If Not Sprawling House Plans, Why Sprawling Cities?

By: Timothy Hullihan

If we designed our homes the way we design cities and suburbs – around the convenient use of automobiles – our homes would not be as comfortable and intimate as we know them to be. Our homes are sanctuary-like places in which we draw closest to those we love and hold dear.  Our car-centric cities are places we drive to, through, and away from, but are unlikely to experience deep sanctuary-like “placemaking” there.  It wasn’t always this way, and can’t be in the future if we are to grow healthy communities, and conserve the land we need for sustainability.

Let’s dissect this hypothetical home designed with an internal transportation system, golf carts, for example. The rooms could be more spread out with sleeping pods, cooking pods, dining pods, bathing pods, and entertainment pods zoned remotely from each other to enhance logic and order, increase privacy, and eliminate conflicts.  Glass enclosed corridors, wide enough for 2-way golf cart traffic, would link the pods efficiently.  Each bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living room would be large enough to include a couple of parking stalls for golf carts.  Walking from room to room would no longer be necessary.

As novel as this sprawling house plan may seem, for all its conveniences and partitioned privacy, it would not be very homey. It would also be very wasteful of land, something that we have to be increasingly vigilant in guarding against because there is surprisingly little left.

The homes we are all familiar with derive hominess from the overlapping and close juxtaposition of uses, and in fact, many have open plans that blur the lines between kitchen, dining, and entertainment spaces creating wonderfully causal and comfortable places to dwell. A similarly organic development pattern for communities once created convivial urban neighborhoods and towns that used land very efficiently.  But today, densely organized, pedestrian oriented systems of delightfully overlapping uses are forbidden in most zoning codes.  It wasn’t always this way, and can’t be in the future.

In fact, zoning wasn’t really a thing until about 70-years ago. Before zoning, cities grew organically and incrementally.  Narrow streets with a broad mix of uses made urban living extensions of our private sanctuaries, and, consequently, there were fewer distinctions between private and public space.  Neighborhoods were, therefore, more open, people were more friendly and cooperative, and the densely organized system of overlapping uses that created comfort inside our homes also created a character and charm to our small towns and urban neighborhoods alike, and everything we needed was a short walkable distance away.

The car and the roads to accommodate them slowly changed this. A 10-minute drive versus a 10-minute walk became a practical choice in the 1950s, and many chose to spread out their lives over many, many miles of open road.  Gas was cheap, cars were cool, and the novelties of a suburban home or office were intoxicating.  We never stopped to consider the high cost to the environment and humanity sprawling lifestyles would have.  That needs to change.

If the typical 2,500 square foot suburban home were reimagined as the sprawling hypothetical example, it would require approximately 7,500 square feet of enclosed space to provide the same 2,500 square feet of living space. Parking at every room, and two-way pathways between the pods would approximately triple the required footprint.  Even more wasteful, the sprawling layout would spread out inefficiently over its plot of land increasing its inefficient consumption of land even further.  

The car has had a similar impact on urban planning over the last 70-years, and this is one of the greatest environmental oversights of a car-centric world.  We have been gobbling up land to accommodate growth at 3 to 4 times the rate that organic pedestrian-oriented growth patterns require.

Within typical suburban developments, the land used for roads and parking lots (pavement) is at least equal to the enclosed area of the buildings (habitable spaces) they serve. A quick look at an aerial view of any regional mall in America will show that this ratio can be 3 to 4 times in favor of pavement over useable / habitable space.  The impact over the last 50 years of consuming land in huge wasteful chucks is hard to know, but the foolishness of this practice extends beyond the loss of communities with a strong sense of place.  A future that slows expansion onto developable lands, and accommodates population growth by repurposing the wastefully developed or forgotten urban/suburban landscapes of our past becomes more likely from a world view.

Smart people that study these types of things estimate that all of Earth’s land presently being used to create the food we eat – a shockingly low 2.7% of the Earth’s surface, or 3.4 billion acres, cannot be expanded meaningfully, and is only large enough to feed a world population of 10-11 billion people. The U.N. projects a population of around 9.7 billion by 2050 and reaching 11 billion before this century ends.  The good news is, world population plateaus at 10-11 billion by some estimates due to declining birth rates.  The bad news, feeding the world population we are projected to have in just 50-years will require us to gradually transition away from eating meat, and to adopt entirely vegan lifestyles.  Because food energy is wasted in the production of meat – since it is first used to grow the animal and then transferred to humans inefficiently – grazing lands must slowly transition into crop lands as our population continues to grow.  Fruits and vegetables, by contrast, transfer food energy to humans far more directly, so, faced with a finite land area available for the world’s food production, increasing the efficiency of its use is the only solution.  Yes, rainforests are plowed under to create more agricultural lands, but this has a negative environmental impact, and does not fully replace arable lands that are lost to desertification and erosion each year at increasing rates.

So, yes, land on Planet Earth is surprisingly scarce and precious. Understanding this should make the prospects of converting farmland to housing developments seem foolish, but this is still a common practice.  Recognizing that grazing lands represent the inefficient creation of food energy, and having the wisdom to increase the efficient utilization of these lands to feed a growing world population will take courage and adjustments.  A similar adjustment of our appetite for land development is equally important.  And, while changing our diet will not happen without discomfort, retreating from suburban sprawl and car-centric living to increase land-use efficiency in the realm of human habitation would come with many positives.  Pedestrian oriented communities are physically and mentally healthier places, according to a growing body of research.  They are also more financially stable places to live as their efficient land-use translates into efficient infrastructure utilization and tax-base development.

A sprawling house with an internal transportation system seems foolish because we know what a home should feel like, and its intimacy is part of what we crave. Sprawling cities are equally foolish for the lack of intimacy they create, and cause us to accept as normal.  But, as we more fully appreciate the preciousness of land, and couple that appreciation with the opportunities to live in convivial places that use land very efficiently, it is encouraging to know that we have the knowledge to create, reinvent, and repopulate healthy pedestrian communities.  We just need the will to retreat from the sprawling edges of civilization where land is cheap, and return to where happy, healthy, places can be found, and life is rich and sustainable.

Timothy Hullihan is an architect and freelance writer from North Palm Beach, Florida.  He is also a board member of Sustainable Palm Beach County.

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Hopelessness is the Silver Lining

By: Timothy Hullihan

Hopelessness may be the silver lining of a Trump presidency.  As a nation, we may find it to be the thread that binds us together, rebuilds the unity that made us great, and creates a powerful collective will to save our great nation – and, quite possibly, the world that looks for our leadership on the important existential issues of our time – climate change, food security, and sustainable land management for a growing world population.

It is my belief that many of those that supported, and voted for a Trump presidency will be most hurt during the next 4-years.  I sincerely hope I am wrong, because many of the people that supported him are hurting deeply already, feel isolated in an America that no longer works for them, and fervently believe Trump, as a Washington outsider, will work very hard, and differently, to fix that.  To those with the least hope, Trump’s soon-to-be presidency must feel like being pulled back from the edge of a cliff as they rejoice in the election of their savoir.

Reality, however, is already making itself known, and I deeply regret that career politicians and DC lobbyists are filling the ranks of Trump’s transition team – a clear indication of what will surround and advise him going forward.  The same people, the same methodologies, the same networks, viewpoints, and ideologies are forming to guide the man that was going to “drain the swamp.”  It is foretelling of an overwhelming sadness that will sweep through rural America as it learns that they placed their faith in a man that unabashedly manipulates people and the truth for personal gain, and their hope in a charlatan turns false, and the edge of despair again draws near.

In a 1998 interview with People Magazine, Trump was asked about a possible run for the presidency, his answer tells us much about the means and methods of this imposter.  “If I were to run, I’d run as a Republican.  They’re the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe anything on Fox News.  I could lie and they’d eat it up. I bet my numbers would be terrific.”

Many of the 60-plus million Americans that placed their hope for a better America in Donald J. Trump will slowly learn a painful truth – one that they probably knew was possible, but chose to believe otherwise.  The 5.8-million Americans who voted for anyone other than the 2 mainstream candidates surely did so without hope, and that symbolic gesture of their hopelessness confirms their on-going despair.  The 60-plus million that saw hope in Hillary Clinton are now openly expressing their hopelessness through social media and public protest.  And, the 90-plus million registered voters that did not vote at all, may represent the largest and most entrenched segment of America hopelessness.

Hopelessness, therefore, is already the majority mood of our country, and this will only grow as the Trump faithful face the reality of fraud.  But, when hopelessness turns to hope, there is renewed energy for change.  When the numbers of hopeless people reach a critical mass, and they find hope together, change is enduringly possible. We are just 2 steps away from lasting and meaningful change.

First, the Trump hopefuls’ return to hopelessness must find unity with the rest of a despairing America. Second, we must as a nation realize that hope in a political system of any kind shoots to low.  If we learn to place hope in each other and begin to rebuild our towns, communities and neighborhoods spiritually, one human relationship at time, pride will return, love of place and people will strengthen us, and government will recede to its proper place.

Rabbi Marc Gellman, who writes the God Squad column for the Tribune Content Agency, wrote elegantly about the false hope of politics in a November 10, 2016 article that addressed the presidential campaign’s general hopelessness.

“[T]he entire political sphere of our lives does not remotely touch or inform the most important parts of our lives. Our love for each other, our courage in the face of challenges, our gratitude to a power beyond us that also created and loves us — all this is untouched by politics. All this remains true and present before us no matter whom we elect. If there is no God, and no transcendent realm then the nation is as high as we go, and its leaders are the sole guardians and rudders of our existence. But we are more than bodies ruled by the state who happen to have souls. We are souls who happen to have bodies.”

The transcendent realm, whether through your God or the love of your community and its people, is where hope lies.  It is where sunrises, and poetry, and the apex phrases of favorite arias can take us again and again.  It is where we are reminded that symbolism leaves us wanting, and only people can fill that void.  It is where humility comes easy, because we feel so small within the vastness of universal truths.

The transcendent realm does not have a place for Trump and his sycophants.  The shallowness of their self-serving power does not reach there.  It is a place where we are free to love, and to think, and to join with our fellow man in common purpose.  This is the place where friendliness replaces fear; obligations establish what is right; and joys and sorrows are shared experiences.  Loneliness is abolished there.  Communities are strong there.  All people matter there.

If we must experience hopelessness and despair before the unifying force of communal hopefulness reigns throughout this nation, then God bless Donald Trump for casting it upon us.  Because, I am sure, we will rise up to transcend politics and its false promises, and reconnect with the dormant spirit of a great nation that was built by immigrants that came here with nothing but hope, and united in the challenges of survival and community building.

Timothy Hullihan is an architect and freelance writer from North Palm Beach, Florida. He is also a board member of Sustainable Palm Beach County.

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Democracy in North Palm Beach

By: Timothy Hullihan

It didn’t occur to me until the September 8, 2016 workshop on a Memory Care Facility proposed on U.S. One, that the week-long charrette to kick-off our village-wide master plan in January is a rare form of democracy.  In North Palm Beach, however, it is in danger of becoming a symbolic form of democracy.

It is hard to imagine anything more democratic than a call to citizens to gather, voice their opinions, and collectively develop, and present ideas for a better place to live. For those of you that missed it, this happened on a Saturday in January in the cafeteria of North Palm Beach Elementary, and continued throughout the following week in the Village Council Chambers.  Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council (TCRPC) is/was the lead consultant to our village for this enormous and much needed undertaking.  It is an on-going process.

At the end of the week, TCRPC’s team of world-class urban planners, architects, economists, market analysts, and retail development consultants presented an in-progress summary of the week’s work. They had crunched an enormous amount of data, synthesized the ideas expressed by residents with their own professional experiences, and formed some ideas of their own by observing and recording the positive and negative conditions within our village.  The presentation was, again, characteristically democratic.  Hundreds of North Palm Beach residents gathered, learned, and were encouraged to critique the week’s work.  Enthusiastic applause signaled that TCRPC was headed in the right direction. The week-long charrette then came to a close, and TCRPC took the next 14-weeks to further refine, develop and expand the document that will eventually be adopted as our guide for growth and development for the next 50-years.

In late-May TCRPC completed a draft version of the Master Plan Document (MPD), and delivered it to our Village Manager, Jim Kelly. Shortly thereafter, the wheels of democracy began to come off.  For 3-weeks the MPD was withheld from broad distribution.  Miraculously, the day after our Planning Commission met in June, it was emailed to the Charrette Host Committee, and the Planning Commission Members; and made available on-line to village residents, many of whom had participated in its development.

While it was reasonable to review the draft before it was distributed, the timing of its distribution raises questions regarding Mr. Kelly’s intentions. It may just be a coincidence, but a Memory Care facility being proposed on U.S. One was on the agenda for the June Planning Commission meeting.  While Memory Care is a needed use in the village, and would otherwise be a non-issue, the architectural form of the proposal was in direct contrast with a key element of the draft MPD that was broadly supported by applauding residents is January – a “Village Center” that would bring “walkable neighborhood retail” to U.S. One, and breathe much needed life into the dated corridor.  Keeping the Planning Commission in the dark on this stark contrast is not how a small town democracy is supposed to work.

Prior to the June Planning Commission meeting, I and TCRPC (on separate occasions) encouraged the Memory Care development team to bring their facility to this site, but to change its architectural form so it could help us accomplish one of the more significant goals of our master plan – a village center. The developer chose not to follow this advice, and continue on with the plans unchanged.­

During the Planning Commission’s consideration of the Memory Care plan, questions about the master plan naturally arose. I witnessed Denise Malone, our new Community Development Director, and a planner by training, twice mislead the commission with her answers.  I do not know if she misled them intentionally, or out of ignorance.  But, in either case, this is not the kind of representation a democratically prepared vision should be receiving from the most senior planner in our village.

She was first asked about the status of the master plan. Her reply was approximately, “We have not received the draft document yet, and we are not sure when we will receive it.”  At the time of her answer, it had been 3-weeks since the village received the draft MPD from TCRPC.

The second inquiry asked for more information on what the master plan said about this particular site. To this she implied that the master plan is general in nature and “does not make specific recommendations for this site.”   The Memory Care site is prominently featured in the MPD as one of its essential recommendations.  A rendering of the site as drawn by TCRPC in the draft MPD is below:tcrpc_page9_cropped

This sketch looks at the presently vacant land from the southeast, and shows Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in the bottom right corner and U.S. One running diagonally from lower right to upper left.

The proposal for a Village Center at this location is not just a whim. It is grounded in economic analysis prepared by veteran urban real estate analyst, Tom Lavash, and the state-of-the-art advice of Robert Gibbs, the author of 5 books on retail planning and one of the most highly sought after retail consultants in the country – both members of the TCRPC team.  Mr. Lavash and Mr. Gibbs participated in our charrette all 7-days.  Mr. Gibbs lectured to a small audience while he was here on Tuesday evening at the Country Club.  In an oversimplified summary, the Village Center proposal is derived from these facts:

  1. Our U.S. One Corridor is out-of-date, and presently less than desirable for new investment.
  2. A far greater level of decline in the quality of U.S. One in other communities has led to a broader systemic decline of these communities at-large – something we must avoid.
  3. We have approximately 3-times the amount of office space on U.S. One than our town’s population can support.
  4. However, TCRPC’s “Leakage Analysis” shows that we, the residents of NPB, spend 118M dollars annually in the retail establishments of neighboring cities, and comparatively little in NPB. Thus, we have an enormous opportunity to capture retail spending and guide it to U.S. One.
  5. Per Mr. Gibbs, 85% of all new retail being developed in the U.S. is of the walkable, place-making, town center variety. This is a huge opportunity for our urban location.
  6. We have 2.7 acres of vacant land on U.S. One that abuts a thriving residential area.
  7. Per Mr. Gibbs, homes that have walkable “place-making” retail within walking distance have a higher property value by 50K to 100K dollars in comparison to those that don’t, but are otherwise within similar real estate markets.
  8. Although a village center could happen at other sites, none of those suggested in the draft MPD are vacant sites, and, therefore, have greater obstacles to development. Time is not on our side.

For whatever reason, these facts were withheld from the Planning Commission prior to their consideration of the Memory Care proposal for the same site. When one recalls that we, the residents of NPB, paid $250,000 for detailed, and expert analysis of our town, concealing its recommendations is unthinkable.  Fortunately, the Planning Commission voted the proposal down 3-2, in spite of a being misinformed.  The applicant, however, chose to bring the proposal to the Village Council anyway, and that process began on Thursday, September 8th, and the wheels of democracy fell off completely.

Since the MPD is to a large extent the result of a democratic process, and, therefore, representative of the desires of NPB residents, the above events are sufficient cause for concern. However, the following events paint an even bleaker picture of the status of democracy in North Palm Beach.

TCRPC has been unwavering in their advice to the applicant: The “form” of the memory care building(s) should be consistent with the form of a Village Center to help advance the village’s emerging vision for the future.  The developer continues to resist any changes to the form of his building because it is a prototype that they build all over the country.  TCRPC recently agreed, however, to offer suggestions that might help the prototype building be more compatible with the draft MPD, but did so with many caveats.  The most important of these caveats was to not construe, or represent their assistance as creating alternatives to the master plan’s proposal.  It is a plan that is wholly independent of that set of recommendations, and their plans should be viewed only as a way to make an unfortunate situation as good as it can be.

Just like keeping the Planning Commission in the dark, TCRPC’s efforts to help the Memory Care building move a little closer to the state-of-the-art MPD, and a little further away from the dated planning methods that are presently plaguing U.S. One, were handled behind closed doors and away from the public eye. The Village Manager even misdirected anyone who tried to look up the back-up material for the workshop.  The documents that the Village Council receives in advance of workshops are typically posted on the village website, but by directing the Village Clerk’s office to post the original plans that were rejected by the Planning Commission, Mr. Kelly effectively misinformed anyone seeking information about the upcoming meeting.  I was aware of the TCRPC effort, and the creation of an alternate plan, and, upon seeing the fake set of back-up documents provided by Manager Kelly, I requested to see the actual material that would be presented to the Council.  I was not successful.  Ms. Malone even left me a voicemail which stated that she had not seen anything new; the old back-up material was still current; and it was not likely that the applicant would be presenting anything new.

In truth, the Council saw none of the fake back-up material that was posted on-line on September 2nd by the Clerk’s office at Manager Kelly’s direction.  What they saw was a presentation from Ms. Malone that contained, incredibly, the new TCRPC plan, and the revelation that she and Mr. Kelly had been meeting regularly with TCRPC to get this plan created.  They also saw a presentation from the applicant containing the new TCRPC plan, and an alternative to it of their own creation.  The tone of the applicant’s presentation encouraged the Council to simply decide between TCRPC Plan #1, and TCRPC Plan #2.  Neither presentation contained any mention, or reference to TCRPC’s list of caveats, or the master plan’s starkly different recommendations for the site.  It is especially discouraging that the draft MPD, prepared in a democratic fashion and supported by village residents, would not be considered important enough to at least be part of our own staff’s presentation to the Village Council.

The Village Council is the victim here, much like the residents of NPB are. This needs to be very clear.  They are good, honest, and conscientious people that have the village’s best interest at heart.  In fact, Vice Mayor Bush adamantly voiced opposition to the Memory Care building because it had not been tweaked in any way to conform to the draft MPD.

Unfortunately, the strategy of withholding information worked on the rest of the Council and the Memory Care developer was given the direction he was seeking. He may now proceed with his plans as submitted, and no acknowledgement of the recommendations in the draft MPD is necessary.  They will soon be bringing the full proposal to the Village Council for final approval, and rezoning of the property.

In a democracy, the desires of the people matter. In a democracy, the Village Center Plan for this site would have been presented to our Planning Commission and Village Council, but neither happened.  On September 8th, the Council was asked to choose between two horrible plans that essentially cancel NPB’s best opportunity to bring vitality back to the U.S. One Corridor.  TCRPC does not support either scheme over its master plan recommendations, and only the 5 village residents who attended the workshop are even aware that this is happening.

Democracy in North Palm Beach has a form with which I am not familiar.

Timothy Hullihan is an architect and freelance writer living in North Palm Beach, Florida

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A Brief History of Zoning and Highway Construction in America

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, I am re-blogging a piece by Strong Towns member, Vince Graham, who writes from Charleston, South Carolina. Vince outlines the one-two punch zoning and road building delivered to the U.S. over the last 100-years.

Mr. Graham says, “Our problems are caused by what some would have us believe are cures – segregating land uses and connecting them with wide roads. These “cures” result in maximized congestion. The anti-social policies that fed this predicament were unwittingly launched by starry-eyed politicians and business leaders at a time when the U.S. was the world’s biggest creditor. Today, we are the world’s biggest debtor. This is no coincidence.”

You can read the entire piece here.

I add a few facts about roads, and cars, and the environment to highlight the broader environmental destruction that continues today, but the Millennial Generation brings hope:

6 things to know about cars:

  • The EPA estimates that the vehicles we drive are the source of 27% of all Carbon Dioxide emitted into the air in the U.S.
  • Cars have caused nearly 2% of the total surfaces area of the continental U.S. to be paved over for roads and parking lots.
  • Millennials are the first generations to see them as uncool, and unnecessary to daily living.
  • There are approximately 254 million cars in the U.S. and over 800 million paved parking spaces waiting for them to arrive – a ratio greater than 3 to 1.
  • The average car on a U.S. road is 11.4 years old, and is, therefore, polluting the air far more than it was originally designed to.
  • Cars can be driven on over 6 million lane-miles of rural roads, and nearly 3 million lane-miles of urban roads.

6 things to know about bicycles:

  • They emit no Carbon Dioxide.
  • Dedicated pathways and parking areas for bikes are unusual in the U.S., although gaining preference in urban areas where density, and a predictable and connected street grids make their use more practical.
  • Millennials are the first generations to see “utility cycling” as cool, and an intelligent component of daily living.
  • The U.S. Bicycle Market is estimated at 6.1 billion dollars. However, 99% of the bikes sold in the U.S. are imported from China or Taiwan.
  • Health surveys in the U.S. have shown that people that live in bikable communities tend to be slimmer, healthier and friendlier.
  • The National Household Travel Survey showed that the number of trips made by bicycle in the U.S. more than doubled from 1.7 billion in 2001 to 4 billion in 2009.

Timothy Hullihan is an architect and a board member of Sustainable Palm Beach County

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There are Proven Alternatives to Expanding Roads

By: Timothy Hullihan

The City of Palm Beach Gardens recently expressed enthusiastic support a new 45-million dollar interchange at I-95 and Central Boulevard as a “traffic reliever.” Some residents have voiced concern for the impact on their existing neighborhoods nearby, but they appear, unfortunately, to be in the minority even though their concerns are well founded in research and project implementation.

Ironically, The City of Palm Beach Gardens once hosted a lecture by a legendary traffic engineer named Walter Kulash, who was among the first to abandon, and counter with research, the straight-line logic of people = cars = traffic lanes preferred by the road building industry (the “dark side” as he humorously referred to them). The year was 2001, and Florida Atlantic University, and Palm Beach County’s Metropolitan Planning Organization joined forces to create a one-day, professionally facilitated, workshop on regional planning, and Walter was the keynote speaker.

Walter, an entertaining speaker, humorously presented research that showed how “induced demand” is not considered in the simple calculus used to justify road projects. Building new roads, widening existing ones, and adding interchanges actually increase traffic instead of reducing it. People are smarter than the simple straight-line predictive analysis the road building industry prefers. They change their habits to use newly improved roads more frequently, and less efficiently.

Within a congested roadway system, people become more efficient with the planning and combining of errands. They time car trips to avoid peak congestion. They make plans to stay within walking distance of their homes. The straight-line traffic models ignore human potential, and, as Walter showed us, are consistently a source of surprise when newly improved roadways are just as congested as the old ones in a very short time. The new, wider roads induce demand, and soon the projections for relief from congestion are rendered invalid by the realities of human behavior.

The flip-side of induced demand also taps our enormous potential for adaptation, and has proven to produce one of the most positive aspects of wise regional planning practices that shift us away from cars-only roadway thinking, that was dominant during the second half of the 20th Century. The concept of removing freeways and narrowing roads has been implemented across the country since the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco was damaged by the Loma Prieta Earthquake, in 1989. Instead of repairing the elevated freeway, the city chose to tear it down completely and replace it with a street level boulevard. By embracing less efficient roadways, and the numerous positive human responses to them, San Francisco’s waterfront evolved. Neighborhoods reconnected, and became eminently more pedestrian-friendly, thus reducing the need for car-trips over time, and the gloom and doom projections of gridlock never happened. Most significant, property values along the new boulevard tripled in a few short years.

Similar projects in Portland, New York, and Milwaukee followed San Francisco’s lead over the next decade, and, like San Francisco, those cities were not beset by traffic congestion, and more livable pedestrian oriented neighborhoods bloomed once the poisonous cloud of a car-dominated transportation system was removed.

Last month (June 2016), the USDOT got on board, and conducted 3 weeklong charrettes in cities across the country, like Spokane, Washington, to design replacement plans for roads and freeways that have divided neighborhoods for decades. The response was powerful, and the potential to, one day, fully reverse our destructive acceptance of a car-centered world reached new heights.

In an article Mr. Kulash wrote for the City of Nashville as part of a study there, he noted that, “By far, the most interesting response to [traffic] congestion is change in the pattern of origins and destinations. The choice of home location is one of the most volatile in this respect.” Wider roads, and the induced demand that comes with them, also encourage households to relocate to new suburban developments and accept longer commutes. Similar to the adjustments humans make to avoid congestion, inefficient roadways make us more likely to stay put, and continue reinvesting in older urban neighborhoods, and continue enhancing their walkability. Since humans adapt their routines to avoid congestion, and reinvestment in older neighborhoods is essential to their sustainable future, Kulash asks, “Who then is victimized by road congestion that causes residents to stay in place?” In fact, older neighborhoods are often the unintended victims of roadway projects because they are more easily abandoned for the newly accessible suburb.

Mr. Kulash is known for many one-liners, but possibly best known for saying, “Widening roads to solve traffic congestion is like loosening your belt to cure obesity.” If we build smart communities that capture traffic, and support existing urban neighborhoods with alternatives to car transportation, belt loosening is not necessary. If we rethink poor planning of the past, and inject walking, biking, and transit systems, belt tightening might even be possible.

Perpetuating the antiquated straight-line logic of people = cars = traffic lanes, perpetuates one of the most destructive forces against community building, and environmental sustainability – THE CAR.

Better planning, thinking, and development are happening throughout the United States, and around the world. Why can’t intelligent regional planning happen at Central Boulevard and I-95?

Timothy Hullihan is an architect and a board member of Sustainable Palm Beach County

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Love Street is Not the “Place Maker” it Claims To Be

By: Timothy Hullihan

The problem with the Love Street / Jupiter Inlet Village project is that nobody will live there. Although it has been scaled back in size, it remains just another drive-to destination.  Rather than creating a charming village, as its name implies, it proposes a place that will be entirely placeless each night after the last visitor drives away.

The planners, architects and developer of the project say the project is “all about real place making.”   Fortunately, we have a large amount of accepted research and knowledgeable writing on the subject of place making dating back over 40-years, and it can be applied in advance to gauge the quality of the place making that is most likely to happen there.

First, 2 things need to be clear about place making – 1) It is a human phenomenon that is, therefore, very personal, varying, and not measurable; 2) “Real” place making happens anywhere, and anytime there are humans present. The degree to which the architecture and urban planning of a new development affects the quality, type, or level of place making that can happen there is, however, what needs to be understood.  Whether the place making is real or not is a non-issue.  It is always real, just varying in quality.

Walkable communities with walkable destinations offer the highest potential for quality place making. This is well established, and our collective appreciation for the physical and mental health benefits of walkable communities is increasing every day.  But there is an important distinction between walkability and place making that must be made clear, because walkability is often hi-jacked in order to anoint a new development as “place maker” because it merely recreates the scale of a quaint urban street.  If nobody lives in, or walks to, a place its place making is ephemeral, and akin to Disney World’s Frontierland, or a circus big top.  Ephemeral place making is weak and fragile and, therefore, not a good foundation for communities. The present plan for Jupiter Inlet Village offers only ephemeral place making, but it doesn’t need to.

Another metric for place making is the place / non-place analysis. The foundation of this analysis is the universally accepted notion that the most walkable places have a high density of actual places and / or walkable destinations.  A typical urban neighborhood is 80% places and 20% non-places – non-places being things that are not intended for humans to occupy outside of a vehicle.  Sidewalks are places, but a lane on a vehicle-only street or a parking lot is not a place.  A park or a plaza intended for human activity, as signified by amenities humans will use, is a place, but green space or paved space that is not planned for human activity is a non-place.  The Love Street proposal that professes to be about “real place making” consists of 60% non-places, and 40% places.  This should not be an acceptable design for a village that seeks to have a strong sense of place.

Wasteful land use in the form of a high percentage of non-places is the critical flaw with all drive-to places that claim to be urban or have high quality place making at their core. They simply do not, and they perpetuate the car-centric development pattern that exacerbates quality-of-life negatives in South Florida – traffic, loss of identity, and the replacement of real places with faux places.

For Love Street / Jupiter Inlet Village to become the real place in claims it will be, it should do the following:

  1. Embrace the residential patterns that are still in the area, and were once far more prominent, and include residential units of a similar urban village quality.
  2. All parking should be metered, and of the on-street variety, and the parking lot should be replaced with a public green.
  3. Retail, commercial, and office space should be geared toward neighborhood uses, with the goal of replacing vehicle trips with bicycle or pedestrian trips to a very high degree.
  4. The lighthouse promenade must actually align with the lighthouse, and, thereby, solidify a framed street scape view of this landmark in perpetuity for all to share in. The promenade is presently a few degrees off, and focuses on a point well east of the lighthouse.

Development and redevelopment projects are not inherently bad things, in fact, many developments create great pedestrian and transit oriented places that foster living, working and playing within a tight-knit community. However, developments that pretended to be great place makers, and really are not, represent a continuation of the very harmful growth patterns of the last half-century in disguise.

Jupiter Inlet Village can be a great place, and an asset to the community, but it will not get there by pretending to be something that it is not.

Timothy Hullihan is and architect and a board member of Sustainable Palm Beach County

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The Fight Against Minto is Not Over

By Timothy Hullihan

My wife and I spent 3 hours Saturday night at a dinner hosted by ALERTS of PBC.  They are a well-organized group of residents from The Acreage, Loxahatchee, and Loxahatchee Groves that have been fighting the Minto West project for several years, and vow to continue the fight even though most people outside of these western communities believe the developer has already won.  We learned from warm, energetic, and wisdom-filled conversation that this group of citizens is fighting for the very same thing that the opponents of Love Street, Suni Sands, Avenir, and GL Homes are fighting for.  They are fighting for a future that looks much like the past.  They are fighting for the right to keep the places they have called home for decades from becoming places they no longer recognize, no longer feel comfortable in, and can no longer afford.

Many were surprised that we drove west from North Palm Beach to attend the dinner, but several also recognized the connection. Like the funky rental cottages on Love Street in Jupiter, and the rural lifestyle of Loxahatchee; North Palm Beach is among a dwindling number of places in Palm Beach County that have not been forced above the “Haimish Line,” a phrase coined by David Brooks a few years ago.  These are places where neighbors still know each other in a small town, Mayberry sort of way, and being a second or third generation resident is not uncommon.  These are places that were created incrementally and maintained for decades by the will of their people, and not created overnight through centralized decision-making and government overreach.

Although we arrived as strangers, we left with many new friends and, hopefully partners. We live 20-miles apart, but we formed an intellectual bond that is increasingly rare.  Every person we spoke to believes our elected officials are too often planning for, and steering public policy in favor of, the hypothetical residents of the future rather than the people who live here now.  Like us, they understand that planning for, and encouraging growth that relies on finite resources such as water, farmland, open space, and clean air is dangerously short-sighted unless the carrying capacity of those finite resources is understood.  Each understands that the declining portions of our county to the east are directly related to the shiny new developments recently approved in the west.  Western expansion doesn’t just accommodate growth, it also replaces and makes less desirable places further east that were once shiny and new.  All of us understand that the cost of building the roads to connect sprawling growth, and the schools, libraries and fire stations to serve it, has an enormously high long-term cost to tax payers that is rarely measured, discussed, or considered until it is too late.  None we spoke to is in favor of the 1-cent sales tax increase for this very reason.

Charles Marohn, founder of Strong Towns, recently said that “smart growth” typically isn’t smart at all because it is large scale managed growth that takes decision making away from the people that live there.  It is short-sighted like “payday loans, and eating one’s self into obesity.”  Incremental growth, that created The Acreage, Loxahatchee, Loxahatchee Groves, and the old sections of the Town of Jupiter, is what creates great places to live.  We need to put the control of the growth of these areas back into the hands of its residents before all the simple, quiet, and laid back places to live in Palm Beach County are traded for short-term profits, and the myth of tax revenue boons that never come true.

Timothy Hullihan is an architect and a board member of Sustainable Palm Beach County.

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