Currently viewing the category: "Density"

Streetsblog is reporting that over the past decade London has been reducing speed limits from 30 mph to 20 mph throughout the city.  Today London has over four hundred 20 mph zones. As s result, Londoners have benefited from a 46% decline in fatalities and serious injury within the 20 mph zones during the past decade according to British Medical Journal.

A 2008 map of London's 20mph zones. Image: London Assembly.

The high speed limits within our densest population pockets discourage people from walking or riding a bicycle. Brickell Avenue has a 35 mph speed limit and Biscayne Blvd. has a 30 mph speed limit. However, the design speed of both of these roads often encourages drivers to travel at speeds of 40-45 mph.  The first step to making our roads safer for bicyclists and pedestrians would be to reduce speed limits throughout Miami Dade County. The second step would be to introduce self-enforcing traffic calming measures such as: raised junctions, raised crosswalks, chicanes, road humps and roundabouts.

Source: peds.org/2009/01/

So what’s it gonna take for us to step up to 20 mph speed limits?  Can you imagine how much more livable our streets would be if speed limits were reduced on our city streets?  The results of the London experiment were so glaringly obvious after 4 years that in 2004 the World Health Organization endorsed 20 mph speeds as an essential strategy to save lives.

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The following article below is a reprint from NPR.org on April 1, 2008:

Atlanta Family Slashes Carbon Footprint

Atlanta resident Malaika Taylor used to live the typical suburban life — the kind that helps make America the world’s top contributor to climate change. But four years ago, fed up with commuting, Taylor and her 11-year old daughter, Maya, moved from the suburbs to the city.

And their “carbon footprint” shrank.

“There are some weekends when I don’t even use my car,” says Taylor.

The Taylors live in Atlantic Station, a new community in mid-town Atlanta designed to put jobs, homes and shopping all in one place, close to public transportation. Developments like Atlantic Station are springing up around the country, and proponents say they help cut car pollution, including the carbon dioxide that contributes to climate change.

Atlantic Station: A Climate Change Model

On a typical morning, Taylor walks her daughter to the bus stop and then keeps going 10 minutes to her job as a property manager at an apartment complex.

“I have to admit, if it’s raining or really cold, I drive,” she says.

Her mile-long commute is unusual in Atlanta, where the federal government estimates the average resident drives 32 miles each day. Early surveys show the people who live and work in Atlantic Station drive about a third that much, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We don’t often think of a development as a way to solve environmental problems. But this is really a unique example of kind of growing your way into better environmental quality,” says Geoff Anderson, who helped steer the Atlantic Station project through the regulatory process for the EPA. Anderson now heads Smart Growth America, an environmentally friendly development advocate.

At first, the EPA supported Atlantic Station as a way to help Atlanta fight its unhealthy smog problem. Anderson says now the agency sees the community as a model of how America can fight climate change.

“The two biggest things we do from a carbon perspective are, we heat our houses or cool them, or we drive. And when you combine that, that’s going to add up to a big chunk of your personal carbon footprint,” Anderson says.

A Smaller Impact

Reducing her carbon footprint was not Taylor’s intent when she moved. She just wanted her life back.

But living in the city has cut the small family’s impact on global warming to about half the national average for a family of two.

When they lived in the suburbs, Taylor filled up her gas tank three or four times every two weeks. Now she fills up once in two weeks.

Her other energy bills shrank, too.

In the winter, her gas bill to heat her suburban house was almost $200. Now she uses electricity to heat and cool their compact, two-bedroom loft. That bill tops out around $80, about 20 percent less than the average bill for an Atlanta household.

Apartments often have lower energy costs because of shared walls and smaller spaces. Americans send more than 1 trillion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air, or about a fifth of the nation’s total emissions. If lots of Americans lived like the Taylors, then the nation’s greenhouse-gas pollution could drop by hundreds of millions of tons.

Of course, the move didn’t come without tradeoffs.

“I can’t afford to buy a house in the city. It took me four garage sales to get rid of enough stuff to fit into my apartment. I thought I purged, and it still wasn’t enough, and I had to purge again,” says Taylor.

Gaining a Life

On one recent rainy afternoon, Taylor drives to pick up Maya at the bus stop. It takes them almost no time and hardly any gas or greenhouse gas emissions.

What’s more, when it’s time to take a trip to the grocery store, it takes only two minutes to get there, and she’s is back home within 15 minutes.

“That’s hands down one of the biggest perks about living here. The convenience, convenience, convenience,” Taylor says.

It’s only 4:20 p.m. Maya has already made a big dent in her homework. And Malaika has a few hours to kill.

“Maybe I’ll work out. Maybe we’ll play a game. It makes a huge difference just in the quality of our life,” Taylor says. “We get to spend a lot more time together. I think she’s happier. I’m happier. It makes life a lot better.”

Image: Flickr

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Walking around in the Stade Olympique neighborhood of Montreal’s outskirts, I saw the perfect opportunity to illustrate how seamlessly medium density buildings can be integrated with classic single family homes (sans the hideous car ports). This picture above shows a row of multi-family buildings abutting one story and short two-story houses that are not unlike the ubiquitous kind of single family housing found throughout Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.

This is the kind of infill that Miami 21 would make possible, in turn creating denser communities in an unobtrusive manner. This also makes it easier to build affordable housing that makes for diverse socioeconomic communities.

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I know we have already mentioned this topic this week, but considering the Herald continues its negative spin campaign against the zoning rewrite I thought a healthy counterpoint was in order. Herald columnist Ana Mendez writes in her column today that she thinks that the code is a little too complicated for a layperson to understand.

She writes, “Its true zoning codes are difficult to write. And no one wants to minimize the important role that government plays in assessing the public’s needs and translating them into hopelessly complicated, impenetrable legal gobbledygook. But there has to be a better way.”

Now, as an urban planner and architect I agree that the language can be difficult at times, but the fact is that anyone with a high school education can figure it out (not to mention that all of the terms used are defined in the first chapter). Part of the problem is that we have to translate good urban design (which is a field that lends itself to drawing more than writing) into legal ‘gobbledygook’ so that land-use attorneys and developers don’t find loopholes in otherwise straightforward regulations.

Codes (Miami 21 or any other land use code) have to be written in language that is not simplistic, and that will hold up to scrutiny in court. Menendez quotes from the code:


Lots facing streets on more than one (1) side shall have designated Principal Frontage(s) and may have Secondary Frontage(s). Unless otherwise designated by a Special Area Plan, a Principal Frontage shall be that facing the street of higher pedestrian importance or intensity (i.e., traffic volume, number of lanes, etc.)

Which is another way of saying that you define the front of a corner lot as the one that faces the busiest street, but you can’t say that in a legal document because if you did then you would have all sorts of follow-up questions like:

  • How do you define which street is most important?
  • What do you call the other less important front?

Unfortunately, I think that this criticism of Miami 21, along most others, is less about the code than about blaming it for things that are beyond its control.

Here are a few of the arguments against Miami 21 that I have read both on the Miami 21 website and in various articles over the past two years:
-> “Miami 21 is the first urban application of a smart code in the US. It is an experiment that has never been tested.”

Actually, Miami 21 is not the first form based code to be applied to a major urban center, Philadelphia is in the process of passing a form based code, and I think we would all agree that as far as successful urbanism is concerned Miami pales in comparison. Form based codes have actually been around for a long time. Think of any good city (Chicago, New York, Philly, Boston) and their downtowns were developed with codes that were form based (as opposed to use based).

-> “Miami 21 is hated by architects and urban planners.”

Actually, having been written by urban planners and architects this one is not really true. The Herald loves to point out that architects dislike the plan, but really only a vocal minority of self-crowned celebrity architects dislike the code as a matter of ego than of substance. One architect in particular (whose name will remain anonymous except to say that it begins with Z and ends with h) says that the code infringes on his creativity by imposing height restrictions. Without going into some lengthy discussion on aesthetics and philosophy, lets just say that where this designer is concerned, creativity is overrated. Miami 21 holds faithful to some pretty basic premises (active street fronts, eyes on the street, etc.) and allows a lot of latitude after that. If you need your building to stand out like a huge phallic symbol, go to Dubai. Never mind that the the latest draft of the code has all but relaxed the height restrictions in certain T-Zones to be what they are in the existing code.

-> “Miami 21 will not allow me to rebuild my house if it gets destroyed.”

First of all, as with any zoning rewrite there will be nonconformities. The whole point of the code is that the existing code is allowing some pretty awful stuff to get built, and the new code will make some of that illegal. That’s the nature of any zoning code. I live in a 1940′s med style house that is illegal by today’s code because its too close to the sidewalk. Go figure. At any rate, the new draft of the code explicitly states that nonconformities in R1 zones will be grandfathered in. Period.

-> “Developers hate Miami 21.”

This one is my favorite. Developers love Miami 21 because it gives them greater development rights than they had before. The code was drafted using the existing regulations as a base. That means that all of the development rights have been preserved or augmented. All the code does is say that you have to meet the street in a way that will promote healthy urbanism. It’s not complicated.

-> “Miami 21 will allow tall buildings next to single family residences along Biscayne in the NE part of town.”

This one is true much to the chagrin of community activists such as Elvis Cruz who have long protected the area. Unfortunately they aren’t entirely using their thinking caps as to what they get in return for this extra height. Along parts of Biscayne you can build a 3 story building that would reach a height of 50′+ that would be adjacent to 30′ homes.

There are two parts to this that people need to understand.

1) We are trying to encourage pedestrian friendly development along in this part of Biscayne and part of that involves defining the street as a public space. With a street as large as Biscayne is, you need something more than two stories to make that happen. I don’t think that 50′ is all that egregious a transition to a single family neighborhood (especially in comparison to what is allowed now).
2) We need to start thinking of our eastern edge as the place where more intense development needs to happen. We cannnot hold the UDB line and be NIMBY’s at the same time. Saving the Everglades means that growth has to be in someone’s backyard. Biscayne Boulevard deserves buildings that are more than 3 stories.

Remember this: Miami 21 is a lot better than the existing code, and if we let this opportunity pass we are the ones who suffer. This is not some abstract concept in a book, this is about the kind of city in which we want to live and raise our families. I for one will not give up.

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I had the opportunity recently to sit down an speak with Miami Beach Chief of Staff AC Weinstein, who on Mayor Bowers’ behalf, was kind enough to answer some critical questions for us on the future of Miami Beach. I’ll post the questions/Answers below and follow up with some commentary tomorrow:

TM: The greater Miami area is awash with development, cranes, and construction, a sign of prosperous economic times, without permitting overdevelopment in Miami Beach, what will you do to continue to ensure the economic vitality of one of our strongest engines?

AC: All the development in Miami Beach does not ensure economic vitality; rather the economic vitality will continue to be the proper balance of reasonable development and respect for our residential neighborhoods. Overdevelopment does not ensure economic vitality of Miami Beach.

Referendum questions in height variance above 3 feet must go to the voters.

TM: Recent studies conducted by various planning experts suggests that Miami Beach will be ready (from a congestion standpoint) for an effective public transportation system around 2011. What is your position on improving public transportation on Miami Beach, particularly concerning the Baylink proposal? If you are against the proposal, please share your concerns, reservations, and alternative plans you suggest.

AC: MPO committee member informed the subcommittee will not see baylink in our lifetime. The Mayor has always leaned against the baylink system, because residents want to remove overhead wires. The shuttle buses are more compatible with our historic city and are more reliable than streetcars. The city recently completed a Washington Avenue Streetscape and would not want to tear up the roadway to install tracks.

TM: The environment has become a hot topic both locally and across America. This issue is obviously a concern to Miami Beach due to the possibility of rising seas, extensive beach erosion, and loss of vital fish habitat. What plans do you have to push Miami Beach in a more ecologically friendly direction? (I am specifically referencing LEED certification, reduced vehicle demand, and water conservation.)

AC: The Mayors office has created a green committee to specifically research this issue and looks forward to the recommendations of this committee.

TM: Given the fact that approximately 50% of Miami Beach residents do not rely on a vehicle as a primary means of transportation, what improvements can you foresee evolving to make the city more hospitable to pedestrians and cyclists?

AC: The Mayor has established a Bikeway committee to address this question and with commission approval new bike lanes and greenways will be moving forward. Greenway could be possible along Indian Creek, however, we need ROW from property owners.

TM: How do you feel about a Bicycle sharing program similar to the Velib recently installed in Paris

AC: It is an interesting program that I think would work well with our city. New construction will be required to include bicycle racks.

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“Higher density housing offers an inferior lifestyle only when it is without a community as its setting.”

- Andres Duany

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Can you name the city and the neighborhood?

Photos: Flickr.com

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Too often our society seems to overlook one of our most important modes of transportation- our own two legs. A new website, Walk Score, aims to change our dependence back to our own legs for personal mobility and seeks to help homebuyers find homes with many destinations within walking distance.

The premise is simple, you enter an address and the system characterizes the neighborhood on a 0-100 scale based on how many destinations are within a reasonable (less than 1 mile) walking distance. Essentially any ranking below 25 is is impossible to walk around while scores above 90 signify dense easily accessible neighborhoods. The website takes schools, restaurants, grocery stores, shops, parks, and libraries among other items into consideration when calculating the neighborhoods walk score.

Walk score allows people to quickly find homes in areas where car ownership let alone full dependence on a vehicle is not a requirement. In playing around with the program for a little while you’ll quickly see the disparity between automobile based/designed sprawl areas and true urban neighborhoods. The importance of walking to destinations daily cannot be emphasized enough from a planning perspective or as new research shows as a matter of your health.

President Bush’s Crawford Ranch somehow attained the dubious zero rating. Let us know how your neighborhood compares…

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The Ontario Professional Planners Institute (OPPI) recently came out with a report that, like so many other reports the last few years, illustrates the relationship between sprawl and obesity. The report argues that if planners are to reverse this crisis, they’ll need to find ways to get people out of cars and auto-centric communities and into denser, mixed-use neighborhoods where things are closer together. From the Toronto Star:
There’s no question there’s a connection between obesity, diabetes and heart-related diseases and the built environment, specifically sprawl, said co-author George McKibbon. Air quality is an issue, too, especially for those who live near highways. We also found that if you’re in a car four to five hours a day, social cohesion is at risk.

The report’s authors go on to say:

Good urban form is functional, economically and environmentally sustainable, and liveable, in a way that promotes public health. These communities offer a variety of housing options, facilities and open-space systems. They are walkable, cyclable, and include transit-oriented development, and promote alternatives to the single occupancy vehicle.

The report takes a close look at the issue of childhood obesity and how patterns of large, spread out schools have contributed by not allowing kids to walk to school. According to OPPI traffic engineer, Nick Poulos, simply by letting kids walk to and from school, we’d be healthier, pollution would be reduced, and neighborhood traffic would be reduced by 15 to 20 percent.

This is just one more reason why Miami needs to become denser and more transit-oriented. Do you know how much money per year is spent on obesity-related illness in the U.S. right now? Over $100 billion, including $60+ billion in direct medical costs and $50+ billion in lost productivity. That, my friends, is the very definition of a health and spending crisis.

You are where you live — think about it.

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Though it often seems like TransitMiami is only critical of Miami’s urban planning, transportation, land use, and urban design, we believe it is important to illustrate the bright points as well.
This brings me to today’s post, where I want to showcase my favorite Greater Miami street - Espanola Way on South Beach.

From an urban design perspective, this street embodies all the incredible potential I see in Miami. Let’s take a moment to address several of the elements that give Espanola Way its fantastic urban design:

  • Appropriate density for an urban environment; good physical urban continuity
  • Buildings are right up to the sidewalk; this defines urban space, in turn creating a much better sense of place than we see in most of Greater Miami
  • Narrow street; this minimizes the amount of valuable urban street space allotted to automobiles, which means less thru-traffic (none at all when it is blocked off for the Farmer’s Market), noise, emissions, and lost street space
  • Presence of shade trees, awnings, and balconies offer a reprieve from the hot South Florida sun
  • Mixed use buildings
  • Moderately wide sidewalks (for Miami)
  • Architecture that reflects local culture and history
  • Facades that are open to the street, which engage pedestrians
Frankly, this is what a high-quality urban environment looks like. There is plenty of density, but it’s built at human scale. Because the streets are narrow and parking spaces few, Espanola Way doesn’t suffer from the noise, emissions, and lost street space that plagues so many other Miami streets.

While a lot of the shops are quirky, there is a decent mix of restaurants and cafes (I am a big fan of Hosteria Romana). The point is, however, that if many other Miami streets and neighborhoods were designed this way, the foundation would be set for an urban community that has a comprehensive set of urban amenities.

Photos: Mouffetard’s, clarks aunt, & golbog’s flickr

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Here at Transit Miami, we’re always preaching about how important it is to increase Miami’s density while simultaneously reinforcing how critical it is for this density to follow quality urban design principles. Unfortunately, I’ve spent more time bashing new developments for being auto-oriented, fueling NIMBY rhetoric that “all development is bad and greedy”, and ultimately squandering a great opportunity to improve Miami’s urban facade.
However, I’m happy to inform you about “Oak Plaza”, a new development in the Design District. This development, which recently won the Congress for the New Urbanism’s 2007 Charter Award, is a perfect example of how quality density with pedestrian-first urban design can enhance our neighborhoods.

What makes it work? The buildings engage the pedestrian realm instead of hiding from it. The arcades not only add architectural flair, but they offer shaded walkways for pedestrians. The buildings are built right up to the sidewalk, which helps define urban space and enhance pedestrian accessibility. The sidewalk trees don’t appear to be much more than aesthetic at this point, but just as the neighborhood matures overtime, the trees should grow enough to add some shade in the future.

My favorite part of this development, however, is the creation of a public plaza. Public plazas, when designed right, can serve as great public gathering spaces and are the next best thing to parks. If you’ve ever been to Manhattan, you’ll notice that plazas are everywhere, and thousands and thousands of people use them each day, be it as a meeting place, for people-watching, or just as a nice spot to sit on a ledge and rest for a few minutes. William Whyte, a world-class urban observer and mentor for so many urban planners, does an excellent job showcasing public plazas in his book The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (the red book in our “recommended reading list”).

Thus, plazas present a great opportunity to provide Miami with more public meeting spaces, which it desperately needs. It’s very difficult to be a thriving urban destination without them. Oak Plaza’s architects even designed this particular plaza around 150 year old oak trees. Again, this shows that with good urban design we can have increased density without bulldozing over all of our trees. Khoury & Vogt, Cure & Penabad should be applauded for this design.

Note: The two main buildings at Oak Plaza will be called Y-3 and Ligne Roset.

Fortunately, we should see many more developments like this once Miami 21 passes. Oak Plaza embodies the type of design elements that Miami 21 will mandate. Hopefully those concerned with an increase in density in their neighborhood due to Miami 21 can see that Oak Plaza represents a great example to follow when critiquing future developments.

Erik Vogt, one of the project designers said it well when referring to Oak Plaza, “a critique of what Miami could have been and what it still could be”.

Beth Dunlop, Herald architectural critic says it even better:

“If every work of architecture had the intelligence, the artistry, the engagement and yes, the sense of enchantment of Oak Plaza, we’d be living in a really remarkable place”.

Photos courtesy of Congress for the New Urbanism

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(Click on the photo for a larger image)
  • Appropriate density w/rowhouses
  • Quality architecture and urban design
    • Front porches
    • Short setbacks
    • Beautiful ornamentation
    • Designed to interact with people and not cars
  • Bike Lanes
  • Real Trolleys (aka Streetcars)
  • No Curb Cuts/Driveways - On-street parking ONLY

It’s very straightforward - we could have this in Miami, too.

photo courtesy of freekpowerticket’s flickr account

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Although I have been generally pleased with Miami’s growth patterns of the last few years, I have always been concerned about the outcome. I am afraid Miami is building a completely novel urban environment, perhaps unlike anywhere else on Earth. What do I mean by this? Partially due to the lack of comprehensive transit and the region’s obsessive car culture, nearly all of the City’s new development is being designed for people to drive to, park in a garage, and walk in only the very immediate area to arrive at their destination.

This is exacerbated by the excessive minimum parking standards set by the City Code. Miami’s urban central business district has always had way too much parking for an urban core, but with the addition of all these new buildings as many as 100,000 more parking spaces are being added to the area. What a disgusting waste of valuable urban space. This is what I mean by Miami creating a novel urban environment – I can’t think of another major city in the history of the world that has simultaneously added so much core density and so much more parking. Or, put another way, I can’t think of another major city in the history of the world that has added so much more dense urban infrastructure without substantially curbing driving demand.

Perhaps even more worrisome is that people won’t even do the little bit of walking I mentioned above. They often may not need to. If you’re living in a high-rise in Brickell, you surely have a large parking garage pedestal. Say you want to go shopping at a downtown building with ground floor retail. It’s highly likely, especially if the building is new, that it will also have plenty of on-site parking. All you would have to do, in this case, is take the elevator to the parking garage (or valet), pull out and drive to the on-site garage at your destination. In many instances, there may even be direct access from the parking garage to the ground-floor retail. The same is true if you’re planning on visiting a friend in another building; just drive from one garage to another without ever setting food outdoors.

To see if this is happening, I went downtown and to Brickell to do some qualitative observation to gauge the ratio of pedestrian-to-automobile traffic coming and going from various buildings. I started at the One Miami building, where one of my friends resides. First of all, it doesn’t help that the building is almost entirely designed to interact with automobiles, not the pedestrian realm (seen here on the left), as Gabe pointed out in a recent post. Unfortunately, just as I suspected, one car after another came and went from the building’s massive parking garage. As for pedestrians? I was one of only a handful during about a 45 minute stretch between 1:45 pm and 2:30 pm.

Next, I took the Metromover down to Brickell so I could survey another building where a friend resides – the Club at Brickell Bay. It should be noted that this building felt rather hostile to pedestrians as well, due to the half-circle valet area and columns out front at the building’s only pedestrian entrance. At first, however, it seemed like there was more pedestrian interaction in this area. However, upon closer observation, almost all of the pedestrian activity was from people coming from and going to their cars which were parallel parked within about a two block radius of the Club. Meanwhile, car after car rode down Brickell Bay Drive looking for on-street parking, or entering and exiting the garage from the side of the building. Same went for the building next door. An occasional pedestrian or two could be seen coming from a distance every now and then, but they were far outnumbered by those driving.

Some of my friends have told me to relax, that things will improve a lot once the area matures and more retail is added nearby. This may be true to some degree, especially downtown, where pretty much everything is closed by 8:00 pm. However, I don’t think we can rely upon the major proposed retail projects to help a whole lot. For example, City Square is planning on providing a whopping 4,052 parking spaces! Same goes for Bayview Market (2,360). Same goes for Midtown Miami (2,900), regardless of the proposed Streetcar that would serve it.

Furthermore, we can’t blame a lack of transit for people deciding to drive everywhere in downtown and Brickell. These two locales are served by multiple modes of transit including taxi cabs, pitting them among the best transit-served areas in the southeastern United States. Everything, from groceries, retail, medical care, schools, jobs, banks, parks, restaurants, cafes, and nightlife are all accessible from short Metrorail, Metromover, or taxi rides (I’m not even going to include Metrobus in this piece).

In fairness, I know there are many people who have moved downtown or to Brickell so they could leave the car at home (or behind). We’ve even had commenters on TransitMiami mention their delight for being able to walk or take transit to most destinations. However, I believe these people are still very much in the minority.

Miami 21 aims to solve these problems. Due to fervent public outcry, parking will still be over mandated, but not quite as much as under current ordinances. Moreover, Miami 21 will force new buildings to have habitable space on nearly all building facades, aiming to significantly improve interaction with the pedestrian realm. The Streetcar proposal aims to improve north-south transit between downtown and midtown. A Bicycle Master Plan is still desperately needed. I sincerely hope that these actions improve the current situation in our urban core.

I don’t want Miami to become infamous for its dubious distinction as a park n’ walk city.

top photo courtesy of James Good’s flickr account

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If there is one city in North America that truly understands good urban planning, it would have to be Vancouver, British Columbia. This Southwestern Canadian city of nearly 590,000 has been utilizing smart growth principles for decades, helping make it one of the most livable cities on the continent.

A recent article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about the city really illustrates how Vancouver operates on a different plane than most U.S. cities. Below are several excerpts and quotes from the article, which I feel illustrate my point well:

  • For starters, Vancouver residents waged a 10-year battle to keep freeways from its urban core in the 1970s, eventually defeating a plan that would have placed a highway right through its Chinatown and adjacent its downtown waterfront.
    • “We are the only North American city of any significance without an interstate at its core,” said Gordon Price, an urban affairs professor at Simon Fraser University, who used to serve on Vancouver‘s City Council.
  • However, instead of the city drying up economically and becoming inaccessible and unlivable, Vancouver’s core has become one of the most thriving urban areas in North America.
  • Density has been a trademark of Vancouver’s success. “The greater the density, the better it is for transit. But density must be sensitively designed so it welcomes people at street level. ‘Once you get the street right — the first 30 feet of a building — how high you go is not important,’ Price said.”
    • “Density is good”, says Larry Beasley, former city planning director for Vancouver, who has been recognized worldwide as helping create a new urban model
  • City leaders readily admit that their Vancouver model is counter-intuitive.

Note: We are always mentioning on TransitMiami how many aspects of smart growth, like higher densities and less parking, are very counter-intuitive.

    • “We are building cities we don’t actually like,” Price said. “Everyone can drive everywhere for everything. But if it’s the only game in town, it doesn’t even work for the car.”
  • However, in building a wide pedestrian and bicycle path around downtown, it created an environment free from cars.
    • “There’s no better alternative to the car than walking,” Beasley said. “We have been doing everything in our power to make walking comfortable. We actually have fewer cars coming into the downtown area than we had 10 years ago.”
  • The city also has invested strongly in transit, including rapid rail, commuter rail, electric buses, streetcars and ferries.
    • “We like that it’s hard to get in and out of downtown (by automobiles)…We have a policy to not even expand one lane of roads coming in and out of our city.”
  • One agency in Greater Vancouver — TransLink — oversees all transportation, including roads. Transportation projects and operations are largely financed through gas taxes, which total nearly $1.60 a gallon compared to 25.9 cents in Georgia. And TransLink has total flexibility on how it can spend its money, meaning gas taxes subsidize transit and other modes of travel.
Wow. Let’s review some of these points. Vancouver is very much pro-transit and anti-expressway (especially through its core and by its waterfront). Even better, the city utilizes a hierarchy of rail, including streetcars, much to the chagrin of Miami NIBMYs. The city strongly embraces higher densities, viewing such as the key to livable, sustainable neighborhoods instead of an evil prospect. Furthermore, Vancouver’s urban policy is designed largely around the pedestrian opposed to the automobile, seeing walking as an efficient, legitimate, and comfortable way of getting around. Even bicycles are put on a pedestal.

Alas, what I find very exciting is that only one agency, TransLink, oversees all transportation including roads. This allows for transportation planning to be much smoother and cohesive, especially in comparison to our terribly fragmented system with several competing entities. This also makes it much easier for planners and administrators to enhance and maintain transit. And, what I really love is that TransLink isn’t afraid to rise gasoline prices even higher through gas taxes - something unfathomable for most U.S. cities.


photo courtesy of clashmaker’s flick account

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I thought it would be a good idea to provide a visual of how auto-centric land use destroys the urban continuity of a neighborhood. The above picture is an aerial photograph of Manhattan’s Upper West Side between 83rd and 86th streets, while the bottom picture is an aerial of Miami’s Allapattah neighborhood between NW 23rd and NW 27th St. It is amazing how much land is wasted to provide parking in the Miami photo - you’re looking at almost a 1:1 ratio of square footage allocated for parking to square footage allocated for housing. Much of this land could have been used to build more affordable housing units, which is obviously in high demand throughout Miami-Dade. And, before you cry foul, this development is located only five blocks from the Santa Clara metrorail station.

Also, notice how the compact nature of the New York neighborhood saves massive numbers of acres to be allocated to parks and open spaces nearby (Central Park). If the Upper West Side, as well as the other other neighborhoods that surround Central Park, were designed in a similar form as the Allapattah development, Central Park would not be possible as we know it, because the land just would not be available.

Moreover, the density in the Upper West Side affords small, independent, non-chain retail to thrive. So many people live within one square mile that it becomes possible to have several stores offering similar categories of merchandise within the same block, as well as on every block. Consequently, residents can find everything they need on their own block, in turn cutting down on demand for long distance trips and sustaining small businesses versus regional retail as in Miami.

Throughout most of Miami-Dade County, densities are too low to support this kind of small business on every block. As a result, regional retailers (often big box or chain) stand alone catering to populations within multiple-mile-radii. Of course, this requires most people to access these regional retail centers by automobile, which leads to bad city codes requiring the kind of auto-oriented land use in the picture above. This leads me to my final point…

The Upper West Side, a rather high-income neighborhood, affords people to eschew car ownership (over 75% of residents in the Upper West Side don’t own cars), which easily leads to savings of several thousands of dollars a year, while the low-income residents of Allapattah continue to be compelled to an auto-centric paradigm.

I could go on foreover about the positives of density, given quality urban design of course. However, for this post I wanted to focus on the visual.

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