China Chokes on High Density Sprawl

Note: This article is part of a collaboration between Island Press and Public Square on a series of articles based on recently published books on subjects related to urbanism.

Cities affect our lives in profound, self-reinforcing ways: they can be a source of economic innovation, a pathway for poverty reduction, a brake on logarithmic demographic growth, and a solution to climate change—or they can reinforce economic isolation, heighten environmental impacts, and engender social strife. They represent 80 percent of global economic output and 70 percent of total energy and greenhouse gas emissions. Cities are the superstructure for the culture, lifestyles, aspirations, and well-being of half of the world’s population today and an estimated 70 percent by 2050. If they fail and become matrixes of gridlock, poisonous air, economic segregation, and environmental pollution, the planet will follow. If they succeed in lifting the next generation into sustainable productivity, integrating immigrants and working families into the next economy and living lightly on the land, they will contribute significantly to a civilized and sustainable future.

CNU and USDOT Announce Every Place Counts Design Challenge Winners

In cities across America, aging urban highways impose serious consequences on health, mobility, and opportunity in communities. For decades, residents of neighborhoods bisected by highways have suffered from higher levels of air and water pollution, decreased economic opportunity, limited mobility options, less-active lifestyles, and greater likelihood of being struck by a car and killed.

Now, after fifteen years of Highways to Boulevards advocacy, CNU is assisting the US Department of Transportation for the Every Place Counts Design Challenge, a federally-funded initiative to reconnect neighborhoods and improve community health, mobility, and opportunity.

Junk Infrastructure

Since the last recession, providing “infrastructure” has been synonymous with providing foundational facilities upon which communities can grow and prosper. Providing “infrastructure” is seen as inherently good. Similarly, food production is considered inherently positive too. After all, we want to feed the world’s population. However, we all know that there is such a thing as “junk food,” characterized by long shelf-lives, lots of calories, lots of salt, and low nutritional value. In so-called “food deserts,” populations don’t have access to nutritious food—only junk food—leading to negative health consequences.

Is there such a thing as “junk infrastructure”? Is there such a thing as infrastructure that damages cities, creates costs, and harms health? Sadly, there is. It’s known as “in-city highways.” Notice that I did not call them “urban highways.” Just because a highway is in a city, does not mean that it is urban. “Urban highway” is an oxymoron, like “jumbo shrimp” or “clean coal.” The pattern is clear: When highways are built in cities, the place gets worse; when highways are removed from cities, the place gets better.

'Walkable Urban' dominates US commercial development.

Mixed-use, walkable commercial development is outpacing large-scale conventional suburban construction in every major metro area, according to the new report Foot Traffic Ahead: Ranking Walkable Urbanism in America’s Largest Metros, 2016.

For perhaps the first time in 60 years, walkable urban places in all 30 of the largest metros are gaining market share over their drivable sub-urban competition—and showing substantially higher rental premiums, the report says.

Goodnight Development Aims to Transform Southeast Austin

Goodnight Development Aims to Transform Southeast Austin

Plan aims for high-quality neighborhood with character of central Austin culture and environs

A mixed-use development of 700 acres of Southeast Austin that's been in the works for a decade is finally set to go forward. A master plan for the Goodnight neighborhood, named after the family that has owned the former ranchland since the 1960s, has been approved, and the project is moving forward with permitting for up to 3,500 homes, 120 acres of in-district park space, 500 acres of out-of-district park space, and roughly a 250,000 square feet of commercial space.

Goodnight will extend along Slaughter Lane on the east side of I-35 next to Onion Creek Metropolitan Park.

New Urbanism's family values

New Urbanism's family values

In The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us, Joel Kotkin makes the case that urbanists are behind the drop in birth rates around the world. Urbanists are implementing policies that discourage child-rearing—with potentially dire consequences, he says in this 200-plus-page polemic.

It’s pretty serious charge, but is there anything to back to up? It rests on a correlation: Two of the key worldwide trends in the last 40 years are declining birth rates and people moving to megacities. Density is to blame, Kotkin says.

CNU group seeks to Build a Better Burb

The Build a Better Burb Sprawl Retrofit Council met in Miami to explore opportunities for promoting land-use diversity and transportation choice in the suburbs—with particular focus on the needs of smaller suburbs with less robust markets. A follow–up meeting will be held at CNU 24 in Detroit on June 11.

The Council is gathering like-minded people and generating a toolkit on suburban retrofit to be distributed on CNU’s Build a Better Burb website. The first products are brief reports on specific challenges and solutions—such as this one on affordable housing tax credits.

In Detroit, the Council will discuss peer-to-peer idea sharing and problem-solving, and other topics related to this project.

Sprawl Is Not the Problem

CNU-CTX is proud to promote Public Square, a blog presented by CNU National. Charles Marohn of Strong Town begins "Recently, I made a few people upset with me by asking that I not be called a smart growth advocate. Actually, I received a lot of email and messages on that one and the ratio of positive to negative feedback was, in my rough estimation, about 8:1. Still, some of you were upset because you identify as a smart growth advocate and wish that I did likewise."

An Ambitious Plan to Rebuild a Neighborhood

CNU-CTX is proud to promote Public Square, a blog presented by CNU National. Robert Steuteville begins "A publicly funded development program to revitalize a neighborhood plagued by crime and vacancies is underway in the Sharswood area of Philadelphia, beginning with the demolition of failed public housing towers called Blumberg homes.

Although poverty is high—unemployment tops 80 percent—and many blocks are completely abandoned, Sharswood possesses a history of jazz culture and buildings with nice brick architectural details."