainstorm initiative about how to rethink our cities and the way we live. If you click on each heading, it will bring you to a brainstorm/discussion starter. To see the full list of ideas you can go here
What other ideas have you all seen/heard/thought about how we can bring cities to their full potential and minimize their impact?
I have been reading the Home From Nowhere, by James Kunstler. I am on a chapter that covers the evils of cars if you will.
Some interesting facts about cars from the book:
- The US spends $200 million every day just to maintain (not build) our highways
- Every year $6.3 billion is spent in interest on loans from debt incurred by the US government to upkeep roads
- 50,000 people are killed every year in car accidents, that is the number of deaths during the entire Vietnam War
- Accidents cost Americans and the government $368 Billion every year
- In the next 10 years with increasing number of cars on the road, we will spend 5.6 billion hours more than we used to waiting in traffic as a nation
- While we are waiting in traffic from the above bullet, we will consume 7.3 billion more gallons of fuel than before
- In Los Angels the average speed of freeways travel is estimated to fall to 11 mph
- The average American will spend 2.18 weeks traveling to and from work
Here is a article from good about reinventing the American dream, it brings in the car aspect and speaks to how this all fits in.
Reprinted: Good Carol Coletta on August 20, 2009
During a decade when Americans returned to cities for the first time in 50 years, it surprises me that “urban” can still be a code word for all things negative.
Attach the word “urban” to almost any ill, and what is bad becomes worse. Urban poverty is worse than poverty. Urban crime is worse than crime. It must follow that urban neighborhoods are worse than just neighborhoods, right?
Wrong. In fact, really wrong. But you would hardly know it unless you looked closely at reality.
When GM depicted a new vision of the good life for Americans at the 1939 World’s Fair, it looked like a dream come true. Vivid pictures romanced a new highway system through rural farmland into the heart of a well-ordered city, where every family would live in a single-family home in a single-use neighborhood filled with families from a single income bracket. Such promised order, combined with the freedom of a car in every garage, offered previously unimagined possibilities.
And it worked. General Motor’s compelling vision for car-oriented suburbs spawned a new American ideal. A lot of people shared that dream. And that dream has shaped our lives today. We have freeways connecting every major city in America, and most families have not just one car but a car for every adult in the household.
We also have gridlock traffic. And pollution. And an addiction to foreign oil.
Our health is in danger from sitting too much and moving too little. Many mortgages are underwater. And we’ve undermined the natural advantages of cities for innovation, opportunity and efficiency by spreading too few people over too much land.
It is increasingly clear that the old American dream is shattered, and we need a new dream to replace it, one better suited for today’s realities. We need a new definition of the good life.
Signs of the new American good life are everywhere. Young adults, with their pursuit of 24/7 lifestyles, led the way back to the city. By 2000, they were 33 percent more likely than other Americans to live in neighborhoods close to the center of town. The interest in cycling has exploded, with commensurate responses by municipal governments in New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago and, just recently, Boston, to make cycling easier and safer. Similarly, the local food movement has gained a foothold with the mainstream, with farmers markets popping up in the most unlikely places. More Americans are choosing dense condo living than ever before. Households without a nuclear family inside are now the majority, just as “non-traditional” students now dominate college enrollment. Suburbs are being remade with the addition of commercial uses and public space to introduce new vitality into these places. Zipcar has made the idea of Americans sharing their assets almost normal.
Perhaps the biggest upset of all is that Americans have reduced their driving for the first time since World War II.
The problem is this: These remain only disconnected signals. To date, Americans are unable to see the new pattern that is developing. There is not yet a compelling narrative about this emerging good life into which Americans can project their own lives—certainly nothing with enough power to counter the stories we tell ourselves about what is “normal.”
Even though the signs may be all around them that something new and important is underway, they haven’t put the pieces together.
That’s why CEOs for Cities—a national network of urban leaders from the civic, business, academic and philanthropic sectors, of which I am the president and CEO—is launching a new movement we call Velocity in mid-September. Its purpose is to create an energizing agenda for next generation cities and nurture the initiatives needed to advance that vision—and to pull it all together in a way that defines a new aspirational lifestyle for Americans, one that eventually becomes the “new normal.”