Tag Archives: Urban Design

Poor Richard’s Almanac for Planners | Issue 1

Courteous Reader,

I am tempted to win your favor by declaring I wrote this Almanac for Planners solely for the public good. However, this is insincere and you are too wise for the deception of this pretense. The fact is I am excessively poor and, unfortunately, excessively wifeless. To address both problems, I must begin to make some profit since every potential wife always asks, “What kind of car do you drive?” I always have to reply, “I walk”, and the potential wife thinks I am a deviant.

Indeed, this motive would have been enough to write this Almanac many years ago except for the overwhelming desire of the public and professionals to only hear what they want to hear and my overwhelming desire to secure a salary. I am now of sufficient age to no longer care about telling people what they want to hear but only about what they need to know. This has freed me to write this Almanac for Planners in increments of ten cause it worked for Moses and the Almighty. Hopefully, my Almanac gains your likes and retweets as a means of demonstrating the usefulness of my efforts but also your charity to this poor Friend and Servant,


On Streets
1. Always ask yourself, what would the Romans do?

2. Curved roads may be pretty but straight roads are divine.

3. Curved roads are only about themselves, straight roads are about each other.

On Right and Wrong in Planning
4. The right thing to do is always right and nothing to do with what your client, employer, or the public wants.

5. Right is objective, want is subjective, and it is always a mistake to confuse the two.

6. Right and wrong really is black and white. When you see gray, others see green. Gray is the color of greed.

On the Urban Pattern
7. Compact block sizes are about community. Ample block sizes are about profit.

8. Journeys should be short and walkable because they can and not because there is nowhere to go.

9. Street inter-connectivity is about the function of ‘us’. Cul-de-sacs are about the dysfunction of ‘me’.

On Urban Space
10. Space is a living thing, not merely the absence of things.

The Issue 2 cometh soon!

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Bumper Sticker Paradigms

Bumper Sticker Paradigms
An Editorial by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Day-to-day, many of you will have probably seen the above bumper sticker. Perhaps some of you even have this bumper sticker on your car. It is an amusing and sarcastic – albeit cheap – political shot from the political left against the political right’s concerns about budget deficits and the national debt in the United States. For the record, we are talking about an annual Federal budget deficit of more than $1 Trillion Dollars ($1,000,000,000,000) over the last 4 years, and now almost $16 Trillion Dollars ($16,000,000,000,000) of total debt accumulated by the Federal government (more than 100% of the 2012 Gross Domestic Product, i.e. GDP). Incidentally, almost a third of the national debt was raided from and is now owed to the Social Security Trust Fund. On top of this, there are some (cautious) estimates that the Federal, State and local governments in the United States has more than $55 Trillion Dollars ($55,000,000,000,000) in total unfunded liabilities. The point is estimates vary from worse to even worse. Anyone who does not treat the collective debt burden of the United States with the greatest concern is a fool, a liar, or a Nobel-winning economist working for the New York Times.

However, this editorial is actually not about debt and deficits. It is about the insidious message this bumper sticker conveys for urbanism in the United States, once we dig a little deeper beneath the superficial sarcasm of the message itself to the paradigm hiding underneath. What do we mean?

First, the message is explicitly about “paved roads.” It is not about the value of roads in general. Indeed, a key aspect of the sarcasm contained in the message lies in the fact that the bumper sticker is readable while you are driving your car, i.e. “isn’t it nice to have a smooth ride on this paved road so you can read my amusing bumper sticker?” Now, of course, not all paved roads necessarily have to be asphalt or concrete roads. For example, cobblestones and brick roads are also paved roads; even the Land of Oz had its yellow and red brick roads. However, such road surfaces rarely qualify as a ‘smooth ride’, especially over the lifetime of that road. Such roads are not conducive to mobile reading, especially for those of us prone to motion sickness. It is fair to conclude that most people will understand the reference to paved roads in the bumper sticker to mean asphalt or concrete roads. After all, most road surfaces in the United States are paved asphalt or concrete and this will constitute most people’s everyday experience of paved roads.

The minimal graphic design of the rudimentary lane striping in the bumper sticker also suggests “paved” is an implicit reference to only asphalt or concrete roads. Alternatively, the graphic design and elongated shape of the “Paved Roads” portion at the top of the bumper sticker could be interpreted as a rudimentary road construction sign, which every American will have experienced; extensively and usually regretfully so in urban areas. More importantly, either interpretation is appropriate to the message itself because this is not how anyone would choose to typically represent an alternative surface such as brick or cobblestone for a paved road. There should not be any doubt that the design of the bumper sticker is both simple and excellent, which is usually the best kind of graphic design.

The paradigm underlying the message should be important to any professional urban designer, planner, traffic engineer, or knowledgeable layman because it explicitly favors impervious road surfaces. For the uninitiated, this means such road surfaces are impenetrable to stormwater, seals the soil surface and eliminate rainwater infiltration and natural groundwater recharge, collect solar heat in their dense mass and when that heat is released, raises air temperatures. More importantly, the lack of rainwater infiltration makes impervious surfaces the ‘carriers’ for non-point pollution sources. Non-point sources typically means rainwater falling on the asphalt shingles of you house, from there to the lawn with fertilizers and pesticides (or, in some areas, septic tanks), from there to the road into the stormwater sewer system, and usually directly into a nearby water body without any treatment. If you want more pollution, then you want more impervious road surfaces, i.e. precisely the type of “paved roads” this bumper sticker is referencing. Irony has never been an especially strong point of the political left in the United States so it is doubtful that progressives and liberals appreciate the fundamentally anti-environmental message of the bumper sticker on their car (probably a gas-guzzling SUV anyway). The irony, of course, is radical environmentalism has been a mainstay of the political left in the United States since the 1960s.

What about the second part of the message, i.e. “another fine example of unnecessary government spending?” This is also rich with irony in undercutting the superficial message the political left is trying to convey to voters. The power of the message exclusively relies on the reader being uninformed. Most roads in the United States (in gross terms, not total linear miles) are residential streets. The private sector builds most of these roads including many arterial and collector roads to support a plethora of suburban subdivisions. Developers later convey ownership of these arterial (and some collector) roads to public agencies for maintenance purposes. However, these days most of the residential roads remain private roads, which non-governmental agencies such as homeowners associations, neighborhood groups, or community development districts maintain on behalf of their residents. Developers always pass on the cost of constructing the roads to their customers in the price of your home. HOA usually pass on the cost of maintaining the roads in their community to their residents through HOA fees, etc.

The government does build and maintain roads, the interstate highway system being the most obvious example most commonly cited by both the political left and right in the United States. However, most government revenue for capital improvements comes from the taxpayers via user fees and taxes on income or property. In this sense, because the private and public sector always passes the costs of all road construction to you in the price of your home or the taxes you pay to the government, all roads are ‘public’ roads. When it comes to roads, we really did build that…

…Or, more accurately, we paid for it even if we did not need or want that road. New road construction only has two purposes. First, to access new land uses, most usually residential (i.e. subdivisions) and/or second, to spur economic development in the form of commercial or industrial land uses (i.e. see numerous examples of ‘roads to nowhere’ that eventually string together an infection of suburban sprawl characterized by strip malls, office parks, and gated communities); and, both are founded on a single principle. The principle is: if you build it, they will come. This is the status quo. It has been the status quo in the United States for several decades. This brings us back to the message of the bumper sticker, i.e. “Paved roads: another fine example of unnecessary government spending.” It is message that insidiously favors the status quo for our contemporary models of urbanism. How has the status quo been working for our cities over the last half-century? The answer to that question should define your reaction the next time you come tail-to-front with this bumper sticker. Perhaps you will find the message as superficial as the vacant paradigm hiding behind it.

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Preparing Our Youngest Generation for the Suburban Lifestyle… or Life in Prison (either or)

What is this? A Department of Homeland Security/CIA intelligence gathering facility? A minimum security prison to house white-collar/Wall Street felons? No, it is worse. It is an elementary school in a Florida county! This is urban planning and design failing on an epic scale. 1) Built adjacent to a divided surface highway heavily used by semi-trucks. 2) Location? Wrong, wrong, wrong. 3) There are no sidewalks; 4) The school is not within walking distance of much of anything anyway so its urban functioning is completely dependent upon the automobile/school buses; 5) Two perimeter rings of fencing, one to keep the ‘bad people’ out and one to keep the children out of the retention ponds or wandering into the road; 6) When you see a public building with this much fencing, someone (i.e. the public officials) is really afraid of being sued for the most improbable of probabilities but only doing the minimum necessary in terms of cost (as opposed to building the school in the right location in the first place); 7) No visible windows; 8) I attended a high school that used the same plans for a prison in Indiana and this is much worse; and, 9) This is just one example of the mentality that builds schools throughout this county and many others in the State of Florida. However, the design of this school does multitask. It prepares our youngest generation for a future suburban life behind the walls of their gated communities… or their future life in prison. The mentality that builds schools like this one for our children is truly absurd and FUBAR.

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Long commute time linked with poor health, new study shows | USATODAY.com

A study published this month in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that the longer people drive to work, the more likely they are to have poor cardiovascular health.

“This is the first study to show that people who commute long distances to work were less fit, weighed more, were less physically active and had higher blood pressure,” said Christine M. Hoehner, a public health professor at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the study’s lead author. “All those are strong predictors of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.”

The study monitored the health of 4,297 adults from 12 counties in Texas, a metropolitan region where 90 percent of people commute to work by car, Hoehner said.

The New York area has the longest average commuting time — almost 35 minutes — of any metropolitan area, according to the Census Bureau in its analysis of the 2009 American Community Survey. But the other nine metro areas in the top 10 also averaged a half hour or more. And even the area with the shortest average commute, Great Falls, Mont., still clocked in at 14 minutes.

That’s important because those who commuted by car 10 miles or more each way were more likely to have high blood pressure than people who drove shorter distances. And those who traveled 15 or more miles each way were more likely to have bigger waistlines and less likely to be physically active, according to Hoehner’s study.

Tom Ricci, 53, drives 130 miles round trip each day from his home in Mahopac, N.Y., to his job at a music record company in Lyndhurst, N.J.

He gets up at 4:30 a.m. almost every day to hit the gym before work.

“I’d go crazy and lose my mind” without a workout routine, Ricci said. “You need a release from that grind.”

Diet, exercise and sleep habits were not looked at in the study, Hoehner said. They also can also contribute to obesity and high blood pressure.

Christine Bruno of Garrison, N.Y., feels the difference. Her commute used to be 7 minutes. Now since she moved in with her fiance it take up to 90 minutes each way to make the 40-mile trek to New Rochelle, N.Y.

“By the time you finish your final meal of the day, there is no time to do much else,” said Bruno, 40. “There is no time to exercise. And there is no time to go to the gym, and it’s a huge issue, because I used to be a gym rat.”

Danielle Mahoney, 36, lives in Patterson, N.Y., works in Suffern, N.Y., and commutes 126 miles round trip a day. Her company offers fitness classes to employees several times a week so they can exercise during the day. Without them, Mahoney said, she wouldn’t have time for the gym, especially with twin toddlers at home.

The hours she spends in her car are “definitely draining,” she said.

“If it’s a longer day or you didn’t get enough sleep, you can doze when you are driving,” she said. “Numerous times I catch myself.”

Dr. Franklin Zimmerman, a cardiologist and director of critical care at Phelps Memorial Hospital in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., said what makes long commutes by car even worse is that many people are also sitting at work.

He tells patients to get 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each day. If people can’t get to the gym, he suggests they park their cars farther from their offices and then walk. People can also sneak in exercise by getting off the elevator and taking the stairs.

“It’s OK to split it up into increments,” he said. “It’s hard to find 30 minutes, but it’s not hard to find five minutes, and all of that still counts.”

Contributing: Tim Henderson, The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

via Long commute time linked with poor health, new study shows – USATODAY.com.

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