Our Urban Challenge: Build It First

I swear I’m not making this up. The following is a snippet of conversation I heard at the Mudshouse. The interlocutors were high school kids:

Kid 1: “There’s just too much sprawl here.”

Kid 2: “Yeah, not enough density.”

Kid 3: “It doesn’t matter. We’re not going to live here anyway.”

How do we make our urban core more dense and, thus, have a chance at making Springfield the kind of place where these kids want to live?

I began this series with this claim:

I think making the urban environment attractive comes before increasing population density. The reasons to move must exist before people will move. One way to make the urban core attractive is to make it easier — better — to get around by some other means than a car. I believe creative classers will be attracted to a place in which they can live greener lives. We might even be able to attract workers for a green economy this way.

Build it, and they will come.

Well, as it turns out, this isn’t such a new idea (not that I made that claim). In terms of modern urbanism, it dates back at least to the construction of street-car cities (grid pattern, 7+ units per acre, narrow streets, public transportation along the thoroughfares) in North America — late 1800s — according to Patrick M. Condon in his new book Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities. Christopher B. Leinberger makes the same claim in the current issue of The Atlantic.

You want density? Build the transportation amenities that attract developers to build the dense urban housing and businesses that attract people. You can even let the developers build the transportation amenities as an attraction for their properties. That’s the way it used to be done, according to Condon and Leinberger.

We could begin this process in Springfield with a gung-ho complete streets effort to make our streets attractive to walkers and bicyclists — and, perhaps, a change from a route-based bus system to a grid-based bus system.

Our Urban Challenge Series:

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