Tag Archives: urbanism

Quick Take: Cars ≠ Freedom

I came across this passage on BostonBiker.org.  The post addresses two main issues that author has with cars.  While coming from a cyclist’s perspective, the post raised points relevant to anybody seeking a more rational approach to our cities.

I though the second passage of the post, on the mistaken idea that cars=freedom, was worth posting in full.  If you enjoy it, and/or have comments, please leave them on the Boston Biker site.   I’m just a messenger.

Human beings have evolved over the eons to favor things that make their lives easy, and shy away from those that make them hard. We are literally wired to enjoy things like sugar, fat, and salty foods, mostly because in the stone age we could never get enough of these foods so evolution wired our brains to search out these “easy” sources of calories. We use our big ol’ frontal lobes to come up with all sorts of ideas to make our lives easy. Farming, domestication of animals, automation, computers, cars…the list goes on and on. Evolution rewards (to a point) those humans that were able to “live the good life” by getting enough food and shelter, because those people had the most kids.

Cars (and more importantly car companies) tap right into that part of us that is seeking out the easier way. Why walk for weeks when you can get in your car and drive there in a day? Why ride your bike for days when you can drive your car there in a couple hours? Why walk for an hour to the store, when you can drive in a couple minutes? And you wonder why there is an obesity crisis?

People are not lazy per-say, they are simply falling victim to the wiring in their head. People don’t get fat because they eat too much, they get fat because we live in a modern world of plenty, but their brains are identical to the stone age hunters that had a very hard time getting food. Their brains tell them to eat lots of salty, sugary, fatty foods, and their bodies are designed to store that up for the hard times, they simply had the bad luck to live in a world FULL of these kinds of food. They suffer from a common problem in modern world, our brains and bodies are not set up for the modern world we have created.

The car culture feeds into that trap. It allows us if we so choose to spend our whole lives without walking a significant distance promoting obesity, and weakness. It allows (and encourages) the development of suburbs, and exurbs, and whatever comes after that, that destroy communities and encourage loneliness. It encases us in a little metal shell that promotes road rage (you don’t feel so bad about honking at the anonymous person in the other car, but would never act that way in an elevator). These are the kinds of things they don’t talk about in car commercials.

Even if you throw out all the physical and psychological negative effects on the human body you are still forced to contend with the fact that cars take up a lot of space. Much of the area in a modern city is dedicated to roads and car parking. Much of that land was taken from things like parks, sidewalks, green space, etc. Putting one person in one car, and then doing that a couple thousand times and your nice wide four lane roads suddenly don’t seem large enough anymore. Lets tear down some buildings and build more roads! Then people see the “ease” at which you can get around, so a couple hundred more people buy cars, and low and behold your 8 lane highway isn’t big enough anymore. Lets try a 16 lane highway! Damn that filled up too, better go with 32! Before long you end up with something like this:

Cars are sold as a luxury, as a path to freedom, to something that will make your life better! But in reality you can’t democratize a luxury. What I mean, is that not everyone can have a luxury item, or else it stops being a luxury and starts being a necessity. Cars are no longer a luxury in many places of this country, in a lot of places if you don’t have a car, you can’t get to the store, or to your job, or to school. Our cities have been designed in a such a horrible way that some people are forced to spend a large part of their work week earning enough money to power the car that gets them to work. Yet car commercials still show a lone traveler speeding through the empty city streets without a hint of traffic in sight.

In short, it’s a lie. The car companies sell freedom and mobility, but in fact offer only gridlock, poor land use, health problems, and global warming.

So what?

So what are we to do? If the “one car one person”, model has failed so fully what do we do to reverse it? The answer is simple, but is going to require a lot of effort. We need to stop designing our lives around cars. That means everything from removing on-street parking, building larger sidewalks, making people pay more for parking, building dense cities, providing good public transportation, and getting more people to ride bikes!

Quick Take: Living in Mrs. Jacobs’ Neighborhood

I came across this post on Planetizen.com.  one of my favorite resources for all things urban.

Living in Mrs. Jacobs’ Neighborhood

Wed, 02/10/2010 – 11:54

A decade or so ago, after reading some of Jane Jacobs’ work, I became aware of the distinction between mixed-use and single-use neighborhoods.  In those days, I imagined that in a well-functioning urban neighborhood, every non-polluting use would be mixed together, and the lion of housing would lay down with the lamb of commerce.

Jane's Toronto House

But for the past few months, I have lived just six blocks from Jacobs’ Toronto house, in the Annex neighborhood.  And in the Annex, I have learned that the distinction between sprawl and walkable urbanism is a little more subtle than the bumper-sticker phrase “mixed-use” suggests.In the Annex, as in conventional sprawl development (CSD), most businesses  are on a few major streets, especially Bloor Street West between Spadina and Bathurst. Although Bloor has a few residences above shops, Bloor is primarily a commercial street.

So how is Bloor different from San Jose Boulevard (the sprawling commercial street of my former neighborhood in Jacksonville)?  Bloor’s distinction rests less on diversity of uses than on street design.

San Jose has a wide variety of commercial activities near some residential blocks, but is as wide as eight lanes in some spots- too wide to be comfortable for pedestrians.  Bloor is only four lanes wide, and is thus relatively easy for pedestrians to cross.  And on Bloor, nearly every commercial building immediately adjoins the sidewalk, rather than being set back from the sidewalk by yards of parking.

As a result, pedestrians can easily access shops, rather than dodging cars on the way to their destination.   And because the nearby residential blocks are part of a grid system, neighborhood residents don’t have to hop from cul-de-sac to cul-de-sac to reach Bloor’s businesses.  In sum, Bloor is pedestrian-friendly less because of mixed use than because of pedestrian-friendly street design and compact development.

The Annex’s residential streets, like those in my old neighborhood in Jacksonville, are at least somewhat single-use: streets with large apartment complexes (St. George and Spadina near Bloor) have very few single-family structures, and other residential streets are dominated by houses and duplexes.  So in a sense, the Annex’s streets are as single-use as a typical suburban subdivision- both types of streets are dominated by one type of structure.

But there are two significant differences between an Annex street and a CSD street.  First, some of the Annex houses have been cut up into small apartments; thus, on an Annex street, single-family houses and duplexes often coexist with very small apartment houses (though not with high-rises).  More importantly, the Annex’s residential streets are more compact than their equivalents in sprawl subdivisions: houses are closer together, and are often duplexes.  Thus, more people live on an Annex street than live on a typical residential street in Jacksonville, which means that the Annex has the density to support good public transit.

In sum, what makes the Annex walkable is not so much that every street mixes uses; rather, it is that the commercial streets are easily accessible from the residential ones, thus creating a mixed-use neighborhood.

NOTE: To see some examples of what I am talking about, go to Google Street View at maps.google.com.  To see Bloor, go to anyplace between 350 and 600 Bloor Street West in Toronto.  To see a typical residential street, go to Albany Avenue, just north of Bloor (Jane Jacobs lived on this stretch of Albany).    To see an apartment-oriented street, go to St. George St. or Spadina Road just north of Bloor.  To see my old sprawl street in Jacksonville, go to 10000 San Jose Boulevard in Jacksonville.

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Quick Take: Books for the Amateur Urbanist

Jane Jacob’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities tops the list (fitting as it was itself wrtitten by an amateur urbanist)

From Where:

1. The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs (1961). At about 450 pages, “concise” is probably not the most apt description of this book. But, as this is the single best written, most accessible, most compelling book I’ve ever read about cities, I’m willing to forsake the concision criterion even in my first recommendation. If you want to know what can make cities pleasant, safe and interesting places to live, read this book. If you want to read one of the best non-fiction prose stylists of our time, read this book. It’s a classic, and deservedly so. As one Where reader put it: “It’s a great book for explaining why we care about all of this.”
2. The Option of Urbanism by Christopher Leinberger (2007). While not as fun to read as The Death and Life of Great American Cities or The Geography of Nowhere (see below), this slender volume briskly highlights difference between drivable sub-urban development and walkable urban development, and does a good job of explaining the benefits of walkable city neighborhoods. It’s good primer on the basics of density, zoning and the hidden subsidies fueling drivable sub-urban development.

3. The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler (1993). This book is an exploration—and excoriation—of the rise of suburbia and sprawl. It also explains how the more traditional patterns and places of city life and country life are superior to the “geography of nowhere.” Accessible and ferocious.

4. Cities Back from the Edge by Roberta Gratz, with Norman Mintz (1998). According to a Where reader, this book is “in the spirit of Jacobs” and discusses “how existing cities can be improved with citizen participation in contrast to destructive master plans.” The book is filled with lots of specific ideas about how to improve downtown areas, all of them lavishly illustrated with real life examples from successful efforts in dozens of cities.

5. How Cities Work by Alex Marshall (2000). Squarely aimed at the lay person, this book seeks to discover what forces shape places and cities—and finds that one of the most powerful forces is political choices, particularly those having to do with transportation policy. A Where reader gave this recommendation: “It’s not comprehensive, of course, but it’s a good snack, possibly the kind that could interest a person in a larger meal.”


For more suggestions, look here

Jane’s Listening: What are your thoughts on downtown Phoenix?

As mentioned previous, Jane Jacob’s was a strong proponent of amateur urbanism and urban observers.  Jacobs, and amateur herself, was an outsider with no formal training in planning who was able to turn more than a century of conventional thinking about cities on its head through her own observations.  In this spirit, Jane’s Walk Phoenix is intended to provide an ‘amateur eye view’ of downtown Phoenix.  While we will be accompanied by knowledgeable locals and experts, there will be there largely to answer your questions and highlight  things that you want to here and know more about.  

To help get you thinking,  I have listed a series a questions below to get you thinking of how you appreciate, observe and understand downtown Phoenix.  While you are free to define the downtown area however you’d like, It would be great if you could pay particular attention to the area that we will be covering during Jane’s Walk Phoenix,  between 7th Ave and 7th St, and Van Buren St and the I-10 (i.e. the Roosevelt, Evans Churchill Neighborhoods and ASU Downtown Phoenix Campus).

Please feel free to selected a few questions to answer in the comments section below so that we can start a discussion:

1. What are some important meeting spaces in downtown Phoenix? (important for work, food, thinking, recreation, laughing with friends, local politics – think broadly)

2. What spaces are you most proud of in downtown Phoenix?

3. What are some important green-spaces?

4. What are some interesting short-cuts you take?

5. Where do kids like to play? Adults? Retired folks?

6. Where are some spaces that feel more private, like a small urban oasis?

7. Do any buildings have unusual marks or features?

8. What is your favorite adaptive use project? (older buildings that have been reconfigured into different uses)?

9. Are there any important historical spaces in your neighborhood?

10. Where do you feel most comfortable?

11. Where do you not feel safe?

12. What is a space that you really dislike?

13. What is your favorite mixed-use location (places that mix retail, business and residential)?

14. Are there spaces you would like to see change?

15.  Are there spaces/features you want to see preserved?

And finally:  Is there an important question or idea that should be talked about by everyone?

Press Release


Contact: Yuri Artibise


Phoenix, AZ, April 8, 2009 — Downtown Phoenix will be home to the city’s inaugural Jane’s Walk on Saturday, May 2, 2009. The free walking tour — part of an international annual event commemorating the birthday of renowned urban activist Jane Jacobs, who died in 2006 — will take place between 9:00 and 11:00 am. It will start, and end, at Portland Park on First Avenue and Portland Street (next to the Roosevelt and Central light rail station).

Jane’s Walk is a “street-level celebration” of Jacobs’ legacy and ideas, combining the simple act of walking with personal observations, urban history and local lore as a means of knitting people together into a strong and resourceful community through bottom-up approaches and neighborhood involvement.

Jacobs was an urbanist and activist whose writings championed a fresh, community-based approach to city building. She had no formal training as a planner, yet wrote what many consider to be the ‘bible’ of urban planning. Her 1961 treatise, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, introduced groundbreaking ideas about how cities function, evolve and fail — concepts that are now common sense to generations of architects, planners, politicians and activists. Jacobs championed the interests and knowledge of local residents and pedestrians over a centralized, car-centered approach to planning. She also promoted refurbishing old buildings instead of tearing them down and building new ones, and demonstrated the desirability of increasing the density of cities instead of sprawling endlessly outward.

Cities across Canada, the U.S. and India will also host Jane’s Walks the first weekend in May. This is the third consecutive year of Jane’s Walks in North America. So far, the walks have occurred in Toronto and New York in 2007, and in Ottawa, Calgary, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Salt Lake City in 2008. This year, the walks have spread to 41 cities, including two in India. Several cities are host to multiple walks.

You don’t have to be familiar with Jacobs’ work to walk. The event is intended to be fun and participatory–everyone has a story and they’re usually keen to share it. Whether you’re a local activist, resident, business owner, politician, preservationist, or simply a citizen who loves your community, participating in Jane’s Walk Phoenix is a great way to celebrate the reemergence of downtown Phoenix as a vital urban hub, and to honor Jacobs’ legacy.

Jane’s Walk USA is managed by the Center for the Living City, a non-profit organization operating out of the University of Utah’s Department of City & Metropolitan Planning. The Center for the Living City is linked in spirit and purpose with its sister organization, The Centre for City Ecology in Toronto.


jacobsTo become involved, get more information, or schedule an interview, please contact Yuri Artibise, coordinator of Jane’s Walk Phoenix at janeswalkphx@gmail.com or visit https://janeswalkphx.wordpress.com. You can also follow us on http://Twitter.com/janeswalkphx

Who Is Jane Jacobs?

Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) was an urbanist and activist whose writings championed a fresh, community-based approach to city building. She had no formal training as a planner, and yet her 1961 treatise, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, introduced ground-breaking ideas about how cities function, evolve and fail that now seem like common sense to generations of architects, planners, politicians and activists.

Jacobs saw cities as ecosystems that had their own logic and dynamism which would change over time according to how they were used. With a keen eye for detail, she wrote eloquently about sidewalks, parks, retail design and self-organization. She promoted higher density in cities, short blocks, local economies and mixed uses. Jacobs helped derail the car-centred approach to urban planning in both New York and Toronto, invigorating neighbourhood activism by helping stop the expansion of expressways and roads. She lived in Greenwich Village for decades, then moved to Toronto in 1968 where she continued her work and writing on urbanism, economies and social issues until her death in April 2006. 

A firm believer in the importance of local residents having input on how their neighborhoods develop, Jacobs encouraged people to familiarize themselves with the places where they live, work and play with words like these:

“No one can find what will work for our cities by looking at suburban garden cities, manipulating scale models, or inventing dream cities. You’ve got to get out and walk.” – Downtown is for People, 1957.


HT:  http://www.janeswalkusa.org/who-is-jane-jacobs ,