Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sustainable transportation is not about expanding choice, but about optimality, and how to design it into the land use and transportation system

Fast Company Magazine's design section has an article, "A New Design Movement That Can Help Us Beat Obesity: A primer on Active Design, which creates buildings and environments that fight America’s obesity epidemic," on the Active Design movement, which is focused on land use and urban design requirements that build active activity into everyday lifestyle. Since walking and biking are simple, cheap, and infrastructure-optimizing ways to get around, promotion of these modes is a priority in the Active Design method.

From the article:

New York City’s Active Design Guidelines may represent the beginning of a strategic shift in the battle to get Americans to exercise. Instead of trying to change individual choices by using a moral appeal about what is good for us (you should walk to work because it is better for you), it’s about changing the environment to reshape the available choices (you’ll want to walk because it is easier, cheaper, faster, or more enjoyable).

This strategy recognizes that the public’s underlying motivations are not about health, but rather, about what is convenient and enjoyable.

What this means though isn't just providing the right design, but also making sure other policies and regulations are congruent in ways that promote sustainable mobility (walking, biking, transit).

For example, as long as communities build roads where cars are prioritized and walking, biking, and transit isn't, it's going to be difficult for people to walk, bike, and/or use transit.

As long as gasoline and parking is cheap, while comparatively, transit is expensive and/or inefficient and problematic, people are going to drive.


The World Streets blog has an entry, "Editorial: The Seven Simple Truths of Sustainable Mobility (Come argue with me)," that is on this broad topic. The seven truths are reprinted below.

The seven truths of Sustainable Mobility:

If you look hard enough, you will see that there is only one overarching strategy that will do the job. It works like this:

Truth 1. We can’t have a sustainable planet without sustainable cities

Truth 2. Nor sustainable cities without sustainable mobility

Truth 3. The key to sustainable mobility is to ensure that every project, every investment, every step we take will end up by reducing motor vehicle miles or kilometers travelled (VMT, VKT) both in that place and overall.

Truth 4. Moreover these reductions have to be achieved strategically, quickly (in the one to five years directly ahead) and at scale. (Otherwise it fails the responsibility test.)

Truth 5. The policy response involves a strategic combination of generous carrots and rigorous sticks, which will of course be different from city to city and country to country, but even with all the necessary variations to accommodate the uniqueness of each place the central lines of the strategy will be the same:

Truth 6. We do not have to venture into uncertain territory to achieve these objectives. After the last two decades of on-street experience in leading edge cities around the world, we know all we need to know about both (a) the sticks (economic, regulatory and other instruments to reduce, sequester and control traffic, etc.) and (b) the carrots (all those other ways of getting around which need in each case to be woven into a mobility system of affordability, enhanced life quality and choice).

Truth 7. When we reduce VKT/VMT notably and rapidly through the best available means and proven strategies, here are the main benefits
a. We help save the planet: through resource savings and GHG and related emissions reductions.
b. We proportionally reduce today’s crushing dependence of imported fossil fuels.
c. We create a more human and livable city.

In order to achieve these ambitious – but completely doable – goals, we have to open up more choices and better and fairer mobility for all those in and around our cities who are at present NOT well served by the old (20th century dominant) own-car, no-choice pattern (bearing in mind that this is a majority of all citizens). And we need to understand and orchestrate the very large number of often very small measures and actions will make up the new mobility system into coherent packages of measures.

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