Archive for the 'Population' Category

In Search of the "American Dream"

In an article today in the Herald, Flagler County (emphasis on City of Palm Coast), is touted as the fastest growing county in the United States. Whenever I hear “fastest growing city/county” in the United States, as if that implies a fantastic place to live, I am always skeptical, especially given the deplorable planning history of fast-growing places in this country. Upon hearing that, I usually think of places like Las Vegas, Southwest Florida, and the Atlanta exurbs.

What I found interesting, is that the author (and inevitably the hostile commenters) took an angle that emphasized the emigration of South Floridians to the Palm Coast area, even stating:

“Driving a chunk of Flagler’s growth: a couple thousand South Floridians. Some say they left to escape congested roads, confining cookie-cutter developments, and skyrocketing home prices”.

Yeah, yeah. I hear it all the time - “I can’t wait to leave Miami (usually lumping it with all of Dade/South Florida)”. Jeer the overdevelopment, traffic congestion, high home prices, high insurance, overcrowded schools, blase blase. So let’s move upstate to this smaller county where everything is just peachy? Not so fast my friend.

Let’s break Palm Coast down for what it really is/will be:

If you examine it from satellite (above), you’ll notice that nearly every subdivision neighborhood is comprised of scatter grids with poor connectivity. This means almost all traffic from each subdivision neighborhood will be dumped onto a handful of collector roads (e.g. Palm Coast Pkwy, Belle Terre Pkwy, etc). As this city grows, these roads will quickly become overwhelmed with traffic. Inevitably, officials will move to widen the arterials into de-facto highways, with at least three lanes each direction along with 40-45 MPH speed limits, long traffic light headways, and huge intersections. Due to the auto-centric nature of these roads, sidewalks will be small (if they even exist), awkward, and useless because pedestrians will have to cross large surface parking lots to get to cookie-cutter shopping centers.

They probably wouldn’t walk in the first place, because even though their home may be in close proximity to where they want to go, the lack of thru-streets and presence of tangible subdivision boundaries will force the pedestrian to go way out of their way just to reach the arterial (as seen above). Biking wouldn’t be much of an option, either, because of the same reasons above plus the fact that riding on these arterials will be very dangerous (if not illegal).

To add fuel to the fire, Palm Coast has an extremely low average population density of only 862/square mile. This, in conjunction with single-use zoning, creates very large distances between places, making driving everywhere (even for the most basic trips) practically a necessity. Subsequently, officials write into the city code massive parking requirements for all land uses, further inducing trips by automobiles and justifying driving everywhere. At this point, most people become much more concerned with their private property then the lifeless public spaces afforded by such an environment, so things like golf courses get built instead of public parks.

Soon enough, this area will run out of land to accommodate population growth because for years unnecessarily large building footprints have been used during the current boom. Combined with the geographic location, property values will shoot up fast (already have, to some degree), traffic congestion will increase, commute times will increase, and people will really be screwed as gas prices inevitably continue to rise. Schools will probably be overcrowded (already mentioned in the article), crime will probably increase due to a variety of reasons, property insurance will be sky high, and soon people will be citing all the same reasons they left South Florida (insert other sprawl town here) in the first place.

Sorry, there’s no chance in hell I would endorse this place, let alone move there. It is about as unsustainable as any city I’ve ever seen, and a classic example very poor urban planning.

I think it’s funny that people are already complaining about problems stemming from the area’s recent growth. If growth there continues along this paradigm, the problems will only get worse.

Municipal Land Usage Map

I found the above image on a skyscraper forum which I frequent (click for full sized image.) It depicts the land area used by several metropolises around the world. What is most shocking, I find, is our terrible land usage thus far. In a space where we have only been able to accommodate just over 5 million people, other cities have populations of 9 or even 12 million people. Our space on the map is nearly the biggest one and yet, we’re still looking to expand the area to account for future growth? Where is the sense in that? We need to seriously alter our growth patterns, embrace higher density projects, and start living a more vertical lifestyle down here real soon…