Some pretty good urbanism reading on a long holiday weekend

Check out this article from a self-identified conservative professor of philosophy:

Philosopher embraces New Urbanism.

In brief, these concepts and the benefits that flow from them aren’t just for Dirty Hippies, Slackers, and Hipsters. And contemplate for a moment how closely the streetcar neighborhood in Grand Rapids resembles our own patch of this earth in terms of the richness of accessible amenities. I’ll just leave the opening preamble of the Charter of the New Urbanism, quoted in the article, here while noting that even as Boston’s population grows and the initial issue is not so much about private disinvestment, we still struggle with bringing our city’s politics, policies, and actions around to meet the challenges that remain:

The Congress for the New Urbanism views disinvestment in central cities, the spread of placeless sprawl, increasing separation by race and income, environmental deterioration, loss of agricultural lands and wilderness, and the erosion of society’s built heritage as one interrelated community-building challenge.

Some thinking about walkable neighborhoods and why “affordable” neighborhoods are about more than just housing costs…


Why walkability is not a luxury

This is a longish read from Rob Steuteville at Public Square and it glosses over some of the deeper issues on disinvestment in our cities in the second half of the 20th century and the hard set of issues that arise from displacement as demand and investment return. But I commend it to help frame the ongoing debate here in Boston and in Roslindale about growth, walkability, and what makes a neighborhood affordable.

If you concentrate on just housing costs, you’re missing half of the direct cost picture and much of the indirect environmental and public health costs. To know if a neighborhood is truly affordable, both housing and transportation costs need to be considered, and then environmental and health impacts have to be layered in on top of that. On this basis, one finds that neighborhoods that seem expensive really aren’t that expensive and neighborhoods that seem affordable really aren’t that affordable. Discuss.

4 Minutes for Walkability — What is it, how is it achieved, and what’s it good for?

If you have time to click on this link at grist:

The key to fighting climate change and mortality? Walkable cities.

read the intro, and then watch the short video — I believe that’s a 4 minute time commitment in total — you’ll find it worth your while. An excellent summary of what makes a place walkable, how it’s achieved, and what it’s good for. Enjoy and then get out there and get to it!

Urban Moneyball for Walkability

Thought-provoking episode of Christopher Lydon’s Open Source podcast, featuring Mayor Walsh’s chief of staff Daniel Arrigg Koh among others, about the city’s ambitious move toward a “Moneyball” statistical/evidence-based approached to government. There are benefits as well as perils to this approach–we need to make sure we measure the right things, protect against “gaming” the system, and not lose sight of the forest for the trees (or, in this case, for micro-level data). The opportunities to promote walkability through a data driven approach are manifold and exciting, however, and better collection and use of data is key to the Vision Zero Initiative.

We recommend the entire episode which repeatedly touches on issues of transportation, walkability, density, and vibrant neighborhoods, but if you only have a minute, check out this snippet from city planner Jeff Speck, Boston-area resident and author of Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, who called in to highlight the importance of walkability metrics.

(download link)

Also of interest is a somewhat contrary perspective on the “knowledge economy” and its ill impacts on neighborhood character from the Baffler’s John Summers, who bemoans the transformation of Central Square later in the episode, expressing the general sentiment of his article The People’s Republic of Zuckerstan.