String of Pearls

11. Public Transportation
12. The String of Pearls
13. Downtown and Shopping Malls
14. Neighborhood Government
15. Neighborhood Funding

11. Public Transportation

With the exception of America's largest older cities the quality and viability of public transportation is woefully deficient. Urban sprawl resulting from a pervasive auto culture predicated on cheap energy makes frequent, efficient, convenient public transit impossible. This is not a perceived hardship for the great majority who own cars, except of course, they are subject to much more traffic than in better planned cities with more balanced transportation mixtures. Skimpy, insufficient public transit is definitely a hardship for many sectors of the population.

Transit dependent people are relegated to those hapless individuals who fall into three basic categories: those precluded from driving because of youth, age or infirmity, those who can't afford it and those few who don't like it, don't believe in it or don't drive for a variety of other reasons. The vast majority of people who aren't limited by outside factors will own a car because public conveyances can never resemble individual vehicles in personal comfort level, equal them in social status or, probably most important, be competitive timewise.

Paucity of comfort is the least challenging hurdle in the effort to increase transit use. Riding public transit has a positive social aspect that compensates, at least in some measure, for the necessarily spare and Spartan comfort level of a city bus. Using mass transportation is a public good. Personally, I find it to be an enjoyable experience to simply relax and observe the motley universe of one's fellow passengers as the city cruises by.

In specific circumstances public transportation can be reasonably competitive, as in the case of rush hour central city commuters who would otherwise have to fight the traffic crush and pay heavily to park downtown. Peak hour convenience also derives from frequent headways combined with the experience the rider gleans from taking the bus on a regular schedule which allows them to calculate their waiting time to the minimum.

But overall, dependence on public transportation, even what is generally considered excellent public transit by American standards, constitutes a heavy burden on the individual's time and severely restricts her/his mobility. During the time I finished off the last revision of this chapter I also did a daily, peak hour, cream puff, bus commute to downtown Portland. From my place to work, just more than two miles, was almost a straight shot - the bus route included a single set of out-of-direction turns and that in only one direction. There were no transfers to make and because I never mind walking a couple of extra blocks I had the option of using two lines. If my timing was just right, assuming the bus was on schedule, I'd get to work in as little as 22 to 25 minutes. If I was out of synch that might've added as much as twelve extra minutes to total commute time. Meanwhile, driving a private vehicle I could've been walking in the door at work in the time it takes to wait for one missed bus.

Getting around town in the daytime - or worse in the evening when schedules thin out - especially if more than one bus is needed, could turn a ten minute drive into an hour and a half ordeal. Many people are able to read or otherwise occupy their minds while in transit, but especially now with Americans working longer hours there is little patience to spend a lot of extra time in the process of getting anywhere. In the future when people work less, they'll be less harried and hurried and more amenable to public transit use.

There are six factors that influence transit time that can be improved on through urban design and transit configuration: schedule frequency, spacing of stops, the walk to the stop, competition with traffic, schedule flexibility and fare collection.

Waiting time is probably the greatest stumbling block to public transit use in the typical mid-sized city. All the potential mitigating factors aside - clean modern buses, reasonable cost, stress free travel - the act of waiting for a bus, especially in uncomfortable or inclement weather, as hundreds or possibly thousands of cars race by, is a rankling, frustrating and demeaning experience.

In relative terms, Portland has an excellent public transit system and yet most of its routes operate on daytime schedules of fifteen minutes or more. Every minute of waiting intensifies the desire to own a car, or the feeling of deprivation in not having one. Five minutes is the maximum tolerable headway between buses. Just about the time the transit rider feels the first pangs of boredom and frustration the bus has arrived to spirit him or her away.

In today's typical mid-sized grid city with a good transit system, once again using Portland as an example, buses will operate on twelve to twenty minute headways on each of the more heavily used arterials, each of which is also fronted by scattered uses. In the process of improving transit streets and concentrating commerce and high-density housing in designated neighborhood centers most bus service can also be diverted there, essentially concentrating transit on half the number of streets. Greenbelt boulevards receive only infrequent longer distance service. In other words, even while transporting equal ridership on the same rolling stock as used in the grid city pattern, headways through the centers can be nearly halved to ten minutes or less.

Increased frequency has thus been achieved before considering the advantageous effects of the fundamental enhancements to transit competitiveness that are inherent in the String of Pearls revamp. Indeed, one of the reasons for drastically altering the layout of the city is to stimulate public transit use. On that basis ridership can be expected to rise substantially and make up a large part of urban movement. Through molding of the urban pattern frequency is brought up to a level, about five minutes apart, that no longer feels like a burden to the rider. The appeal of mass transit is thus enhanced and edges closer to being a viable alternative to many people who own cars and have both options.

The greenbelts have ready-made right-of-way for mass transit, but these are less frequent and serve regional needs more than neighborhood ones. Stops are only at intersections; generally no less than half mile apart to keep long distance travel time to a minimum. Demand will probably not warrant a mass transit line on every boundary greenbelt though in denser areas every other one might be needed for that purpose.

Transit through neighborhood cores stops more frequently, more in the 1/5, to 1/4 mile range. American transit systems have a very strong predisposition towards placing stops only 1/10 mile apart . As part of the goal of providing a speedier service, this will evolve over time towards wider spacing. For the sake of 'convenience' buses take on passengers every 500 feet ( two small city blocks in Portland). In reality, for the vast majority of transit riders, the inconvenience involved in stopping half as often would not be a significant impediment to its use: for the average person two minutes of additional walking and the exercise couldn't hurt. The change however would not be insignificant relative to travel time: I estimate it would reduce it as much as twenty to thirty percent. Fewer stops also reduces fuel consumption, extends equipment life, cuts the cost of providing shelters and provides a smoother, more comfortable ride.

On the other hand, many potential transit riders will not savor even moderate walks, especially in inclement weather, to catch a bus. For the elderly and the infirm the extra distance to access transit could be a real hardship. Also, since transit operates infrequently and stops are far apart on the boundary arterials, those who live on the edges of the neighborhood might have to walk as much as a half mile to get to the high frequency transit line. All three cases call for a more convenient option.

The increased distance between stops is compensated for with door-to-door neighborhood transit. Reasonably priced, community operated, shared taxi services are established to ferry people from centrally located bus stops directly to their door. Shared taxi stations are concentrated at a few locations, most likely where transit lines from both directions meet at the neighborhood core. It can't take more than a few minutes to go anywhere in the neighborhood anyway and fewer terminals means greater use which translates into greater frequency of service.

In fact, this system is common in Bangkok which often has very long distances between thoroughfares that are capable of accommodating standard size buses. In many parts of the city almost every bus stop has a fleet of motorcycle taxis and/or minibuses waiting. People have a choice of an immediate lift on a motorcycle taxi or a short wait for the minibus which costs considerably less. It's very hot climate, I surmise, makes many Bangkokians reluctant to walk - many will wait five or ten minutes for the minibus to fill up to avoid walking a quarter mile.

Door-to-door minibus service takes on special importance when considering use of public transit late at night: it provides the equivalent of a protective escort service. When arriving in the neighborhood by public transit the individual has the option of disembarking at the central transit stop where the minibus is waiting. People activity and higher density uses puts eyes on the street, both of which act to deter crime. The neighborhood core by its nature will increase street safety. In this scenario night travelers are always in sight of protective eyes.

Congestion can have a major impact on transit time. In order to avoid that impediment to smooth and timely service, as system of exclusive transit ways within narrow greenbelts is established to speed transit between neighborhood centers. Transit vehicles slow down only within those congested higher density centers and make only limited stops in between. Dedicating right-of-way strictly for transit vehicles, as in all improvements that shorten travel time, also lowers, in direct proportion, operating cost per passenger mile.

Sheduling flexibility can also make a substantive improvement in trip time. As often as buses operate behind schedule they are ahead. The latter situation requires the driver to slow down or stop and wait so that the bus can arrive at the appointed stop at the exact time. However once frequency is down to five minutes or less strict schedules are unnecessary and buses can be allowed to complete their route as quickly as possible. This can shave as much as 10% of of travel time.

Fare collection is a final factor that slows buses down. Free transit speeds the loading and unloading process since passengers can use both doors - which also allows the doors to be widened - and there is no standing in line to pay. Technology may eventually allow less time consuming modes of fare collection, but considering the bigger picture, for the life of the city and the encouragement of public transportation, free transit would be most beneficial. When economics is ruled by what is best for society as a whole free transit will be an obvious choice. This is not as impractical as it sounds. Portland's transit system, for instance, receives only 27% of its revenue from the fare box, so it isn't that hard to imagine it getting all of its expenses from taxes. The only drawback of free transit is that the system would cost more since it would also greatly increase ridership and the need for additional rolling stock and employees. However, that would also serve the public good by getting people out of their cars and on mass transit.

An essential attribute of future public transport is electrification. If the city is going to have an ambiance that entices people to live there then there is no alternative. No matter how much the technology of combustion engines advances to reduce noise and pollution, they will never approach the inherent perfection of electric vehicles. How can you improve on nearly silent and totally pollution free?

San Francisco, which has electric buses and diesels operating in some places on the same streets, gives an irrefutable demonstration of the value and importance of electric transit. You are waiting at a bus stop. The diesel rumbles to a stop, chugging away and belching smoke as it takes on passengers. As it takes off - and you can magnify this five times if it has to start off uphill, common of course in San Francisco - it's so loud conversing is impossible. In all cases the breathing of some diesel smoke is unavoidable.

Now the electric pulls up. You hear the light twang of the wires and the sound of rubber on pavement. When it comes to a full stop there is near total silence broken only by accessories such as electric fans. When it takes off, uphill or otherwise, the total sound emitted is no more than that given off by a small car. And there is zero pollution.

Yes, the electricity has to come from somewhere, but it is far easier to control pollution from a single power source than a myriad of individual vehicles. Moreover power is typically generated at a distance from concentrated urban population centers. There are, additionally, ways to produce electricity without burning fossil fuels. It's not that hard to imagine outfitting bus roofs with solar cells to reduce overall power generation needs.

Portland provides a somewhat ironic example of the inadequacy, myopia of trying to improve transit without using electricity. Two parallel streets in downtown were turned into an exclusive transit mall. The absence of auto traffic allows the buses to zip through downtown without congestion. The sidewalks were widened, paved in brick and adorned with excellent sculpture to make an altogether pleasant urban experience, with one exception - the buses. Concentrating all those diesel buses on the transit mall's streets bestows them with the noisiest, smokiest, least pleasant ambiance in downtown.

The excessive diesel noise emitted is just as offensive for the people inside the vehicle. The roaring of a diesel engine when one is riding in the back of the bus can be classified among those petty degradations of city life that seem so minor some might tend to pass them off as insignificant. We may not even be consciously aware of those kinds of impacts on us but eventually they accumulate to produce a negative feeling about urban living and for many, the urge to escape.

For the greater public benefit citizens are encouraged to use public transit. Lower cost and absence of stress are among several factors cited as its attractions. Public transit can never compete in comfort with private vehicles but every improvement that electrification makes counts towards the goal of increasing mass transit use.

Electric buses cost more to purchase than diesels and also require substantial infrastructure. But they last longer and are cheaper to operate and maintain. Speaking strictly of the bottom line, they are only competitive on the busiest routes because of the need to cover infrastructure costs. But the more you use it the less it costs per trip, which melds perfectly with concentration of transit demand.

Hybrid diesel-electric buses are just now coming on line. They are equipped with pickup truck sized diesel engines that are used to charge batteries that drive electric motors at the wheels. They have the ability to operate solely on stored electricity for short distances which is handy for traversing congested areas in silent, clean mode, and of course they don't need overhead wires. It should also be possible to apply that same hybrid concept to all-electric buses. They would pick up electricity to charge their batteries at specific bus stops or from overhead wires strung over short distances. This would allow them to dispense with continuous overhead wiring, probably the only disagreeable facet of electric vehicles.

Electric buses are far superior to diesels, but streetcars or trolleys, especially if they can operate at least partly on exclusive right-of-way, are the best form of local urban transit - they are the safest, smoothest, most comfortable and energy efficient mode. They also possess an aura of good feeling that makes riding them fun. Routed with scenic spots and civic focal points in mind, they become part of the draw, an enjoyable part of a day's outing. Portland's light rail system gets more than a third of its ridership from events and pleasure riders.

The minibuses that provide door to door service are also electric. Distances are always short and a recharge would be waiting for them every time they returned to the taxi stand. Every conversion to electric propulsion will improve urban life.

12. The String of Pearls

Now in place of a mostly undifferentiated graph paper blanket blindly superimposed over the urban landscape - which includes only a bulge representing downtown and a few lesser bulges for subdistrict commercial centers and higher density residential areas - a String of Pearls design is gradually melded onto the urban fabric. Each neighborhood, with its relatively dense core, surrounded by single family housing and then greenspace, is likened to a pearl. The pearls are connected laterally and in concentric rings from the city center.

Each is distinct, individual and clearly differentiated from the others and each is a microcosm of the city as a whole. They are self-governing, not on the order of independent fiefdoms empowered to erect toll gates at each of their border posts, but as essential parts of the whole. Each has its distinction, specialty, uniqueness, but in no case can they be considered apart from the city as a single unit. Today variation between adjacent neighborhoods tends to be very subtle; usually not even the most knowledgeable, familiar eye can tell them apart - visually distinguish one from the other. In the String of Pearls city those subtle differences become transmuted into neighborhoods that are unique, identifiable entities, geographically and politically as well as culturally.

Nevertheless, in all cases consciousness of the city as a whole takes precedence over neighborhood consciousness. Whatever transpires to make neighborhoods more individual and responsible they will never be less than integral parts of the city. Considering that local control and community awareness barely exists today compared to the power that resides in the larger governments, balance requires that the emphasis now be placed on the former.

A primary objective of this restructuring is that it enables substantial numbers of people to live, work and access basic necessities within their neighborhoods. Community consciousness, energy efficiency and the reduced stress of not having to commute are all indicators of the efficacy of neighborhood orientation.

Relative to employment, the goal should be twenty five percent of the city's residents living within walking distance of their work, though this will vary widely between neighborhoods. A wealthy community will have a difficult time finding a resident who wants the job of park maintenance, but in compensation it could contain offices available to residents as workplaces.

At any rate, for all jobs within the neighborhood that require no special skills, whether public or private sector, residents are always given priority. This plan has tremendously shortened the time and eased the burden of moving around town in all transportation modes so that covering the urbanized area to find the best employee-employment match is not a detriment to the overall concept, but all things being equal, residents get first consideration for community-based employment.

Each neighborhood provides a wide-ranging, but basic, assortment of shopping and professional needs. All essentials can be accessed within walking distance. Urban dwellers will always have reasons for taking care of some of their business in various parts of the city, but when their needs are generic they will gravitate towards the closest neighborhood core first.

A short walk or bike ride along a small stream or through other space specially allocated to pedestrian purposes and designed to be safe, peaceful and esthetically pleasing will be preferred by most people over the stress of traffic. Drive to a mall when a short amble will suffice? One of the primary social causes of the future, because it is healthier for both individual and city, is to get people out of confining automobile dependent mindsets and into the fresh air.

Once there at the neighborhood center we may bump into a friend or take up a conversation with a potential romantic partner at the public square or our favorite cafe. The String of Pearls community is designed for, organized around and focused on facilitating personal interaction.

In the eighties Portland took the forward-looking step of demolishing a two story parking garage in the heart of downtown and turning it into a public square. It has been an extremely successful user-friendly addition to the center city. Unfortunately there is not another public square in all of Portland although the type of gathering places they afford are at least as important in the neighborhoods. Every community needs to have a public space within walking distance where friends can gather and events can take place. Pioneer Square in downtown Portland is a full block, nearly an acre. Neighborhood squares as small as 5,000 square feet or an eighth of an acrecan be sufficient to serve local needs.

A single neighborhood will never provide a complete or extensive range of shopping or entertainment possibilities any more than a small town of 10,000 could. Only a few would have a department store. Not every neighborhood would have a theater. (However, compared to today the String of Pearls redesign will aid greatly in reestablishing neighborhood movie houses as viable businesses.) Since none is complete in itself, there will be friendly competition and rivalry between neighborhoods, as well as between the neighborhoods and downtown. Many will add a specialty to their basic needs commerce to draw people from larger districts or the city as a whole. For instance, one will emphasize musical instruments, another pets, nightlife in a third.

With all of the city's pedestrian friendly commercial space reserved for downtown and small, compact, well connected neighborhood cores as opposed to present practice of having it loosely scattered on every arterial, possible commercial destinations are reduced by eighty or ninety percent, tremendously simplifying all movement on public transit. More precisely, almost all non-auto-oriented commerce has been concentrated in a relatively small total area in quality, transit accessible spaces.

In the String of Pearls prototype city of one-half to one million people, one hundred transit stops provide access to all pedestrian-transit commercial space outside of downtown. There's only one bus line connecting each neighborhood from each direction - all operating on maximum five minute headways - and once the individual has arrived at the neighborhood core all amenities are within easy reach.

Contrast that with the grid city in which commercial space is scattered out amongst as many as ten stops on each mile of all six miles of each neighborhood's arterials. (Boundary arterials are, of course, shared with adjacent neighborhoods.) Six bus lines are required to access all of its commercial space instead of two. Further, in the current pattern one stop is seldom enough for an individual to take care of business.

The essence of the String of Pearls design is difference and diversity, both within each neighborhood as well as between them. They may be rich or poor, new age or old guard, close in or on the fringes, but each will still be a microcosm of the city as a whole with an exciting and vital 'downtown', ringed by tranquil 'suburbs' of exclusive single family housing and an 'outskirts' of extensive greenery.

At the same time they are all perfectly interconnected. Diverse and disparate as they may be, fast transit and compact design makes them easily accessible to all urban dwellers. Excellent public transportation is at the fingertips of half the city's people - those living in the dense neighborhood cores - and reasonably close to the rest. When high density housing is combined with the storefront, office commercial and occasional light industrial uses of the cores, then a majority of the city's activity - outside of downtown, heavy industry and auto-oriented commerce - can be found in a very limited amount of the city's land.

This makes it possible for a mid-sized city to offer transit frequency equivalent to larger cities. For example, a some years ago after a long absence I visited New York, bringing my teenage son along for a family reunion. Heading to the subway on one of our ambles about town we had just passed the turnstile as our train was leaving the station. "Drat", I responded. It was 8 PM and I was expecting evening headways typical of Portland's buses and anticipating a long, boring wait. Four minutes later another eight car train appeared.

At prevailing American densities in cities of ideal size frequent transit service is nearly impossible. In Portland, with a total of 100 bus lines, there is only one that operates on less than ten minute daytime headways and only eight that run that frequently during rush hour. When low urban densities are combined with scattered uses and overwhelming dependence on the private auto, convenient public transit is precluded.

Concentration of uses focuses demand and brings frequency up to an reasonable, tolerable level. There is no conceivable pattern of development in a modern grid city of one million people that could support frequent transit service. Without much greater service levels there is no realistically achievable plan that could reduce auto dependency or by extension allow the creation of the kind of urban space people will want to live in. In current urban design with commerce scattered on inefficient parallel strips and multifamily housing spotted everywhere, increasing density can only intensify traffic problems and slow public transit.

Worsening traffic conditions are certain to fuel road rage and urban angst and the need to escape. String of Pearls makes it possible for a city of one million to replicate the feeling of much larger cities in its neighborhood cores, at the same time that it simulates the friendliness of small towns in its community orientation. It gives its inhabitants the excitement and convenience of living in a big city, the peace and serenity of single family livingand brings the natural world withing easy reach of all.

13. Downtown and Shopping Malls

Under no circumstances will downtown be obviated or eclipsed by either neighborhood centers or shopping malls. There can be no substitute for or alternative to the energy, vitality, diversity and excitement of downtown. It has a potential array of shopping choices equal to half a dozen malls together not to mention concert halls, museums, historic buildings, parks, squares and other civic attractions. It has government bureaus, a central library and corporate offices. Included in its physical structures are examples of every size, shape, design and age of buildings as opposed to the intellectually oppresive cookie-cutter sameness of mall-land and it brings together every type of person from all corner of the region.

Finally, it's convenient. More than half the people of this future city live a very short walk from a fast, high-frequency transit line. If a person wants to drive, the greenbelt parkways get them to downtown absent all congestion and bottlenecks.

Neighborhood shopping centers are also fundamental t a people-oriented future but shopping malls as we now know them are doomed in spite of the reality that they are today the preferred American shopping mode, and are quickly spreading around the globe. In many places today, especially those that have let their downtowns atrophy, malls and the newest trend, megastores and megastore centers are the only shopping alternative. But they leave the senses cold. They have as much art, style, flavor, culture and pizzazz as Velveeta cheese.

There are essentially four modes of commerce. In descending order historically and in some ways culturally we have downtown, neighborhood storefront commercial, auto-oriented commercial, and malls and megastores.

Downtown is the city's heart. It was there at its birth and remained its focal point as it expanded into the neighborhoods. Before the auto became dominant storefront commerce hugged transit lines. By the time of the post World War II economic expansion when autos started to dominate, commerce began to spread widely and include parking. As urban freeway systems gained prominence and allowed development to range far and wide, modern suburban malls started to take a large part of the consumer spending pie.

In the past couple of decades as suburban living has lost its luster for many people, downtown and inner city neighborhoods have begun to return to a vital position in the urban scene. But these countertrends are quite small and moreover many inner city residents will journey far out to the suburbs when shopping for big ticket items. Small stores cannot compete in price or variety in the marketing of mass produced goods and they continue to sustain a shrinking proportion of sales. Ironically they do fill a sales niche, more on the crafts or specialty side, that is impossible for the megastores to challenge.

We are in the midst of a consumption driven economy and society. In some sectors it seems as if technological advances make whole systems obsolete every nine months or so. Many people want/need the most up to date gewgaw without really knowing why and after they've acquired it they're still not happy. While the majority still are clearly locked into material pursuits, the idea that happiness can not be bought has begun to filter down to many Americans.

Voluntary simplicity has been embraced by a small but significant sector of the populace and will continue to expand its reach. Simplicity does not imply low quality - in many cases, just the opposite. People in the future will consume less, but what they purchase will be designed to last longer. Auto manufacturers will one day design cars to be safe, efficient, long lasting and easy to fix. A large part of continuing fossil fuel extraction and refinement will be offset by the one time production of solar power devices. Meanwhile idle consumption will naturally shrink of its own accord. Today's mania for senseless and profligate waste is a reflection of the absence of a spiritual foundation to life. When people devote more of their energy to higher pursuits, they'll naturally be more considerate of the earth and look less to the material plane for fulfillment.

Technological advances in production that allow more goods to be created with fewer people will continue apace even as people in the developed world, where most consumption happens, are demanding less and savoring more free time. In the long term view there will be a world surplus of labor through most of the next century. Though world population growth is now steadily declining something like two billion people will be added to the earth's current six billion before the total number stabilizes and begins to drop.Considering there will be a world surplus of labor through the next several decades, willing hands will outstrip available jobs: the work week will have to be shortened.

As we spend less time working we will gain the mental space and leisure time to walk to the neighborhood store or open air market and do it often. At the end of an eight hour or longer day in a forty or more hour week in today's typical high stress job the individual has little incentive or motivation to walk to a neighborhood store, even when one is available. For most Americans the only alternative is to hop in their car, drive to the mass marketer and load it up with a week's supplies. For many people the stressful life precludes shopping during the day and concurrently most individually owned small stores cannot keep the long hours of the chains.

Placing everything at the far end of a sea of asphalt provides an additional deterrent to pedestrian-neighborhood commerce. Parking lots not only add much distance between stores, they wring out all of the pleasure of walking. Strolling on a neighborhood street that is lined with storefronts and alive with human activity is vastly more enjoyable than dodging the cars in a parking lot. Even just shopping on opposite sides of the street in an auto-oriented commercial strip usually involves driving in between. The street itself is wide, noisy, congested and unpleasant and the walk across the parking lots on both sides holds zero interest.

The greater part of humanity lives in involuntary simplicity and though much of the developing world is on the rise economically, long before it is able to approach the West's wealth, style and consumer capabilities those options will be largely shut off by depletion of natural resources. Mass multinational production regimes are dependent on the ability to ship worldwide at minimal expense. Considering the planet's strictly limited supplies of low cost fossil energy, those processes will be at a major disadvantage when shortfalls result in surging prices. Energy alternatives will make their stab at attempting to keep the present system alive and numerous other factors enter in to the equation but ultimately it will not only cost less but make social sense to have as much work done as possible done close at hand.

Simultaneous with changes forced by fossil energy shortages, a gradual expansion of alternatives to shopping malls will provide urbanites with positive choices. Specialty old style storefront shopping districts have reappeared recently in some American cities. Once boarded up commercial strips have proved very popular and vital additions to the urban scene. They provide atmosphere that's friendly and personal. They also supply specialty markets that megastores, in spite of their size, can not serve.

Neighborhood 'downtowns' will have no problem competing with suburban malls, especially when the necessity of driving is obviated. In most American cities there are no alternatives; it's impossible to buy something as simple as a pair of socks in many urban neighborhoods. As convenient neighborhood options are provided we will see them increasingly used in preference to malls. The ability to personally know the shopkeeper and reach the store in a short stress-free walk or bike ride will begin to outweigh any cost differential enjoyed by multinational production and marketing efficiencies.

Finally, added to the above, the domination of bigness will begin to sag of its own bloated weight. It may be merely educated conjecture on my part, but I believe the arrogance of those on top of the economic pile in their addiction to cheap and unlimited raw materials and their propensity to stuff their deep pockets while blithely ignoring the needs of the earth and those on the bottom economic rungs will inevitably lead to their self-destruction.

In a future time of high energy costs, unnecessary trips will be avoided. Malls also take up large blocks of land for parking and single story marketing, and this translates into a lot of walking. About half of that is a zero ambiance parking lot walk, the remainder in the sterile mall environment. Consider, by the time one treks from the outer reaches of a mall parking lot and makes a single walking loop in it the typical mall's elongated design, one has walked as far as the typical shopping stroll to a neighborhood center in the String of Pearls city.

In contrast to both strip development and shopping malls, the placement of commerce in a central neighborhood core places everything in closer proximity and requires less walking. That is especially true when one considers this plan has half the neighborhood's people living in the core itself. Mixed use neighborhood core development allows some people to merely take the elevator downstairs to pick up that pair of socks.

There's also a question of whether shopping malls will fade more from their own failings or from legislation. It will be very difficult to justify the utilization of such large amounts of space in the next century when the world's population peaks at eight billion plus. Government may well come to consider that land more valuable as farmland. The same goes for the excessive use of fuel in the mall oriented urban area. In the author's view, malls have no redeeming values and no future.


14. Neighborhood Government


Before neighborhood residents can be granted decision making power over their surroundings, small-scale community level government needs to be designed and implemented in places where it has never existed before. The citizens of the smallest rural towns have histories of self-government whereas many, if not most, urban residents don't even know what neighborhood they live in. Further, there is a vast difference in consciousness between them. Some have a core of activists, ready at short notice, to assume responsibility for community affairs while in others there is little or no such energy. Since neighborhoods will be dealing with relatively large sums of money the transition to local control must be gradual, each neighborhood advancing at its own pace, and further, that pace needs to be dependent on pro-active community effort.

These changes can't really be determined or decided by high level governments or bureaucracies, though they are clearly present in directing and shaping the transition. Rather it needs to be organized in a way that requires neighborhood people to be actively involved. Especially at the onset, the political life of these new mini-governments will be fraught with difficulty, problems and confusion. This a brand new experience for urbanites. When all factors are considered there is almost certain to be found ineptitude and competence existing side by side and that is as it should be.

The current system forces all to the middle, average or mean. The option to innovate, excel or show creativity is severely stifled in the present top heavy governmental system. The US federal school lunch program provides a perfect example of big, intrusive bureaucracy run amok. Insuring adequate nutrition for school kids is one of those acts of government that is totally altruistic and morally unassailable. Moreover, it's undeniably true that some states would simply ignore the needs of their low income children if the lunch program were not paid for by the federal government. However, in action it displays the worst nightmares of being subject to remote, out-of-touch bureaucracies.

After seventeen years of trying, the nation's schools a few years back gained the ability to offer yogurt in place of meat. According to federal rules every child has to be served a specific number of grams of each of the four food types every day. There is a whole litany of reasons why such a mandate is unreasonable and illogical. What about the growing number of kids who are vegetarians? How about the vast climate differences within the US that physiologically require different types of sustenance? What about individual taste? Does a fast food burger constitute good nutrition because it provides the right number of grams of the different food groups?

In a related example, in the late 90’s the US Department of Agriculture, in a startling leap of ignorance and cluelessness, and maybe corporate manipulation, published guidelines for labeling organic food that included irradiation, genetic modification, synthetic hormone treatment and fertilization with heavy-metal-laced sewage sludge. On that basis, who would trust all power over children’s diet to a distant bureaucracy?

Control over school lunch menus belongs in the hands of the parents at the neighborhood level. Federal or state governments can have a role in subsidizing programs, promulgating guidelines and setting goals for achievement, as well as publicizing and berating jurisdictions that do poorly, but it is a waste and an inanity to have thousands of bureaucrats in Washington getting so far into the details of life for every child in the country. The federal school lunch program has served an important purpose and in many places still does. If it were dismantled most states would do an average job while some would be found lacking. That's the price to be paid for a select few to stand out, innovate and lead.

Whether jurisdiction is devolved to the neighborhoods from federal, state or city levels there needs to be a political entity in place that can assume responsibility. Neighborhoods function on both the geographic/material plane and the cultural/ spiritual. They are not only the perfect size for transportation efficiency and community cohesion, they also bring government down to a level of relatively like-minded people.

The prerequisite for devolving power is a functioning electoral system and the first step is establishment of official neighborhood boundaries. Since most neighborhood organizations, where they exist at all, are strictly voluntary self-appointed groups with little power and no resources, exact delineation has not been necessary or important.

Taking Portland’s system of recognized neighborhood boundaries, in place for decades now, as an example, one finds many anomalies and inconsistencies that would need to be resolved before they could be usable for democratically based political entities. They occasionally overlap with areas claimed by two organizations. Some are historically based on elementary school boundaries that might make the entity too small to be viable in this new context. In a few places they trace jagged lines on residential streets making development of boundary greenbelts very difficult. Strictly residential neighborhoods will be found that don't include a single store. Sometimes they straddle major traffic arteries which by definition is hard to fit into this plan.

One or another situation, because they weren't intended to be comprehensive microcosmic entities, could leave many neighborhoods as currently organized incomplete or illogical. There will invariably be wide differences in size and population between neighborhoods when based solely on culture and the shape of the pre-existing city. With exceptions like that of a very young desert metropolis such as Phoenix in which most neighborhoods will be exactly one square mile, the grid city we are working with contains as many exceptions as rules.

An area of less than half square mile or population under 3000 will be hard to justify: compromises may have to be made to provide minimum viable jurisdictions. Two small, adjacent, culturally similar neighborhoods may be easy to combine. There are few absolutes, and lots of room to make exceptions. If a very small neighborhood, for whatever reasons, really wants to remain separate, that's ultimately not a problem. A community may be hemmed in by natural constraints – a river or cliff - or by large urban constructs - freeway, heavy industrial area or rail yard - making the ideal standard of one square mile unachievable. On the other hand anything approaching two square miles will seriously lengthen walking distance, thus reducing convenience and contradicting the goal of community access and cohesion. Regardless, exceptions are always possible.

The following is no more than a very rough sketch of a procedure for devolution of an urban area into functioning neighborhood governments. All things considered it is certain to be an exceedingly complicated process. There are any number of ways the transformation can be structured: it’s taken for granted that every devolution will unfold within its own unique timetable and pattern.

The first step is the establishment of a commission charged with devising solutions to the anomalies and inconsistencies in boundaries as they currently exist and molding the String of Pearls concept into existing urban reality as smoothly as possible. Current street layout, the legacy of the past, will have to be considered most often as taking precedence over pure ideals. Culture, in effect the only extant basis for neighborhood boundaries, needs to be adapted somewhat to the need for functional viability and the imperative of conforming to the city as built.

However, the people involved may object to the commission's decisions, therefore its proposals do not take force without approval of the neighborhood. This they must do through the initiative process, which, through the need to organize and gather signatures, presupposes some level of readiness to assume responsibility. This first initiative is part of a two stage process.

In the first stage residents approve boundaries and elect a neighborhood council; initially it consists of five members. In the beginning the council's funding and therefore responsibility and power are very limited. They are more advocates than administrators.

In addition to advocacy, this first council has the mandate to draw up a permanent design for neighborhood government. They may want a design with three councilors, they may want fifteen. They may want to elect a head councilor, or choose different length terms. Approval by the city of a neighborhood's plans is required before the second vote is taken but certainly neighborhoods are given the greatest possible leeway. There's no reason to make these neighborhood governments conform to any but the most fundamental parameters. ee neighborhood governments conform to any but the most fundamental parameters.

15. Neighborhood Funding

Initially, neighborhood government has three potential sources of funding: an income tax checkoff, a minimal property tax and block grant sharing by city government. This, once again, is only a very basic and hypothetical scenario and not inclusive. Every US state and every country has a different taxation mix and underlying philosophy. Local conditions will vary greatly and require individually appropriate and vastly differing responses. The income tax checkoff obviously wouldn't work in Washington state which has no income tax.

An additional funding source is described in a later chapter "The New Commons - A Resource for the Community". In any case it is imperative that neighborhoods have dedicated hard cash funding.

In the first stage only the income tax checkoff is available. It does not cost the taxpayer any money, but does require a positive if minimal action on his/her part and consequently provides a very strong incentive on the neighborhood council's part to make contact with its constituents. The checkoff is ten dollars per taxpayer and could net the typical 10,000 population neighborhood about $50,000 annually, enough, at a minimum, to at least cover initial organizing costs.

Expenditures are totally at the discretion of the neighborhood with the exception that councilors are not paid. It could pay for newsletters, a playground, street paving, a library, a rock concert, help for the homeless, whatever. The council, being elected by the people, will get no end of input on how it should be spent.

Property taxes are available after the second stage election and approval of bylaws, and require separate electoral approval. The initial neighborhood property tax rate is set at 2/100 of one percent of value, or twenty dollars annually on a property assessed at $100,000. For the average community in this hypothesis that would mean about $100,000 per annum for its treasury. Any additional property taxes would be subject to electoral approval. Large tracts of industrial land or other regionwide activities are not included within neighborhood boundaries in this devolution of power.

The third revenue source is quite complicated. Block grants are tied to each of the different sectors of responsibility that are devolved and pro-rated amounts of money are allocated to each neighborhood in each sphere of control. For instance, they will have jurisdiction over municipal functions such as local streets, lesser parks, neighborhood planning and community police - unarmed safety patrols. Each area of responsibility is calculated separately and the city government can begin devolving control one function at a time or all together. Also neighborhoods will be ready at different times so that the city needs to keep providing services to those that aren't ready for self-government, at the same time it has devolved power to those that are.

Let's take the specific example of neighborhood streets. Local jurisdiction implies that neighborhoods are given wide latitude over their strictly local streets. In some communities residents will insist that all developments include standard width streets replete with curbs and sidewalks. Others may prefer to keep their streets as single lane dirt tracks and use the money they have available to convert existing streets to playgrounds or gardens. In the current scheme there are no options, all must conform to a single, sometimes excessive standard.

In this new paradigm, the absolute minimum number of citywide rules are applied. The best thing the neighborhood councils could do to increase livability is prevent through traffic from using local streets, and a street that is used by twenty cars a day does not need a regulation 30 feet of pavement. Besides, as mentioned previously, excessive pavement is not just expensive, it's ugly and causes or increases drainage problems.

There are any number of alternate design possibilities and their implementation is totally at the neighborhood's discretion. The only restriction placed on them requires that they always leave access to pedestrians and bikes. They are not private streets, everyone must retain the right of access, however they can still make driving there confusing as hell to strongly discourage all superfluous traffic.

Getting back to funding, let's say the city spends $50 million per year on maintaining local streets and let's assume for discussion purposes this city of one million people has 100 neighborhoods of equal population. In this scenario each neighborhood would have $100,000 to spend on its local streets.

However, we don't need to treat them all equally. The neighborhood of one million dollar houses really does not need city money to take care of its local streets. Maybe even, given the option, they would prefer to take double the money out of their own pockets to build luxury streets in place of having streets built to citywide standards that cost them nothing extra. The important point is that wealthy neighborhoods now are granted the ability to choose. Further, in place of everybody, rich and poor, forced onto the same level, every neighborhood can be different, displaying its own unique style and taste.

Income then plays a part in government disbursements. For this the city's neighborhoods are divided into fifths according to income. The bottom fifth receives a full share of $100,000, top the fifth gets nothing. The second is diminished by three quarters, the third by a half, the fourth by a quarter. City money, often scarce, goes where it is needed, which is just the opposite of what frequently happens now; that is, resources going first to wealthy neighborhoods.

Neighborhoods have the option of taxing themselves to make up for any reduction in city support for whatever improvements they desire. In this scenario city taxes and all the bureaucracies that go with them will get slashed. Neighborhoods are given free rein, except the city retains responsibility for oversight, assessment, advice and inter-neighborhood communications.

Every facet of local government is treated similarly. In all possible situations, the neighborhoods are granted the greatest feasible level of control. Each will develop its individuality, its differences, its uniqueness. The rich, the poor, all gain the ability to choose, and that ability engenders a civic response. There's money to spend and people get involved in what they want their neighborhoods to be and look like.

Ppular reactions to civic improvements may change considerably when the relationship between the taxes paid and the tangible results are clear and close-at-hand. One community will be stingy, another generous. There'll be a direct connection between the neighborhood tax load and the citizenry's ability to impact the decisions that determined those taxes. As in small towns they'll have easy access to their elected decision makers.

Part of the rationale for devolving responsibility is that it is assumed to be a cheaper, simpler and more efficient approach to governance. Neighborhood governments are better able to respond to people's needs and more closely approach their ideals of urbanity and do it for less. In this situation the economies of scale work exactly opposite. When the city hires workers there has to be a civil service process and the workers have to receive relatively high wages and benefits. Everything has to function through the city's bureaucracy.

On the neighborhood level all processes are far simpler, and especially when considering lower income communities, more flexible and adaptable. Neighborhoods dealing with high unemployment may wish to spread the work by hiring part timers, or do it with volunteers and use the money that's freed up in the process for other neighborhood improvements. Lower income communities will probably pay wages that are more in line with local income.

Community is the foundation of advanced society and the building block of the future city. As the primary focus of social organization it benefits almost everyone on all levels, from the nation down to the neighborhood. It is more sustainable and affords a more liesurely and comfortable lifestyle. Working together builds and reinforces community and that reduces social stress and dysfunction and their accompanying evils.

Chapters 16 to 20

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