Urbanism (and smart growth) as a pejorative
I am not a big fan of hyper-relativistic thinking, but I guess a lot of people are, at least when it comes to planning in DC, and the desire to ignore the city's time of origin during the Walking City era and the city's planning history.
This history started with Pierre L'Enfant, the original city's planner, who laid out the design of the city's core in 1790-1791; followed by the McMillan Plan in 1901, which updated the city's planning regime using "City Beautiful" precepts.
Smart growth isn't racist. It's pro-city.
Urbanism isn't anti-city. It's pro-city.
In a blog entry a couple months ago, Capitol Hill Corner denigrated pro-city planning practices as "new urbanism" ("Zoning Regulations Revision Proposes Major Parking Changes for Capitol Hill – City Proposes Shifting Parking Costs From Developers to Residents"):
The proposed revisions would have the effect of increasing density near Metro and bus stops and reducing parking in an attempt to further the currently in-vogue city planning concept of creating a livable, walkable city under the rubric of “new urbanism.”
I countered somewhere that this is incredibly ironic because a livable, walkable city in a city like Washington is anything but "new urbanism", it's quintessential "urbanism" or maybe "old urbanism." There's nothing new about it.
All my various entries tagged urban design/placemaking touch on various elements of city-appropriate urbanism.
-- Urban Design Compendium
2. Similarly, in a press release, the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, the city's oldest planning advocacy group, has criticized the updating of the city's Zoning Regulations as being the result of a "smart growth" agenda, as if that is a bad thing. From the release:
The Comprehensive Plan, often quoted by OP, states that "the Zoning Regulations themselves need substantial reorganization, ranging from new definitions to updated development and design standards, and even new zones." Critics of OP's proposals say that the agency has selectively used Comprehensive Plan policies to advance a "smart growth" agenda that is in conflict with DC's goal of an inclusive city and fails to respect neighborhood differences.
"The time has come for DC residents to make their views known to the Zoning Commission," says Nancy MacWood, chair of the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, a 90 year-old citizens group that promotes responsible land use and planning. "It's your city, your neighborhood and way of life that's at stake."
I find this almost unfathomable, considering that DC is the leading example in the U.S. of a "planned city" and that smart growth is merely urbanism considered at the metropolitan scale.
For a center city, "smart growth" ought to be the basic DNA undergirding a locality's land use, economic development, and transportation planning practice.
I am disappointed that C100 paints the "smart growth" concept in racial overtones, stating that smart growth is anti- "inclusive," which is code for "racist" power relations in which African-Americans are subjugated.
Given that the city's population is 50% African-Americans, and there has long been the tension between "social justice" and "urban form" as the city's dominant agenda (see the arguments in Between Justice and Beauty by Howard Gillette), this is a clear appeal to get African-Americans to join in to scuttle the zoning rewrite, not unlike how the NAACP was one of the organizations that came out against the transportation tax referenda in Georgia (see "Failure of the transit-roads sales tax measure in Metro Atlanta").
Also, neighborhoods are more alike than they are different. I argue that while every place is unique, few places are exceptional and can't be compared and contrasted and analyzed.
Structurally, neighborhoods function similarly to other neighborhoods. Differences occur depending on their respective characteristics: mobility network; access to transit; urban form; building and population density; demographics including socioeconomic status, etc.
• The biggest failure of this process is the attempt to ward off the future. Most people aren't even thinking about today, but about yesterday, and fail to consider what should the city be in order to be resilient, robust, sustainable, and a great place to live in the context of the 21st century.
• While it's fair to say that I am pretty critical of how the Office of Planning has handled the zoning update process, I believe fervently in the need for an update, to ensure that the city has zoning regulations that promote urbanism and optimal mobility, rather than suburbanism.
• The problem with master plans is that they can be read in many different ways, depending on your own understandings of what planning is and should be. I read the plan and see support for urbanism. Others read it and see support for automobility.
• What planning departments have to do (the problem isn't just in DC) is recognize that shifting the planning paradigm from suburbanism to urbanism requires "campaigning" and providing alternate (and "better") explanations and the tools to understand the need to shift.
The Office of Planning mostly relied on the creation of the Comprehensive Plan document as the means to do it. After the finalization of the document, they didn't campaign, they didn't educate, they didn't do a massive "road show" to explain to people what the document says and what it means for the city. They just took it for granted that everyone is committed to what the most enlightened planners and urbanists believe comprises urbanism.
Clearly, a significant number of people in the city don't agree. That stands to reason because they moved to the city from suburbs and only the core of the city is decidedly urban.
Diagram outlining the different character zones within the "T4" category from the Nashville Community Character Manual.
• One thing that planning departments need to provide are translation tools, so that people can understand the difference between "smart growth," "dumb growth," "stagnation," and "failure."
In "DC as a suburban agenda dominated city" I argued that DC is a lot more suburban in outlook than people realize.
In "DC and the zoning rewrite and the approach not taken" I lament that in the zoning revision process, the framework from the Nashville Community Character Manual wasn't adopted and adapted for use in DC, to better shape the understanding of urbanism and change going forward.
This illustration from The House Book by Keith DuQuette is a good conceptual rendering of the transect concept.
• I do believe that using the NCCM's "transect-based" approach, which for the three major transect zones appropriate for DC then breaks down the character zones into 21 sub-zones, would have made it easier for people to understand planning practice at the neighborhood level.
Labels: car culture and automobility, comprehensive planning/Master Planning, sustainable land use and resource planning, transportation planning, urban decline, urban design/placemaking, urban revitalization