The New Commons - A Resource for the Community
22. The Wider Challenge
23. New Towns
24. City and Country
21. The New Commons - A Resource for the Community
The city pays all the costs associated with clearing the greenbelts and stream corridors, and all the major improvements therein, but the maintenance, design and utilization of the greenspace is left in the purview of the neighborhoods. The city fashions the arterials and transit lines with community input. The neighborhoods have more influence in shaping the design of the bike and walking paths and that prerogative expands in scope and progresses over time to encompass, within reasonable limits, all other potential uses of the commons both temporary and permanent.
The greenbelt land, in addition to it's natural attributes and transportation uses, becomes a community resource. For instance, after a vacant single family house has been purchased in a greenbelt it is turned over to the neighborhood. It functions as a publicly owned asset, utilized at the community's discretion according to it's individual and particular needs. It can be reserved for socially dependent people who are given the option to work in lieu of all or part of fair market rent or it may transmute into a preschool, clinic or any number of other similar uses. Community ownership acts as a buffer against inflation and destabilizing economic and social changes and provides the neighborhood with a significant tangible stake in it's immediate environment.
It may be several years before the greenbelt house can be moved. If it's on street frontage it won't be ideally located for neighborhood use, but it can still serve various interim needs. Further, it's use as an immediate resource can often be extended as well into permanent status; many of the houses so acquired remain in community ownership after they've been moved.
There are limits to the practical level of community ownership - it would make sense for the typical neighborhood to own about five percent of it's housing stock, though in some cases, depending on income and local conditions, a larger percentage might also be appropriate. Five percent gives it a powerful tool to insure against social instability and endows it with plentiful staff to do park and greenbelt maintenance, sidewalk repair, daycare center staffing, community policing, etceteras.
The presence of large numbers of homeless people in America today might make it difficult to include large natural areas in it's cities without also including alternate housing opportunities for the shelterless; greenbelts might otherwise become homeless camps. This will hardly be a problem in an enlightened future, but a serious impediment today without mediating efforts.
Whatever cash or labor in lieu of cash the neighborhood derives from the house is available for use at it's discretion and essentially becomes a permanent endowment. Thus the tax money used to purchase the property for greenbelts concurrently results in an enduring reduction in the city's cost and responsibility and sets the stage for important corollary social benefits layered on top of it's primary transportation and environmental purposes. The one time transfer of these houses to the neighborhood gives it the wherewithal to take care of it's needs with less citywide tax money and this permanent resource might well supplant the need for the other previously mentioned neighborhood based taxes.
Much of the housing that will need to be moved is expensive and/or luxurious and not really appropriate for people on the indigent or low income side of life - in some neighborhoods all of the housing is such. In all fairness, wealthy neighborhoods have no legitimate claim on the city's largesse, they are beyond social challenges and can easily afford to pay for their own civic needs.
But if upper income communities, for altruistic as well as practical reasons, actually wanted a little variety in their populations and housing stock, they could pick up on surplus housing moved from nearby lower income neighborhoods. As long as it is retained as a resource for socially dependent people it comes as a gift from the city. As a result they get staffing for their own basic civic requirements as well as income from those who pay part of rent in cash. They have the option of providing housing for low income people as an alternative to covering the full cost of neighborhood government out of their own pockets.
Community housing is limited to residences whose worth is less than 70% of the city's median house value. If that amount is $100,000, then only houses costing less than $70,000 can become part of the commons. Up to five percent of a neighborhood's housing stock comes as a gift from the city - any larger portion is the neighborhood's choice and responsibility. Some exceptions might be made to gift the poorest areas with more than the five percent standard.
All houses purchased that are over the maximum value as well as those over the five percent limit for each neighborhood are resold at auction to people who agree to move them within a certain time. Vacant space in the outside one hundred feet of a transportation corridor can be used temporarily if insufficient space is available to move the house within the neighborhood or adjoining neighborhoods.
In the clearing of natural drainage corridors and other greenways reserved exclusively for pedestrians and bicycles, there is generally not the same pressing need or time imperative as in clearing for transportation corridors. While the former involves danger and stress, the latter revolves more around the desire to improve livability, honor aesthetics and imbue mundane life with higher values. Therefore each reconstruction is left to happen at it's own non-disruptive pace, the goal of 100 foot streambed corridors is perfectly flexible, adaptable to each individual situation.
For arterial greenbelts the goal is two hundred feet on either side of the traffic and because urban American lots are typically 50x100, two lots deep will often constitute the exact corridor. But in real life, exceptions abound. What if the frontage lot is 120 feet deep? In that instance no further acquisition is necessary as long as the owner of the last eighty feet is content. That property owner has the option to sell or retain ownership.
Similarly, in the process of acquiring the first 100 feet the city will occasionally end up owning pieces of land quite a bit more than 200 feet from the arterial. It can be resold or alternatively many public uses are possible in the area that's 150 feet or more from the traffic. Community gardens, playgrounds and many other types of community facilities can be appropriate, at least on a temporary basis. Even if it is not the best location for play space, a location 200 feet from the arterial will have minimum impacts.
In the process of greenbelt acquisition, many small commercial and light industrial buildings will devolve to community ownership and potential interim use until the time to clear the land arrives. During this time the city offers incentives to pedestrian oriented businesses to move to the neighborhood cores and auto oriented commercial to move to corridor intersections, but a business might be able to remain on the outer edge of the corridor unobtrusively, that is, without impacting traffic flow or adjacent residential uses, for an indefinite period.
Once again the primary goals of separating commercial from residential uses and sufficient right-of-way to facilitate traffic and provide space for separate bikepaths are the design imperatives; if existing uses can be accommodated in that context there's no need to take a bulldozer approach. If the acquired building is on the frontage and has to be eventually removed, the neighborhood takes management responsibility and utilizes it as it sees fit, whether for community or private use, and receives rent during transition.
The land at the corridor intersections designated for auto oriented commercial remains mostly in private ownership. For the commons, the goal is to secure sufficient space for quality transportation infrastructure and a green buffer from adjacent housing.
A large part of the city's property tax base has been removed from the rolls, but several factors have come into play in compensation. The city's responsibilities have been drastically pared down and overall costs have been substantially reduced. Wealthy neighborhoods are now liable for many of the costs formerly born by the city and low income neighborhoods have their endowments. Much of what used to require tax money is now accomplished through community effort and engagement.
The ample space provided by the greenbelt corridors substantially lowers the cost of all manner of infrastructure improvements. Finally, the city's improved livability comes as a fundamental outgrowth of permanence and stability in the context of a population that has achieved balance within and established synergy with it's natural environment. It cost far less to maintain an infrastructure built as high quality and intended as permanent - 100 years, 500 years, 1000 years - than bear the great expense involved in paying for continuous growth. The overwhelming drive today for enlargement, increase and development saps society's ability to allocate resources for advancing or improving, leaving it abandoned to the demoralizing fate of just trying to keep up.
The role of the city government through these neighborhood empowerment changes has not been obviated, but it has been seriously reduced. In place of setting and enforcing citywide standards and being overbearingly involved in every minor transaction and improvement, it establishes generic goals, advises and suggests means to those goals, and monitors and rates the activity and progress of the neighborhoods towards them. In a city of one hundred semi autonomous neighborhoods there is bound to be excellence on the part of some balanced by ineptitude and corruption on the part of others.
The power of the neighborhoods has to be limited at some point and the city has to be able to step in with corrective measures. However except for responsibilities such as general building codes and design standards agreed to by the community as a whole, restrictions involving taste and style remain outside of the city's purview except in very unusual circumstances. If anything, neighborhoods are more likely than the city government to strive to prevent incompatible development and protect their heritage and livability.
The utmost in individual community identity
and diversity will produce the most livable, enjoyable, enriching urban
experience. The city's poorest neighborhood may want to keep it's local
streets as dirt tracks while the richest chooses to gild its. That is ultimately
not the city's business or interest as long as it represents the will of
the community. The city performs the roles of monitor and mentor, acts
as an information resource and guidance counselor. Intervention in situations
of corruption, mismanagement or waste is retained only as a last resort.
22. The Wider Challenge
Much of this design, plan, proposal for the future, reflects my own twenty year experience in Portland, noted for it's excellent planning program which for long had as it's cornerstone the preservation of single family housing in the inner city. Much of it is also a reaction to a decade living in New York and Los Angeles, America's two largest cities, five years living in a small, thirty person intentional community in the mountains of southern Oregon, and more recently five years observing and experiencing the world.
The city of the future proposed here is not an exclusive American phenomenon although the potential to initiate these kinds of changes in the US, (or countries like Canada and Australia) is much easier than it would be in most other parts of the world. This is true from the standpoint of the highly mobile, fluid and adaptable way of American society as well as the low density, highly scattered nature of most of it's cities. It is far simpler to make fundamental changes in the urban pattern where land is not intensively used or excessively valued.
Fortuitously, in America the easiest place to change comes in tandem with the greatest need; in it's poorest neighborhoods. Many rust belt cities already possess large stocks of land that has been abandoned by it's owners and dumped on the municipalities for non payment of taxes. In many of those inner city neighborhoods up to half the land is vacant. The initial phases of String of Pearls would come at relatively little cost in those areas. The space is available and neighborhood improvements are in dire need. Much energy is currently expended to develop and improve these areas but, for lack of alternatives, that effort is predicated on the failed patterns of the past and in most cases the result is disappointing.
In this case, the city of the future is created first, then the people come. Develop the streams, the greenbelts, the bikepaths, the quiet, safe streets, and people will want to live there. Initially, many of the individuals drawn to those neighborhoods will require some form of government assistance, low interest loans, etc.. It may be some time after such a neighborhood has been stabilized and become functional before it's desirability rises to the point where public help is no longer needed. The important thing is to have people living there who care about the community and are involved in it's future within a setting that allows it to provide a quality urban experience.
In most of America, even in desirable cities or parts of cities where little vacant land inventory exists, there is a surfeit of parking lots, excessive space devoted to streets and most housing is in the form of small easily movable buildings. Adaptation can begin, but everything is more expensive, and many changes encounter resistance. Conversion proceeds, but more gradually.
In 1972 Oregon created it's Land Conservation and Development Commission and charged it with developing a statewide comprehensive plan designed primarily to contain urban sprawl and preserve farmland. To that end a line was drawn around every urban area with the mandate that all development take place inside the line. The area outside is reserved exclusively for rural purposes at least until the space within the boundary is no longer sufficient to accommodate population growth. In spite of heavy migration to the region in the recent past only a relatively small area is currently being added to Portland's urban growth boundary. Twenty five years of growth has been accommodated without urbanizing significant new greenfields.
In most other American cities, in which the tendency towards sprawl has been left to gobble up farmland unchecked, the space required for future development is far smaller than the land that has already, by default, been urbanized. For instance, the Pittsburgh metro region, with about the same population as Portland's, has urbanized twice the space. With few exceptions at least a half century's future growth can easily be accommodated within existing developed areas. Farms that remain within the urban growth boundary are exceedingly difficult to save, but outside of the area that has already been urbanized, no additional farmland needs to be sacrificed to rampant sprawl.
With the exception of San Francisco and the dense cores of the older cities of the East Coast, the ability to freely move small structures and essentially rearrange the urban space would make for the relatively easy transformation of the typical American city into the String of Pearls city.
What of Los Angeles, the biggest sprawl of all? What will happen to the existing one square mile neighborhoods when the inevitable decline in population takes hold? Without establishment of priorities and the making of difficult political decisions in regards to which cities and neighborhoods should remain, vast stretches of the megalopolis will emulate the semi-abandoned rust belt cities of today. Most housing is low rise easily movable buildings making the urban area easy to reconfigure into the more efficient String of Pearls pattern. In supersprawl Southern California the entire region will have to be redesigned instead of just the neighborhoods.
The fifteen million people of the Los Angeles megalopolis inhabit an immense territory. That area could reasonably and with a relatively gentle touch on the land accommodate four or five compact cities of one million, plus quite a few smaller cities. That calculation would ultimately have to be based on the ecosystem's carrying capacity. In the act of halving the region's population in denser configurations, three quarters of the land area will no longer be needed for urban purposes. Wide greenbelts, large natural areas, and eventually farming, will return to the LA basin. Traveling time across those wide green spaces, via fast trains and uncongested highways, will not increase over current times.
On the other extreme, visualizing Manhattan, how is one to proceed with corridor clearing in the face of a row of twenty story luxury apartment buildings? Changes will have to wait until the city is gradually and spontaneously abandoned. In fact in many cases the land is turning full circle. Parts of New York that were once filled with high density six story apartment buildings, subsequently abandoned and demolished, have been converted to lower density two story rowhouses.
Oftentimes it takes the experience of extremes to fully grasp the average or commonplace. Here's another New York anecdote. In the winter of 1965 I rented an apartment, which happened to be in a nearly new building, that overlooked and was located a neighborhood street's width from the Cross Bronx Expressway. The highway itself is located below ground level on a steep grade and enclosed in vertical walls. Imagine living on a hill that requires big trucks to shift way down when going uphill and encourages (at least back then) great backfire belches when going downhill, on what was then reputed to be the world's busiest highway at 275,000 vehicles a day. In winter with the windows closed it's rumble was akin to a muffled roar. By the time summer arrived and the windows came open we had to yell to hear each other from two ends of a sofa. Its mind numbing, eardrum shattering din went on twenty four hours a day. Alternatively, with the addition of air-conditioning, people could reasonably abide there as long as they never open their windows!
That apartment (assuming it's still there) has to be one of the absolute noisiest in New York, if not all existence. But it certainly isn't alone among domiciles subject to extreme noise in New York and a lot of other cities. In many places, including Portland, new housing is being built on freeway frontage, not to mention high volume traffic streets. The mania for 'grow or die' insists that every lot be developed or densified irrespective of the sometimes awful, demeaning consequences for the people who are fated to live there.
There is nothing good one can derive from living adjacent to, or spending a lot of time near heavy traffic. We tolerate it, but it is hell to be around, not to mention impossible to like. It's easy to blow off the effects of the individual little stresses and hassles of life but each nonetheless has it's incremental and cumulative impact. It's common for some people to discount the negatives of traffic and there's certainly no accounting for taste but in any reasoned, dispassionate approach no justification will be found for mixing people and excessive numbers of vehicles.
Now take a look at Manhattan, there are no highways crossing it, the ones going lengthwise are strictly for cars. All the trucks therefore needed to supply all needs in the center of the world's densest, most powerful urban agglomeration are forced to function on city streets. They create oppressive impacts to large numbers of people with no possibility of amelioration. Almost everybody experiences heavy traffic, there is no respite outside of Central Park. A 1965 attempt to build a one mile freeway across Manhattan was met with vociferous, implacable resistance more from the disruption it would have caused to the city's fabric than it's one billion dollar (in 1965 dollars) cost.
Now, assuming that the city's leaders have recognized that it's preferred future lies in being smaller and that it's development resources should be applied to improved livability rather than greater size and power, consider the corridor concept. Even in Manhattan some places are relatively less developed than others. Occasional vacant lots will appear and over time some buildings will be lost to fire or need to be demolished because of structural weakness. Interspersed among the skyscrapers are smaller buildings, purchasable at relatively reasonable prices. Further, as a reflection of the city's intent to contract it's population along with restrictions on new development, it's land values should decline and ease the cost of purchasing space.
As in all cases, but especially where there are 80,000 people living in one square mile, every lot turned into trees will improve it's immediate neighborhood, reduce congestion and smooth the flow of traffic. Rather than reducing the size of the corridor in deference to high cost and high density it should be increased to 600 feet, both to eventually compensate for a density that will remain extreme far into the future and to provide greater leeway in transition.
Sites for corridor acquisition will come very slowly compared to a low density city. It would be hard to locate any 600 foot wide path through Manhattan that didn't include some buildings so large and valuable as to preclude, as far as can be seen in the future, their being purchased and demolished in favor of oaks and firs. For that purpose I'm not including your average twenty story mid level luxury apartment house. But at the same time, with 600 feet being cleared it will be much easier to find a way to snake some bike paths through. Some instances, though, may require innovations like putting the bike path right through an existing building.
Creation of cross-town corridors will be much simpler to accomplish than corridors in the other direction. Since there are cross-town streets every 200 feet, a 600 foot corridor will already have two interior streets for carrying traffic. Their use as arterials only has to wait until sufficient space has been cleared to provide an alternative to on-street parking. They are already wide enough for two or three lanes of traffic and a bike path. Nearly all Manhattan streets have a history of traffic so it won't be that out of context, that much of a burden, to leave some buildings in the midst of highly concentrated traffic flows. At the least, they'll benefit from the gradually appearing green spots, and many other streets will experience reduced flows of traffic.
There are no 5000 square foot lot, single family home areas in Manhattan, everything is higher density than the neighborhood core as envisioned in String of Pearls. The most that can be done in that situation in the near term is to downzone in stages with the specific idea of reducing population, and insure that all new construction is limited to buildings that serve specific purposes and clearly enhance livability. New York obviously needs no new housing, but well placed, high quality, low density row houses could be considered improvements in many circumstances. Ultimately time will work it's changes and the majority will spontaneously flee to less oppressive, less intrusive life situations. The city will be downsized, against it's will if need be, for it's own good.
In fact it's quite easy to visualize New York's transition to a smaller more livable city. Obviously, this could not be done quickly, at least not quickly and reasonably, even should it be desired. Contraction needs to unfold in an relaxed gradual pace to avoid changes that are destabilizing or destructive. Purposely reducing population has never been attempted before.
Declining population, spurred on by proactive government intervention, would create a housing surplus and consequently declining rents. Fairly quickly the city's worst housing could be retired and either turned into greenery, or where appropriate the space could be redeveloped into higher quality, lower density buildings. Declining population means less crowded subways, parks and streets, and reduced pressure and intensity makes public amenities cheaper to construct and maintain. If rents go down so will the need to earn high wages. All living costs will decline and in turn reduce the cost of social programs and necessary social subsidies. Property owners would be exceedingly irate about these changes, but everyone else would be grateful for the city's eased pressure and improved livability.
In 1968 I graduated from City College of New York with a BA in urban studies and began to work for the city as a planner trainee. In short order I began to feel that everything the city was doing to improve itself was in reality making things worse. All planning decisions and development expenditures were based on the axiom that more and bigger is better.
Until a healthy environment for all citizens is recognized as of primary importance and that such an environment can't happen when people are too crowded together, our big cities can only get worse. Their governments may make individual decisions that bring minor, incremental improvements, but there is no substitute for lower density if livability is the goal.
The high density cities of Europe with their many historical buildings present another interesting challenge. They may not possess the minimum green space considered necessary, or include room for low density single family housing, but their existence as historical artifacts, living history, is far more important. The experience of living in such a place can outweigh the dearth of green space.
Moreover Amsterdam has shown by it's very strong emphasis on bikeways and public transportation that it is possible for a dense city under one million people to function excellently with only minimal space devoted to private vehicles. Certainly traffic under those conditions could never constitute an excuse for destroying an historic building. When public transit and safe separated bikepaths get their due there is not significant traffic to contend with, and no reason to alter the organic pattern of growth from the past.
The same is not true for Europe's largest cities. No matter how beautiful or historic a city is megacity living with it's many impacts takes it's toll on every individual's health and well being. Transportation corridors are essential in these circumstances, but realistically cannot be developed in the path of a single historic building. In this situation the only practical, albeit expensive, solution requires that the historic buildings in the way of a necessary corridor be moved piece by piece and rebuilt in another location. Retaining them in their original site is not of prime importance as long as they are preserved nearby.
Most European cities reached their maturity long go compared to most Asian and third world cities which have been developed fairly recently. There aren't a lot, at least relatively, of historic buildings to be concerned about in those circumstances, but the cities are often very high density. In the case of countries like China and Japan, in which very high density is compounded by lands that have extremely limited amounts of usable space, big cities will be an undesirable only option for a long time. Moreover, even where space is not at so great a premium, many Asian societies have been extremely stingy with provision of public greenery.
With the rarest of exceptions, for a long time in the future, China's cities will not include detached single family housing. Neither will they, anytime soon, be able to correct substantially for the dearth in park space. They will likely accommodate concentrations of people considered excessive by String of Pearls standards as far in the future as can be safely predicted. But ultimately there's still no excuse for not providing minimal livability and green space.
In place of covering everything in six story buildings, add one story and the same number of people are accommodated in 15% less land area. Or develop a small area with twenty story apartment buildings so another can be three to four story rowhouses. No matter how dense a city is, or by circumstances needs to be, it's always worth making the housing itself a little denser if that frees up space for greenery, transportation corridors, etc.. But of course these palliatives can only be a temporary fix until the intensity of the land's use gets down closer to it's ideal or optimum.
All Chinese cities are already designed around a modified corridor approach. Their boulevards don't include greenbelts or separate light rail but they always come with bike paths that are separated from vehicles by raised planted median strips or steel pipes and often are replete with sidewalks wide enough for planters and more than one row of trees. Though they are fronted by housing and commerce, the wide bike paths and sidewalks place the traffic quite a distance from the people uses. Unfortunately, in my experience, in deference to serving increased vehicle traffic loads, they are reducing bicycle, pedestrian and green space in favor of increasing auto lanes.
Many parts of the developing world are experiencing
exceptional economic growth rates which usually means urban growth at even
much higher rates. Lamentably, most of that growth is happening in a context
of excessively high density, extremely inadequate planning and many of
the actual buildings are mean and/or ugly personified. Very expensive wholesale
changes will have to be made to bring these cities up to minimal standards
of user-friendly livability even many years from now. Greenbelts and other
public amenities can be, should be, provided in every urban concentration,
but for many people more livable lower densities will unfortunately have
to wait until world population begins to ebb.
23. New Towns
At a time of burgeoning global population and exploding megacities, it would make sense to try to divert some of that population growth away from existing overloaded concentrations of people to new planned cities. This is hardly needed in America where virtually unlimited space for growth already exists within the urbanized area of most cities. Europe has been urbanized for a long time and it's population is stable so it has little need for new towns except to relieve existing pressure on it's biggest cities. Asia on the other hand doesn't have the luxury of ample urban space and it's urban population is expanding rapidly, making it a reasonable place to consider constructing new towns.
For many reasons, planned cities have seldom fulfilled their promise and are rarely liked by urban oriented people. Their single age buildings in a totally planned context remove all interest, variety and surprise from the urban experience. Their often excessive amount of greenspace in many contexts, in an overreaction to the crowded city experience, makes truly urban, urbane lifestyles impossible. They are especially subject to social derision when they are built out of a single set of non-nondescript suburban house plans or consist of endless look-alike apartments.
The String of Pearls concept is well suited to the incremental, minimal cost construction of a new city. Starting with a blank slate, it's easy enough to lay out the greenbelts and set aside space for exclusive transit rights-of-way, and gradually fill in the privately owned areas. The time necessary to create a new city is about the same needed to transform an existing one.
In the beginning the transportation corridors would need only two rural highway type lanes for traffic and minimal bike lanes, to be later expanded or improved as demand increases. But it would be highly beneficial, if not essential, that electric transit be available right from the beginning of each neighborhood's development, even if it's not possible to provide the preferred frequencies. Though it's initial buildings may dwell in a decidedly suburban if not rural setting, the presence of good transit allows the neighborhoods to draw urban non-auto-owning types of people from the onset.
The construction of the new city is undertaken in three stages. In the first stage, requiring about ten years, downtown and the first ring of neighborhoods is laid out and the land devoted to private ownership is made available to individuals who agree to develop it within a specific length of time.
Initially only downtown's main avenues, public squares and other primary public areas are laid out. General land uses are plotted but each developer is able to purchase space that is tailored to its needs. Within reason they can be small, large, any location, any size or shape. Downtown can be easily developed in a scattered way since property values are high and most buildings involved will be substantial, both conditions tending to reduce the significance of infrastructure cost.
The city won't begin to function efficiently until a minimum level of development has been reached, and moreover it will look very strange in the first years, but the trade off is an end result that looks organic and feels right.
It costs a lot more per housing unit to develop an area by selling individual lots and requiring them all to be different, but the variety achieved is well worth it. Nevertheless, some amount of sameness is inevitable in a city that has no history, that appears full grown in a few decades. One possible solution is the mandating of a theme in all buildings. Santa Fe mandates stucco and red tile roofs, Jerusalem locally quarried pink stone, in both cases to wonderful effect. Mandating a degree of sameness in this context of selling each lot individually has the potential to mask single age development, especially if the design requirement is one of quality.
The individual neighborhoods are developed in a combination of incremental and scattered approaches. The superblocks are purposely not planned out in their entirety before subdivision begins. Each street is designed and built as needed. It grows organically as in a Medieval city. No street is perfectly straight, there is no uniform width or design, and except by chance none are exactly oriented to the four points of the compass. There are few or no perfectly rectangular lots, each is a different size and shape. Thus a level of serendipity is built into it's creation which masks all traces of it's short development timetable.
If developed incrementally, the residential property nearest the core is sold before that on the periphery of the neighborhood can be sold. This is to minimize the cost of providing infrastructure. In the scattershot approach all the land is available for sale. Some people are going to naturally prefer the neighborhood's edges. If they are willing to cover the additional infrastructure cost, to be reimbursed later when the neighborhood fills in, they can choose and develop any lot. Some of these people might hope the area never fills in, but there will always be enough green space left, even after the neighborhood has been completely developed, to allay the feeling of being surrounded and stifled by urbanity and needing to move further out to get a little breathing space.
In fact, since we are starting with raw land it would be appropriate to substantially increase the width of the transportation corridors to as much as 1000 feet and raise the percentage of green space in the city to 50%. The city requires a lot more land overall, but the area that is developed remains the same and evokes the same feeling of dynamic urbanity.
The time it takes to get around town, whether on public or private transportation, doesn't increase significantly because the extra travel is in totally uncongested greenbelts. What is gained is corridors wide enough to eliminate virtually all impacts. The additional land area if utilized as forest brings the feeling of those spaces much closer to the real thing. When developed as community gardens, the space contributes significantly to the city's food supply.
The second phase of development begins after the first ring of five or ten neighborhoods has reached about 50% development. At that point private land in a second ring of neighborhoods is opened up for development. These neighborhoods can also be developed sequentially, the only criterion being construction of the circumferential greenbelts and electric transit to the cores. Subsequent to the first two development rings, the remainder of the city is either developed as needed, i.e., one neighborhood at a time, or scattered in the sense that some properties throughout the entire remainder of the city are sold and developed immediately.
The sooner development begins in the outer neighborhoods the longer the development timetable and the greater the opportunity for diversity in building styles and types. This approach presumes sufficient demand for those outlying properties to warrant construction of minimum traffic and transit corridors, but even if as little as five or ten percent of the land is being developed, that's enough to provide rudimentary transportation and begin city building.
In it's earlier stages this new city will resemble
the worst of suburban sprawl, but when it's finished it will exhibit the
exact right attributes. It will be an unplanned-spontaneous-looking, planned
24. City and Country
In much the same way that the challenge for the city is to bring a sense of the natural to urban life the challenge for the countryside is to create a minimal sense of the city's excitement and intellectual breadth. The communications revolution has considerably narrowed the gap for country living but without real live interaction it will always be found lacking. This deficiency can be remedied somewhat in the process of the excessive urban growth that is currently happening in many parts of the world and is likely to continue for at least several decades.
Rather than continue today's patterns of ever enlarging urban areas with destructive inefficient suburban sprawl, satellite cities and more distant cities are developed. The satellites are separated from the primary city by a wide permanent rural belt, but connected to it by fast transit. Trains operating at speeds of a hundred miles an hour would allow cities up to a hundred miles away to be developed as alternatives to primary city growth. While long distance commuting, or any regular trip that requires more than an hour is never a preferred option, the basic livability of both primary and outlying cities is preserved.
This scenario also best preserves the region's agricultural land, and the ability of that land to feed it's immediate vicinity. In a setting of unrestrained urban sprawl, the productivity of all rural land in proximity to the city is tainted by high property values and the need to coexist with urban uses - it is hard to spread manure on a field surrounded by suburban developments.
The outlying cities in both categories - satellite and longer distance - remain relatively small, but gain in urbanity by a spillover of people from the primary city as well as being connected by fast, pleasant, relatively easy commutes. They too are laid out in the String of Pearls design, the same concept applied to a small city, 50,000 to 200,000 population. Meanwhile the primary city retains it's interior ease of movement by remaining in the one million population range, and it's livability by being in close proximity to the country.
One important outcome of the addition of extensive green corridors to the urban milieu is the home they provide for wildlife. The urban streambeds, because they are continuous, uninterrupted natural spaces, will make small animal migrations relatively easy. The transportation corridors, to the same end, may require animal bridges to enable free movement inside the city. In addition to the smaller animals such as squirrel, opossum, and the occasional raccoon that one might spot in a city like Portland, deer, possibly others will regularly appear.
Further, regionwide and statewide natural corridors designed to connect city and country are developed in both transportation and waterway modes. The rural greenways can also be thought of as multipurpose corridors designed and intended for a similar range of uses and purposes as the comparable urban corridors. Rural streams, no less than urban, provide the perfect venue for idyllic, wonderful bike and hiking paths. Widened rights of way on rural highways include room for safe, separated pedestrian ways. Either can also provide space for interurban and scenic rail lines.
Acquisition of rural greenways is carried out gradually. In the first stage the minimum necessary is purchased for alternate transportation improvements - as little as ten feet added to a rural highway is sufficient for a safe pathway. Eventually they are widened to the preferred 200 feet.
Once the land is secured, bikepaths can be built very cheaply. A single path on one side of the road would almost always suffice. Rural highways are not going to see a lot of pedestrians and bikeriders, but even if only five percent of the people who use the right of way are non-motorists, a narrow, light weight bikepath would hardly amount to five percent of the total roadway cost.
Finally, the scenic aspects of these 200 foot wide green corridors, as well as their potential home for wildlife, are as important as the transportation uses. City and country are now interconnected and interlaced with beautiful greenway transportation and permanent stream corridors. Cross country biking as exercise, recreation and sport would grow geometrically.
The addition of wildlife as an essential and
important, as opposed to incidental, factor in city life completes the
city's natural aspects. Concurrently, the development of outlying cities
and their easy connections to the primary city brings urbanity within reach
of many more people. Each becomes more like the other and fills out those
areas of culture and experience they now lack.
Technological advances are happening at such an astounding, awesome rate today, that predicting even just as far ahead as a generation, let alone to the twenty-second century, is fraught with pitfalls. In essence though, technology is empowering, bringing independence to the individual. There is no little irony in the fact that the minimum one billion dollars required to build a semiconductor plant has the effect, when those semiconductors are put to use, of creating millions of independent centers of information and learning. Independent of government, independent of industry, beyond any fixed location.
In about a generation, about two billion people, one quarter of the world's then population, will possess a single device which combines the attributes but far surpasses the capabilities of today's telephone, television and computer. Individuals will be able to send and receive audio and video signals using a single telephone number, from any point in the globe. They will be able to receive worldwide broadcasts from dozens of satellites beaming hundreds of programs in numerous languages. And via computer they will have access to vast stores of information.
Meanwhile advances in automation and productivity will consistently reduce the human time and energy required to provide for our material needs. This will coincide with the realization on the part of increasing numbers of humanity of the far greater importance of the spiritual plane over the material plane.
There is tremendous resistance today from many quarters to reducing work weeks, but by the beginning of the twenty-second century the need for human labor to produce the world's goods will be reduced to about three hours per day per person. There will be no alternative to the sharing of work, as well as many fewer people who care to sacrifice their mental and spiritual well-being for the sole pursuit of additional mammon.
World consciousness, stemming from enhanced mobility, enabled by increased free time, and driven by the desire to pursue higher than material goals, will foster world citizenship. At minimum a feeling of being a part of the world will begin to take hold. Today every halfway enlightened nation seeks tourism, though they increasingly fear immigration. But when two billion people of every race and description have the means to range the world, national borders will begin to crash from fatigue. The geometric growth of wealth and it's personal empowerment in many parts of the world of the future will vastly increase the world's roamers.
The keyword of the future is choice. Worldwide communications and access to information, increasing wealth, reduced work necessity and increased mobility all point to greater freedom and a multiplication of choices on the individual's part. In the same sense and in much the same process as the recent abandonment of many American inner cities in favor of the suburbs, similar changes will begin to happen on a world scale. Individual countries will have diminishing control over their people and their choices.
The Thai person with financial resources, who's fed up with Bangkok's traffic, will begin to have the choice of moving to Hanoi, Havana or Helsinki as well as other Thai cities. The privilege of the very wealthy who are essentially not restricted from living anywhere in the free world will be enjoyed at some level, even if partial, by increasing numbers of people. The growing ability to live in many places will eventually depress and depopulate cities not up to desirable worldwide lifestyle standards.
In parts of the world that are seriously overcrowded, the number of people with the capability of choices will remain constricted until population begins to ebb, wealth has increased, and international mobility becomes much freer than today. The developing world is currently in the midst of a mass migration of rural people to the cities. These urban areas are not likely to be abandoned any time soon. But even in the poorest countries there can be substantial numbers of people of means that are capable, by virtue of the ability to communicate worldwide from the tiniest village, of multiple location choices.
Whoever they are, wherever they come from, when people are exposed to the way cities can be, are supposed to be - exciting, stimulating and vital but still no less healthy, natural and organic, - they will recognize their intrinsic value. And just as the majority of New Yorkers would prefer to live elsewhere, the people of the future will know that abandoning the crowded, often dysfunctional, in many ways oppressive megacity or any ugly, people-unfriendly city, is their best option for lifestyle improvement.
They may not choose this particular prescription for future city development or redevelopment, but they will search for, and eventually insist upon organic, beautiful and tranquil as essential attributes of their urban environments.
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