10 May New Urbanism: Community planning Feng Shui
Last week I attended the Killer App Expo for Municipal Broadband as a guest of the Graham Richard, mayor of Fort Wayne, Ind., who has been recognized with several awards for innovation and achievement in municipal government. He spoke about:
• The need to have a rebirth of the American municipality.
• The need to create a solid platform for economic development through network infrastructure.
• The need to bring new business concepts like Six Sigma into everyday municipal operations.
In addition to Mayor Richard, another keynote speaker was Andres Duany, who focused on the need to re-evaluate the way municipal planning is approached architecturally.
Andres Duany, is one of the founders of the architectural movement of the New Urbanism concept in community planning. I liked some of his statements like, “Cities should be designed like a suit or a pen,” and that “bean-counting was passing for planning” when calculating open space and other municipal plan requirements. He was also against “suburban sprawl” and had some real issues with the decline of neighborhoods.
Putting a mixture of houses on a street, making sure people can walk to some of their destinations, and creating a “neighborhood feel” rather than a drive-to-everywhere subdivision, were some of the key points Duany mentioned. He talked about bringing everyone together and re-creating the neighborhood again, instead of what has happened since the end of World War II, where suburban subdivisions and track houses created more of a buffer zone of economically divided strata of households:
• The cheap townhouse development.
• The mid-range single-family homes.
• The expensive sprawling estate homes.
He also pointed out the trend of some people looking for more housing solutions that were “GREEN” (good for the environment). His argument was that creating these types of community models were “morally superior” and would have an effect on a certain element of buyers. He also pointed out that any city that does not have a downtown will lose its young.
THE FENG SHUI OF NEW URBANISM
|ELEMENT||RIGHT APPROACH||WRONG APPROACH|
|HOUSING||Mixed Use Housing (Mixed income)||Single Economic Focus (Single level of income)|
|ACCESS (STREETS)||Grid Approach, Multiple Routes||Single access road to subdivision|
|DISTANCE TO DESTINATIONS||Less transportation (less time, less energy expended) between destinations||Long commutes, more energy expended|
|USE OF PRIVATE CARS||REDUCES||INCREASES|
|WORK||Is close to home||Is distant commute from home|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION||GREEN – conserves energy||Does not conserve energy|
Source: James Carlini, © 2007
There were many points that Mr. Duany brought up that made sense as to designing communities with more of a neighborhood feel to them. He did not sell me 100 percent.
When you look at the realities of what is selling on the market, the secluded mini-mansions that cost several million dollars, which he discounted as not being good, seem to be doing much better than the “affordable row houses and townhouses” that are in so many urban and suburban settings.
The reality: New Urbanism lacks universal appeal
The rules and approaches that are laid out in New Urbanism are like the rules in classic music composition. Those that have studied music know that the tonic chord should follow the dominant chord and all of the other classic composition rules that determine the approach for writing a “classical piece.” The same structured approach is found in elements of architecture. Classic rules dictate the structure and final outcome of the building or neighborhood.
Some great composers like Wagner and Richard Strauss came along and broke all the classic rules in music composition. Many others followed in Jazz and other forms of music. Some consumers have never gotten passed classical music. While the vast majority has gone so far beyond classical music, it does not appeal to them for a myriad of reasons. The same can be said of many other “traditions of structure” that include architecture and classical community planning.
Like any other product or fashion, the New Urbanism approach does not appeal to the total market. The real estate market is divided into many segments that require different amenities to please different buyers. Many are focused on different key elements like status and icons of achievement.
There are some that do not want to live in an urban setting. Other elements that change decisions to locate in areas like school quality, safety, property tax costs, and overall affordability, also effect a decision.
There are some that want privacy and exclusion from a neighborhood and will pay a premium for that choice.
Hybrids versus heavy horsepower
As for energy consumption, both houses and cars have a different appeal to consumers.
It is hard to get everyone to look at a hybrid as their ultimate dream car and socially responsible transportation goal when you have society and entertainment icons like Paris Hilton and Jennifer Lopez driving heavy turbo horsepower Bentley “drophead coupes” (the British phrase for convertibles).
Even government figures that preach conservation, then hop into a limousine or private jet are viewed as hypocrites by those that have no option but to run their big SUVs because they cannot afford to buy a more fuel-efficient car. The observation is how can they preach, “Buy yourself a small hybrid,” while they use up more fuel in one cross-country flight than what the average consumer will purchase in a couple of years?
Also, NASCAR will not be changing to NAS-HYBRID anytime soon.
The consumer market is too segmented. The message for success that is amplified in the media is not living in a harmonically even, eco-friendly neighborhood as much as it is screaming for go-for-broke ambiance and individualism. That image of ambiance is manifested in a huge house, a couple of 500HP cars, a floating mansion like Greg Norman’s $70 million “Aussie Rules” mega-yacht, and other non-“green” play toys.
Trend setters and architectural futurists like Duany attempt to say that the “young generation” will be more focused on “green” and will be socially conscious on energy. I totally disagree. I say look at the north suburban high school parking lots where one parent from a North Shore community said it looks more like a BMW car dealership than a student parking lot.
And if you don’t think young consumers are “brand” conscious, talk to the parents that have to buy super-expensive North Face jackets for them because they would be ostracized at high school wearing anything less. Or a pair of Nikes instead of Keds. Keds???
If anything, younger consumers will be hyper-sensitive to availability of bandwidth, home theaters, and other high-bandwidth consumption amenities that have yet to be developed before they ask if the water heater or furnace are “energy efficient” or solar-powered.
Bandwidth will be the key, not green
Homes that have fiber to the home (FTTH) are already perceived to have a higher value, according to one of the panelists that spoke at the conference, and that value is rising. Add $5,000 to the price if it has FTTH. Add $7,000 next year. In a couple of years, it will be “Oh, you don’t have FTTH? Here is an offer for $20,000 less.” Or worse, “Sorry, we’re just not interested” (at any price).
Maybe we should start mandating high-speed connectivity as part of the building codes for new construction. Or from a state standpoint, in return for a statewide franchise that some incumbents want. Illinois Bill HB 1500 demands a statewide upgrade to real speeds like one gigabit to a subscriber. With all the money saved by not having to negotiate with every municipality, any carrier should upgrade to real speeds to guarantee regional economic sustainability.
The connection to work will be “virtual” as more telecommute and do not depend on transportation, so the “green” achievement will be facilitated more through connectivity than through everyone buying a hybrid.
If everyone can telecommute to work one or two days a week, that is a huge reduction in their energy expenditures.
As for community planning, the need to understand the market is key. I believe Duarny has many good ideas. I just don’t think that all people buying houses will settle for all the same elements and amenities that he proposes.
More architects and city planners must realize that the old real estate adage of importance has changed from “Location, Location, Location” to “Location, Location, Connectivity.”
CARLINI-ISM: Rules are made to be broken and those that break them sometimes create much better end results than the theorists and traditionalists that made the rules could ever imagine.
Recent articles by James Carlini
• James Carlini: Mega-Metro Center may go beyond Chicago and Wisconsin
• James Carlini: Chicago-Milwaukee “mega-metro” infrastructure improvements are critical
• James Carlini: H-1B jobs: Where is the shortage of skilled workers?
• James Carlini: Proposed telecom bill would have “Katrina” impact
• James Carlini: Lack of connectivity is real estate’s hidden time bomb
• James Carlini: State video franchises vs. universal service: Grasping the total picture
This article previously appeared in MidwestBusiness.com, and was reprinted with its permission.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC.
WTN accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.