Thursday, July 3, 2008

Rethinking the City

So with the way gas prices and vehicle sales are going (see previous post), what does the future hold? Are we just going to continue as usual, but simply downsize our cars, switching to Smarts, scooters, and electrics? Or, as the city of Portland has been pursuing for the past several decades, are we going to start truly molding our cities' urban development patterns?

Of particular importance is the zoning system that has been in place in America for much of this century. Yes, that oh-so-Modern ideal of separation of function; discreet places for home, work, school, and shopping. Aside from the urban cores, like New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, and all the others, the newer "cities" are dominated by suburban development patterns that preclude organic development and placement of different uses in close proximity. In other words, nothing is within walking or bicycling distance of each other.

The Overhead Wire has an excellent post on the topic, in regards to laying out a comprehensive transportation service to support such a mixed-use city. Think... New York, Paris, Barcelona, or Tokyo: a dense network of underground rail lines that can quickly whisk you between different sectors in a city.

This differs from the normal system of city center & suburban residential districts that dominated American metropolitan development patterns of the 19th century, however. In fact, a frequent, high capacity transit system will in fact promote mixed use high density development, as it allows people to live without relying on cars - which are a phenomenal waste of land. Not to mention expensive, too.

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