Plumb Lines

May 7, 2009

Bad Public Policy = Bad Public Places

Filed under: Uncategorized — David Schaengold @ 2:31 pm

Michael writes, of building mixed-use, dense neighborhoods:

First people must come to grips with the unpleasantness of their 3-hour commutes and the addiction we have to cars as a way of life.

Fortunately, I don’t think that’s true. What keeps private developers from building such places in the face of overwhelming demand for them isn’t a mysterious, psychological, personal “addiction” to cars. Mostly, it’s bad public policy, which has been led astray by foolish idealism and unimaginative developers over the years. What struck me most about Adler’s excellent article was that, while the city council of Leesburg had a vague notion that they should be “green” and promote transit-usage whenever possible, they don’t understand even at a theoretical level how various kinds of public policy — that is, their own laws —  work together to create certain kinds of built environments:

“Leesburg’s Town Council pushed to eliminate drive-through banks to improve the pedestrian experience”

That’s maddeningly, epically silly. Banning drive-throughs is a good idea in a town that already has a healthy pedestrian life. In what is otherwise a typical auto-oriented exurb, it serves only to piss off moms in their minivans. Adler himself has a much better grasp of the kinds of policies that are responsible for Leesburg’s unlivability:

The downtown is surrounded on all sides by an incoherent network of strip malls and subdivisions connected by mostly unwalkable roads. This is not an accident, and it is not just the invisible hand of the market at work. It reflects political decisions to zone residential and commercial space separately, to require that every new house have a parking space but not necessarily a sidewalk, and to build at low densities. In fact, without rezoning, it would be illegal to build the beloved downtown in Leesburg today.

David Schaengold

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