Friday, August 8, 2008

Urban News Vol. 27

Hello all. Apologies for no preview post on Wednesday. Have spent all my free time the last two days dry-locking our front facing basement wall. Today's piece could be national, but this particular instance centers around Washington D.C.'s suburban conundrum. On a personal note, on the 4th day we were at our new place, we received a slip of paper advertising an ice cream social hosted by the neighborhood association just around the corner at our firehouse. Suffice it to say that in 5 years in Brighton and 3 years in Webster that this happened exactly zero times.

by Eric M. Weiss, Washington Post

Article Key Points:
  • Land-use experts beginning to ask whether $4 per gallon is a psychological tipping point
  • "There is a whole confluence of government policies -- tax, spending, regulatory and administrative -- that have subsidized sprawl" - Bruce Katz
  • A gallon of gasoline costs more than $8 in Britain, Germany, France and Belgium according to U.S. Dept. of Energy
  • Today, more than 99 percent of the trips taken by U.S. residents are still in cars or some other non-transit vehicle
  • The policies have had a direct bearing on how and where people live and work
  • Americans drove 9.6 billion fewer highway miles in May than a year earlier
  • Last year, transit trips nationwide topped 10.3 billion, a 50-year high
  • Home prices in the far suburbs have collapsed
  • Transportation costs are now second only to housing as a percentage of the household budget
  • Fairfax County has adopted a policy of transit-oriented development, demanding four Metro stops in a proposed rail extension
  • "What were pluses of that lifestyle are now liabilities: a big SUV, a big home to heat, the energy needed to mow the lawn" -Tom Darden, Raleigh based developer
  • Mayor Randy Pye of Centennial, Colorado, an supporter of the Denver Area LRT system, has been called a socialist by fellow Republicans for his pro-density and pro-transit views

First off, a lot of credit is due to Mr. Weiss for ensuring this story made it to a national newspaper. One of the consistent gripes of the pro-urban crowd (or any marginalized viewpoint for that matter) is the lack of attention paid to it by the mainstream media. Mr. Weiss takes it one step further by utilizing the vernacular of the peak-oil aware by characterizing the suburban boom as the era of cheap oil (how many people do you remember asking for money for gas or complaining about it in the late 90's? It's actually laughable now).

I am extremely pleased that Bruce Katz was included as a credible expert witness as it were. A carefully measured speaker not usually given to hyperbole, Katz and the Brookings Institution put a subconscious certified expert stamp on these proceedings.

It would appear that we still have a LONG way to go in terms of breaking people of the pre-programming regarding the virtue of personal transportation, but increased transit ridership is a start. I would caution against taking numbers like these totally at face value though. 50 years ago, the United States had roughly 175 million residents. To say we are matching ridership from that period is only an improvement over the greed ridden interim.

I will attempt not to go on a diatribe against Mr. Pisarski expect to say that his desperate "only answer" is heinously inefficient. I will lend him a modicum of credence on the telecommuting argument, but to say the bulk of workplaces will pack up shop and move from centralized locations to amorphous regions is wishful thinking. Let's take an example from Rochester. The Paetec Headquarters move is case in point. Their headquarters is currently in Perinton, significantly to the southeast of Rochester. Right now workers from Greece, Gates, Chili, and Irondequoit face a commute of upwards of 25 miles. Webster, Penfield, Brighton, and the City slightly less. A move downtown will certainly be at the expense of those who commute from various locales in Perinton, but to assume that the bulk of the workforce hails from there is likely erroneous (from what I understand much of the younger telecom workforce makes the Park Avenue neighborhood of the city home). Centralizing opens up opportunities for utilization of our limited bus system from all points with single seat commutes preferred by the less intrepid (or obsessive, hehe).

A couple little stream of consciousness notes...I can't decide whether these allegations of socialism against those who aren't always thinking of themselves are amusing, pathetic, or both...the map graphic is interesting in this case because we are talking about D.C. Anne Arundel County, Maryland could be considered an inner ring suburb area of Baltimore, at the very least in the North end...

Finally, I'd like to tack on something that was just brought to my attention this morning. Author James Howard Kunstler was on the CBS Evening News last night to provide input on a national piece entitled, 'The Decline Of Suburbia?'

Monday I will continue my look at the Downtown Charrette Report with the dynamic Main Street Focus Area which overlaps with many of the others previously profiled, yet is its own distinct object of focus due to its traditional place as the major 'outdoor room' of Downtown Rochester.

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