Thursday, May 14, 2009

Near beer? Decaf coffee? How about suburbs without cars?

We often make assumptions about what is true and what is not. I've cited two drink-related examples in the title of this post. I'm sure that before these things were invented, people claimed that it was impossible or irrational to have beer without alcohol, or coffee without caffeine.

Well, ever since Levittown, the common picture of the suburbs was of a car-filled place.

File that one away, because Vauban, Germany has a different view.

Street parking, driveways and home garages are generally forbidden in this experimental new district on the outskirts of Freiburg, near the French and Swiss borders....Car ownership is allowed, but there are only two places to park — large garages at the edge of the development, where a car-owner buys a space, for $40,000, along with a home.

And people choose to come here:

70 percent of Vauban’s families do not own cars, and 57 percent sold a car to move here. “When I had a car I was always tense. I’m much happier this way,” said Heidrun Walter, a media trainer and mother of two, as she walked verdant streets where the swish of bicycles and the chatter of wandering children drown out the occasional distant motor.

As the New York Times notes, Vauban is just one example of a new approach to city planning:

In this new approach, stores are placed a walk away, on a main street, rather than in malls along some distant highway.

The obvious anti-Vauban is another planned city, Brasilia. Innovations Report described the original vision for the capital city:

The organization laid down was for a city with a compact structure, around four sectors harmonized to guarantee the equilibrium of both the city and the society destined to live in it: social and residential (housing), monumental, bucolic (landscape) and functional (work, services).

In a February 2009 post, David describes what this means in practice:

[T]he city is dominated by roads. 5-lane highways run down either side of the monumental axis, and it is crossed by two major motorways in deep cuttings, with all the attendant slipways. These probably look very attractive as bold curving lines on a plan. They may even function if you are traveling by car (or bus). But on foot, you are immediately confronted by the unpleasant reality of what is to the pedestrian effectively a huge expanse of carpark and highway separating the areas you might want to be. The functional split between the ‘zones’ only makes this worse. Say you are in the hotel zone that I was staying in and you want to go out for a meal and a drink. Well, that’s 30-minutes walk to the nearest residential centre (where most of the evening options are located). Sure, you can take a taxi, but why should you have to? All the sports clubs are in separate ‘club zones’ even further away from either hotel, commercial or residential districts.

And I'm not even getting into the social stratification between Brasilia proper and its suburbs.

Some cities, especially in older areas, were pretty much unplanned in the beginning, and planning was subsequently superimposed on the cities (think of Los Angeles). Then you have your planned cities created out or nothing - your Brasilias, your Vaubans, your Restons - all created according to the planning philosophies in vogue at the time.

What will planned cities look like thirty years from now?
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