August 06 2008 / by Antonio Manfredi
Category: Transportation Year: General Rating: 6 Hot
With staggering gas prices and highway congestion, more and more people are looking for alternatives not just to make their cars more efficient, but to ditch their cars entirely. Dense, walkable communities with rail links to urban centers are becoming more recognized solutions.
An idea pushed by urban designers for years, it seems that transit oriented development is an idea whose time has come. America, and the livelihood of its people, are being choked by the most poorly planned out infrastucture in the developed world. We owe our energy consumption to suburban sprawl more than for any other reason. This settlement pattern, without question, is unsustainable, and is the main cause of both our economic and environmental misfortune.
A confluence of federal policy, think tanks, urban planners, and developers are now working on projects that will represent the future of American towns and cities. According to a new Congress for New Urbanism study, the suburban image of the American dream is being abandoned to a larger degree than most people realize. Housing prices in areas with poor transportation linkage are dropping precipitously. Because of sharp increases in gasoline prices, living closer to work has become an even more important consideration in the location decisions of homebuyers. In other words anyone interested in preserving the value of their home in the future should avoid suburbs like the plague.
Why the tremendous shift in consciousness? According to a recent interview with Bill Ford, CEO of Ford Motor, people are never going to forget this jump in the price of oil, it is burned into their consciousness forever. Either you change your products as a company, and change where you live as a homeowner, or you will find yourself caught in an economic scenario you don’t want to be in.
In response a movement has occurred calling for more dense development centered on efficient transportation systems. Areas that have embraced this style of development, or are well suited to it, will represent the viable real estate markets of the future. Areas with better access to schools, jobs, retail centers, and parks and recreation will fare better according to a recent report published by the Congress for New Urbanism. Interestingly California is one of the top states looking at Transit Oriented Development as a solution to its sprawl and congestion.
California is also home to arguably the top architect in the field of TOD. Peter Calthorpe, principal of Calthorpe Associates, has long been a proponent of denser habitation. Growing up in Northern California, he witnessed as a child the impact of growth in Silicon Valley on the ecosystem. His website www.calthorpe.com, offers a glimpse into what TOD means to the world we live in, and just how impactful TOD design can be. His projects are actually templates placed over areas already developed, introducing concepts such as mixed use development and light rail into the mix that drastically improve an areas efficiency, connectivity, and useability. The key component being connectivity, via rail, bicycle, or foot.
Aside from the money argument and the environmental argument, there is also quality of life to be considered. Ever live in an area where you did not have to use a car. Ever been stuck in traffic in Los Angeles for 2 or 3 hours? Which scenario put you more at ease? As demographics continue to change (more empty nesters, more single young professionals)the desire to live in these areas will grow. Due to compact development Europe uses far less oil to produce $1000 worth of goods than America. Realizing the benefit of rail based transportation, China is unveiling urban transit systems unlike any the world has ever seen. The future is clearly in transportation and connectivity, cheap oil is over. Every light rail line in the United States creates twice as much economic impact as the construction of a new highway, and it is better for the environment as well.
Presently the bulk of all passenger traffic in America is on airplanes or in automobiles. Both of these systems have reached maximum carrying capacity and will be unable to handle future need. Rail represents the only viable alternative according to most experts. Because trains operate via fixed points, such as stations or substations, the home of the future will likely be a much denser and better networked alternative than what we have today. This requires much more thought into how we choose to live, and how our homes, towns, and cities are designed. Rather than merely a flight to the cities, a plausible future entails a re-tooling of our existing development patterns.