smart growth

Could it be easier to live without a car than with?

If you’re living car-free, you probably already know the answer to that question. If you live in one of the select cities where development is dense, urban spaces are interesting and inviting, and streets are places rather than empty spaces, then your answer is almost certainly a resounding ‘yes.’

Quebec City

A friend passed along this series of posts about “traditional cities” versus “hypertrophic cities,” and the implications each have for a car-free (and, he argues, a generally pleasant) lifestyle. He further classifies hypertrophic cities into 19th and 20th Century versions – 19th Century hypertrophic cities grew as a result of the Industrial Revolution, when technology advanced quickly but travel speeds were not at all near what we have today. Twentieth Century hypertrophic cities grew at an alarmingly fast rate, with the provision of interstate highways, fast and comfortable cars, cheap fuel, and a vision of The Future City that prioritized the machine elements of a city rather than human ones. Traditional cities (like Venice, Tallin, older parts of Kyoto) have a couple key characteristics; the most revealing according to Nathan Lewis are narrow streets. These have two effects: they make driving difficult and they make walking appealing. Today, in our 20th Century hypertrophic cities, we are trying to grapple with the discrepancy between these inviting places and the hostile environments created through prioritizing non-human elements.

Perhaps the metric of success we should use is whether or not it becomes easier, after retrofitting and changing future growth scenarios, to live in our cities without a car than with. Do citizens have more access to jobs, to amenities, to health care, to activities by walking, biking, or taking mass transit than by driving? Several strategies are being used to achieve this (e.g. limiting parking, pricing driving in downtowns). Do you think our cities are retrofit-able? In what other ways can we conceive of these “narrow streets?”

-          Terra Curtis 

Another Smart Cities Perspective

On Tuesday, we posted a blog highlighting TIME Magazine’s series on intelligent cities.  In large part, this series promotes the idea by highlighting examples of its success and potential.  This post, found on the Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy blog, questions the movement highlighted by TIME and the National Building Museum’s Intelligent Cities Forum, suggesting that it’s merely a re-packaging of old ideas in new rhetoric. The blogger also highlights both the distinction between and the relationship among “intelligent cities” and “smart growth cities.”  Smart growth cities do not inherently rely on information technology, however to the extent that decision-makers would have more comprehensive, up-to-the-minute data available to them, our cities will grow smarter.

There are two main points made in the conclusion of the article: that all this talk about opportunity and new paradigms will mean nothing if implementation of the ideas never comes true (e.g. “having data should not be mistaken for taking action.”); and that democratization of the decision-making process is a key component of implementation.

TIME’s series will help educate the public about these new challenges and opportunities.  Traditional means of public outreach could do the same in conjunction with some of the new technologies themselves (e.g. MindMixer; GoodZuma).  The implementation of intelligent cities hinges more so than ever before on the public’s knowledge and support – in many cases, it is their input and participation that not only enables, but fully defines the instantiation of intelligent and smartly-grown cities.

- Terra Curtis