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April 05, 2012


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55 littoral combat ships.
The militaries of the world have taken over. Democracy is gone. Not even the Roman Empire was this screwed up.


I'm not surprised that the Navy likes these ships; they do look imposing. Since they are already costing us $700 million each why not spend a little more to make them drones. At least we won't be placing 75 sailors/ship at risk that way. Ridiculous!

As for retrofitting suburbia, there are hints as to which suburbs in Phoenix will likely be salvageable: Tempe has begun work on their new streetcar and Mesa is fast tracking their light rail extension so that work will be completed by 2015 rather than 2016. Mesa also wants to connect the Mill Ave Streetcar to Wrigleyville West via Rio Salado Parkway...


Glendale could have jumped abroad long ago if they had chosen to invest in light rail instead of bankrupt Westgate and Cabella's...

Phoenix's climate and flatness make it a fine environment for relying on a bike for primary transportation. During my downtown career throughout the 90's many colleagues biked to work. Phoenix buses are relatively bike friendly as well.

Right-wing social engineering means you drive and/or fly. Other choices are deemed left-wing. By crippling cities with drive-only transportation systems, citizens self-segregate according to economic and racial class. They no longer see the civic good in vibrant democracy but in closed-off enclaves. And they vote to maintain this autocentric apartheid since the right's racialized class warfare is now a self-inflicting and self-sustaining curse. Doing anything, from mass transit to trains to New Urbanist designs, is deemed a threat to the American Way of Life. That way of life means we don't do energy conservation or have beautiful cities or have a public square worthy of a first-world nations. The American Dream is not a shining city on a hill. It's a McMansion in a gated community.

I read Kunstler without fail but I disagree with his apocalyptic scenarios. That is, I find them entirely too optimistic. The idea that we're going to be living in compact towns and cities after the inevitable crash of industrial civilizations is a compound of wishful thinking and survivalist hysteria. We're a stubborn people, and if we get to choose between trashing the environment or retrofitting for straitened circumstances, we'll take the former. We're entitled to all the goodies of consumer civilization and future generations can simply suck up the costs of our self-indulgence. We're Americans! We can double the defense budget and cut taxes!

Part II

I hear my voice as I type these screeds and it's not dulcet or reasonable. It's angry and unrelentingly negative. I compare what I know here to other cities. When I travel to other countries, I see many of the same issues plaguing us, except they also have choices. Most other countries have actual passenger trains. Their cities will have subways. Their urban form is much denser and creates walkable neighborhoods and a café culture we'd kill for. But we'll build stuff like Kierland and swoon over our privatized notions of urbanity. Why can't we create real cities anymore? Are we so parochial that we don't even care to note the qualitative differences?

The scandal at the heart of our failing civilization is that ease and comfort count more than authenticity and connection. We like to drive! Never mind that the inevitable result of a drive-only transportation system are cities we can't really love. How could we? The utter monopoly of freeways, free parking, and too-wide streets is destructive of what's really wonderful in human life. But we trudge on, convinced by our right-wing overseers that to do anything differently would mean socialism and Islam.

Please, by all means, build more ships! We will need more targets!

China Takes Aim at U.S. Naval Might


Good post Jon. You are correct, there is a large share of Phoenix residents that do not have the freedom to choose the types of neighborhoods that the market is telling us they want. There are many barriers that are holding back supplying this demand - infrastructure, regulatory, financing practices, and incentivized land banking among them.

The good news is that we've made a huge step forward on the infrastructure front with light rail; and the districts surrounding it present an extraordinary opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of a healthier lifestyle - one where a resident has the choice of how to spend their discretionary income. Specifically, not having to spend 1/4 of their income on driving if they would rather spend that money on something else - vacations, college, gifts and retirement come to mind. Of course in Phoenix we will always have the option of living in a "driving tax neighborhood" if that is one's preference.

Despite some of the hysteria growing on the far right about these things (probably ginned up by some of the REIC boyz who are still indebted under the old model), these are pretty conservative principles - allow people greater choice and the freedom to define their own quality of life.

soleri, I was thinking some of the same dark thoughts as I read Jon's post (e.g., "Other [transportation] choices are deemed left-wing." "We're entitled to all the goodies of consumer civilization and future generations can simply suck up the costs of our self-indulgence." "...we'll build stuff like Kierland and swoon over our privatized notions of urbanity.") But the observation Jon makes that reality itself will "force us out of our cars" covers all of that as well.

There very well may be a "new feudalism" - but I don't think we'll get the armed exurban fiefdoms that have been the wet dream of gold hoarders that Howard Ruff has been fluffing since the '70's. (Back then I was renting a room from a working-class Scottsdale suburbanite that hoarded gold, guns & five-gallon buckets of nitrogen-packed pinto beans. Baked some mean high-density loaves of wheat bread, too. Lots of them.)

Reality will force them out of their cul-de-sacs.

It will get ugly in the meantime between the cities and the not-cities - witness the current escalation in Detroit metro over water and other resource-management issues (often dominating discussion on their local talk radio.)

Feudalism can be an ugly outcome regardless the victor (not consistently ugly, but it is dependent on the benevolence of the "rulers"), so I'm not necessarily stumping for the proliferation of distributed city-state mini-empires, just observing what "reality" will permit.

Speaking as one who is currently consigned to a wasteland-within-a-wasteland planned suburban complex in South Phoenix, I viscerally feel the looming bankruptcy. Of course, I haven't driven a car in 15 years, so I naturally can't "feel the power" that my neighbors (and host) undoubtedly do.

Until reality becomes even more compelling, of course.

According to Tainter et al., the military calls this the death spiral. 744 B52 bombers were produced, then 100 B1 bombers, and then 21 B2. So for the next (smaller) wave of ships an even higher cost can be expected, which of course flies in the face of our idea of 'ingenooity'.

Exurbia dead? If USA Today says it then it must be true.

As for a wide program to rehabilitate the urban realm, the prospects don't really look good. Some places are doing it in bits and pieces while time runs out ( http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Looking-Back-on-the-Limits-of-Growth.html ). Most places will be pushed around by the external forces that be, whilst celebrating mini revivals of suburbia, until they get a clue. By then they will be too constrained to engage in massive investments and we will be consigned to a hand-me-down civilization. Tragically, even now things could be changed towards a massive betterment of places and economies but the collective mind and body politic work slowly (usually a good thing in democracy) while time gnaws away at our bones relentlessly.

Words of consolation:

When all the hope is gone, there is no reason for pessimism. -- Aki Kaurismäki

Are men exceedingly joyful? - they will do damage to the yang element. Are men exceedingly angry? - they will do damage to the yin. And when both yang and yin are damaged, the four seasons
will not come as they should, heat and cold will fail to achieve their proper harmony, and this in turn will do harm to the bodies of men. It will make men lose a proper sense of joy and anger, to be constantly shifting from place to place, to think up schemes that gain nothing, to set out on roads that reach no glorious conclusion.

-- Zhuangzi, Let it be, Leave it Alone


I enjoy your comments almost as much as Jon's posts!

I do take issue with this:

"But we trudge on, convinced by our right-wing overseers that to do anything differently would mean socialism and Islam."

This may certainly be the case with some folks, but I suspect it is not the majority. Far more insidious and ingrained is the culture that the current built environment has created (and circularly sprung from). For regular moderate folks of all political stripes it is not so much "hate for socialism", as "hate for anything that might take away my comforts". People in blue states and red states want to have it all: big houses, big lawns, "good" schools, cheap air conditioning, cars, freeways, air travel, free parking, cheap food, etc. The appetite for "comfort" among our species is a hard thing to satiate. I guess the hardest part is to convince an apathetic population to see these "comforts" more as "unaffordable luxuries" and act accordingly. Preferably before they become impossible to sustain.

Nice quotes AWinter! Aki made me laugh.

Take heart soleri. The Kooks will privatize all the roads and parking soon. Why stop at education and prisons?

Jon, you missed the most important part of this.


You guys are going to get to see my starving to death on a street corner.

None of the utopian planning makes any sense when there are no jobs in the United States. Who need urban renewal? Why bother? There are no jobs there.

The starting point for any makeover is JOBS. Without jobs, the rest is just baloney.

For some people, FOOD is an unaffordable luxury.

Food Stamps? They can just deny your Food Stamps and tell you to get a job. Welcome to a Red State.

Side note: Huppenthal has announced his desire to shut down Mexican-American studies at Arizona universities. I'm posting details and a news-link to the previous thread so as not to hijack this one.

Jon, thanks for the succinct run-down on the interlinking components of "transit". Good stuff and worth sharing with my homies. If the Lorax speaks for the trees, who speaks for "transit"?

Another unrelated but critical subject that needs greater transparency: if healthcare eats 17% of GDP, how much does Defense consume? And don't those dollars come out of John Q. Public's pocket?

Jon, Good dream I will give you compared to the current nightmare. Fortunately there are still a few places where i can actualize my dream. Two days ago my dog and I stood on the wind swept flat grasslands south of Vaughn NM. I could see for miles across the wondrous terrain to the great mountains looming in the distance. Nothing broke my vision except herds of bounding antelope. Imagine if you can, not a fucking building in sight.

Now that's interesting. I post it in pieces and magically it came up all together.

OT, but this anti-education nutcase is back in the running for the regents:


Slumburbs of the future:


Cal, I posted it as one. I never want to mess with an artist's presentation, but took a chance this one time.

Soleri, Maybe you should consider Suelo!

Answered my own question:

The US spends about $700 BILLION on defense . . 4.8% of GDP and 43% of the total for ALL countries on the list. The $700 is almost 7 times what China spends!

If I am reading the data correctly, it appears that this total does not include the follies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I was on the Rim yesterday hiking with some friends. We got to talking about Payson and Star Valley (the Mogollon Speed Trap). I can recall a time a few decades back when Payson was a sweet little place. Today, it might as well be Apache Junction with pine trees. Everyone, it now seems, wants their piece of the American Dream: a house on an acre, white neighbors, big-box stores nearby, and wide roads.

One friend says we have a right to cruddy towns and neighborhoods if that's our desire. But I wondered would someone really choose that? Would a sane person really want to live in Star Valley if he could live in a classic small town instead? I said people have a psychological need for beauty, that its absence can create despair and even nihilism. One reason why Arizona might be getting crazier is simply because it's getting uglier.

Nature worship is frowned on by many people. Yet an unblemished landscape can be, as Cal notes, breathtaking and awe-inspiring. We don't seek renewal in East Valley insta-blight. No one would. Yet Cheap, Fast, and Easy has, by default, dominated our civic design, while Rape and Pillage has continued to define our relationship to nature. What gets lost is our most vital religion, the softest voice connecting us to our deepest sanity. We're losing this gradually but inexorably, and on some level, we all know it.

As always Soleri you speak to and of the soil.

And for white towns. Try the book Sun Down Towns.

"dont let the sun set on you boy"

Very fine quote AWinter. I'm putting the yang and yin comment on my wall.

jmav, given the article above by Naomi Wolf about sexual humiliation you may get a wall they will not let you post it on.

The theme of "Opportunity Costs" will be an endless parade of articles if examples follow "55 littoral combat ships". The simple calculus of the opportunity costs of the U.S. military budget, even if considering only domestic renewable power generation, are astounding . . . and shameful.

The road to hell is paved with depleted uranium.

Looks like the Easter Bunny came out of its hole and saw its shadow. So, it looks like seven more months of presidential campaigning. Rats. Back to the rabbit hole for us.

Happy Easter (:-(

Guess u all come back to life manana

Cal thanks for the heads up. I won't post the Naomi Wolf article but I will certainly read it. :)

Any suggestions on the top 5 to 10 US metropolitan areas for residing without a car?

jmav, during the past four years, I lived without a car in both Seattle and in West Palm Beach, FL. Great times in both places, but I admit that my situation in Florida was unusual. It helps that I bicycle competitively.

Now that I'm back in snowbound winters, I'm driving again. I might be able to enjoy the experience, but for the incredibly poor drivers who populate our roads: too much phoning, texting, applying of makeup, and, apparently, masturbation.

Both Seattle and Portland are excellent for biking. Seattle has more superior bike routes than I imagined to be possible. Drivers there seemed more considerate too. And the air quality was incomparable in Seattle. It was like breathing bicycling fuel! The other fuel was the wild blackberries on the roadside. I rode mostly on the east side: Mercer Island, Issaquah, Maple Valley, Sammamish, Duvall, etc. Seattle rocks!

Since I've come back north, I've been harrassed as a bicyclist as much as I was in Arizona. In Arizona, I had bicycling friends shot at from passing cars!


"Any suggestions on the top 5 to 10 US metropolitan areas for residing without a car?"

Pretty soon, driving will stop being an option for all but the ultra-wealthy. Choose your city well.

My suggestion is to find your bottom lines on cultural, people, political, climate needs, etc. and then work from there on finding the place. If you're a major cyclist, you can even live amid sprawl, albeit dangerously. Otherwise, you'll want to pick a real city with walkable neighborhoods, nearby retail/restaurant districts, abundant transit and rail connections. You get what you pay for. There's a reason housing in places such as Maricopa is cheap.

One useful tool:


Put in an address, and it gives you a score on how convenient it is for walking and transit.

My informal list:

San Francisco
New York

Beyond this, there are other "places within places" that are dense and have transit, as well as a few towns on the railroad along the Hudson and Burlington, VT. Cincinnati is a lovely city with some wonderful walkable neighborhoods built around squares with retail. Even parts of Southern California have density and good transit/rail links.

Obviously, if you move far out from transit in a place such as Portland, it negates the benefits.

I don't own a car. When I need one, I get a Zip Car — and am reminded how unpleasant driving is now. My Walk Score is 97, my Transit Score is 100. I can also take trains to Portland and all the way south to San Diego; north to Vancouver, and east to Chicago and points beyond.

"One important effort should be retrofitting suburbia for a high-cost energy future..."

Let's do the math.

55 ships x $700 million apiece = $38,500 million = $38.5 billion

Estimated cost of a statewide transportation plan proposed in 2008 by Janet Napolitano and "a coalition of business and political leaders" to include commuter rail between northern Arizona and south of Tucson, expanded light-rail in the metropolitan Phoenix area, a street-car or rapid-bus system in Tucson, and expansion of four interstates: $42 Billion


That's one state.

Mind you, there is a great deal of unnecessary military spending, including a continuing war in Afghanistan that can accomplish nothing of lasting value.

"National defense" currently accounts for 20 percent, or one fifth of all federal outlays. In a post-Cold War world, that's irresponsible, if not preposterous.

Federal spending on "national defense" currently accounts for about 5 percent of U.S. economic output (GDP).

By contrast, in the late 1990s, in the wake of the collapse of European Communism, military spending under President Clinton reached a decades-long low of about 16 percent of federal outlays and about 3 percent of U.S. GDP. Spending in this category began to grow again in FY 2002 under President Bush and has continued to do so under President Obama, though administration projections predict a return to Clinton era levels by the middle of the current decade.

See Table 6.1, "Composition of Outlays, 1940-2016, from Fiscal Year 2012 Historical Tables, Budget of the United States Governmentt:


City level:

Neighborhood level:

Nice list of "places that are dense and have (good) transit".

However, according to the 2010 Census, the Phoenix-Mesa urbanized area (UA) is actually denser than the Seattle urbanized area:

Phoenix-Mesa, pop. 3.63 million; 1,147 sq. mi.; 3,165 residents per sq. mi. population density.

Seattle, pop. 3.06 million; 1,010 sq. mi.; 3,028 residents per sq. mi. population density.

Note that this is not a comparison between the City of Phoenix and the City of Seattle. These are urbanized areas, not city geographical boundaries. Basically, we're talking the built up parts of Metropolitan Statistical Areas (another census construct) plus the connecting corridors:

"For Census 2010, an urban area comprises a densely settled core of census tracts and/or census blocks that meet minimum population density requirements, along with adjacent territory containing non-residential urban land uses as well as territory with low population density included to link outlying densely settled territory with the densely settled core."


So, "The Valley" is dense -- it just has poor mass transit.

Emil, I know we've debated this problem before. One reason why I think it's misleading to make a MSA comparison instead of a city one is that virtually all American cities have sprawling agglomerations of suburbs. One reason why Talton writes this blog (and wrote his Republic column before this) was to point out the economic disadvantages in having a huge metroplex with a weak core. This is the real issue in that Phoenix's lack of urban vitality also shows up regionally as a weak economic strategy. This intertwines with a debased political culture along with a weak stewardship class and car-dependent employment centers. The paltry creative class here is another symptom of flaccid urbanism.

So, why does the "Valley" have poor mass transit? Because of the low urban pulse in its core. Imagine metro Seattle surrounding a mostly suburban core and you get a hint what Phoenix's problem is. AWinter's walkability indices are a good way to visualize this problem. Phoenix is most walkable in its central neighborhoods. But its scores are not competitive with those core urban areas in cities like Seattle. That's a glaring disadvantage for Phoenix. It also points out why urban weakness is almost always an aspect of a broader political problem, which shows up in the various pathologies we see at the state legislature. Seattle keeps Washington blue. Phoenix, by contrast, can do very little about Arizona

On average, one must travel a greater distance to meet interesting people in Phoenix, than in Seattle. Hence, by my calculation, Phoenix is far more 'dense'. :)

Emil's point is a recurring misunderstanding of density. Density measured at the metropolitan scale is not indicative of smart growth or walkable urbanism. It's the intra-city density that matters - a city's urban neighborhoods, mixed-use activity centers, and destination corridors - is the density that matters.

Suburbia was invented as providing a "country home" lifestyle, without the associated manual labor requirements. There are suburbs that actually provide this lifestyle in the form of large-lot homes surrounded by nature.

Sprawl happened by taking this idea and commoditizing it at a mass production scale. The result is, in many (but not all) cases is the worst of both worlds: the isolation, gossip, and lifeless boredom of a rural environments combined with the lack of nature and tranquility of urban ones.

Great cities provide choices. They provide high density, stimulating, walkable urbanism AND quiet, low density suburbs surrounded by nature. When combined, the density evens out or is lower than a city like Phoenix that has a large supply of medium density uniform sprawl, but very little high density walkable urbanism or low-density quiet suburbanism that honors nature's beauty.

Soleri wrote:

"One reason why I think it's misleading to make a MSA comparison instead of a city one is that virtually all American cities have sprawling agglomerations of suburbs."

One reason why I think it's misleading NOT to make a MSA comparison instead of a city one is that virtually all American cities have sprawling agglomerations of "suburbs". Growth only stops at the city limits when the city limits are fixed by geographical or political factors -- and then it continues, only under the name of another (connected) urban area.

"One reason why Talton writes this blog (and wrote his Republic column before this) was to point out the economic disadvantages in having a huge metroplex with a weak core."

This is a different issue. First, one can have a huge metroplex with a weak core, and a weak metroplex without a weak core. Are there huge metroplexes with "weak cores" which are (or were, before the Great Recession) economic powerhouses in the metroplexes outside their core? Look at a list of metropolitan areas ranked by GDP: there are an awful lot of areas with decayed downtowns and general "lack of walkability" that are ranked high in metro GDP.


To take but one major example, the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana metropolitan area was ranked #2 in the nation in GDP in 2010. Mass transit in L.A. sucks big time. Remember that song from the 1980s by Missing Persons, Walking In L.A.? "Nobody walks in L.A. ... only a nobody walks in L.A.".

Second, how does one define "core"? Correct me if I'm wrong, but in the case of the City of Phoenix you seem to be referring to a comparatively small downtown area. Is the "core" of the Phoenix-Mesa urbanized area to be defined as a few blocks of downtown Phoenix? What about downtown Tempe in the college district? What about "old town Scottsdale" in the arts district?

Third, without actually disagreeing with your thesis, allow me to ask precisely WHY does a weak downtown constitute a significant economic disadvantage in a huge metroplex? I can see how blight might spread outwards, but isn't that the evolutionary pattern of most American metroplexes: the oldest, most central portions decay, and as they do the population moves outward to newer, nicer, cheaper areas, and as a consequence so do most of the jobs. Why, both before and after the recession, are places like Chandler and Gilbert attracting more business investment as well as recovering faster from the housing crash than Phoenix, when neither has a strong downtown district? Why did Apple consider locating its new operations center in Mesa, Gilbert, and Chandler; and, in Phoenix, way up north in the Desert Ridge area? When it chose Austin, did it select downtown Austin or the "suburbs"? Why?

"Phoenix's lack of urban vitality also shows up regionally as a weak economic strategy." I confess I don't understand this. Please define "lack of urban vitality" and explain how this translates into a weak economic strategy.

"So, why does the "Valley" have poor mass transit? Because of the low urban pulse in its core."

So, Phoenix has poor mass transit because its downtown (like so many cities) is decayed? Transit plans and transit budgets are decided by politicians, aren't they?

"Phoenix is most walkable in its central neighborhoods. But its scores are not competitive with those core urban areas in cities like Seattle. That's a glaring disadvantage for Phoenix."

It's a glaring disadvantage if you want to walk. How many do? Is it a glaring disadvantage for Los Angeles, number two in metropolitan GDP in 2010?

Mind you, I'm not talking about a place that *I* would like to live in. We're talking economics, right?

Real density:


Emil, I posted a long response to your last comment, which I then forgot to back up. Typepad ate it, and now I'm back to wondering how much effort I want to make reconstructing it. I should probably post these one paragraph at a time to forgo this intractable problem.

You put a lot of objections out there, and since I'm not a wonk, I can't really substantiate my claims empirically. My argument was, like Talton's or Richard Florida's, that cities without strong cores will have weaker economies that their more urbane counterparts. But that's not all of my argument or even the principle part of it. Rather, it's contained in a larger argument about good cities self-generating enough value through their urbanism to manifest seemingly subordinate values like "hipness", or "vitality", or "creativity". Now, because I think in word clouds rather than empirical data, I'm not well-equipped to back up this assertion in a kind of positivist argument. To me, the core argument is always before my eyes. If the data are there, great, but if I don't have it I'm not going to simply shut up. To me, it's obvious that Phoenix's problems are "holistic" - a lack of urbanity leads to a smaller-than-necessary creative class, which in turn results in insufficient political will to counterbalance the reactionary burghers in the suburbs, which means that metro Phoenix as a whole suffers for its apparent extremism and anti-cosmopolitan hostility. The net result is a city with many self-inflicted wounds.

Part II

A city without a strong core has all sorts of problems galvanizing sufficient civic will to make transit work regionally. The most obvious aspect here is a weak employment center, which means that transit overall will be weaker since it's serving a car-dependent city where only the underclass will use buses. It's also evidence of a weak stewardship class that can marshall the will and means to make civic projects happen. This inner division then reinforces the original problem with its too-weak urbanism combating the centripetal forces driving economic activity to the periphery.

I really don't care if Chandler or Gilbert are economically vibrant if the city as a whole is not. It's a problem of a hollowed-out city where to much of the wealth is not creating a better city but better gated communities and McMansions. It shows up in a woebegone city core that doesn't generate either love or excitement. Again, the phenomenon is self-reinforcing.

Damn, Part III got eaten.

I'm going to give this a rest since my patience is gone.

"Phx Planner" wrote:

"Density measured at the metropolitan scale is not indicative of smart growth or walkable urbanism. It's the intra-city density that matters - a city's urban neighborhoods..."

This is actually a good point. But if we're going to concentrate on neighborhood density rather than metropolitan density, it isn't enough to look at city limits: we have to exclude non-developed areas within city limits, because some cities (like Phoenix) have vast quantities of undeveloped land within their limits, and a comparison with cities that don't (Seattle?) would be misleading if a simple calculation based on the square area of the city were used.

North Phoenix contains a great deal of undeveloped land also: and even if some of it is state trust land, it's within the Phoenix city limits and is therefore counted in simple city density calculations. Phoenix contains the two largest municipally administered parks in the United States within its city limits: South Mountain Park and the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. Mr. Talton has pointed out before that even central Phoenix contains "huge swaths of empty land"; one could add parts of South Phoenix and elsewhere.

According to some sources, about 1/3 of the city of Phoenix's land area is "undeveloped desert" (though I'm having difficulty documenting this to my satisfaction).

Does the city of Seattle have comparable undeveloped land areas within its borders? If not, then any calculation attempting to compare neighborhood densities which fails to exclude Phoenix's undeveloped areas, is bound to be misleading.

A city can also be "sprawled" while having a fairly high average neighborhood density; it's the space between developed areas that lowers density. Is Phoenix such a city?

"Suburbia was invented as providing a "country home" lifestyle, without the associated manual labor requirements."

Post-WW II suburbia, especially in the mass construction era, was never about playing the country squire. It's about having affordable personal space, a single-family home, with shade trees, flowering shrubs, a green lawn where the kids could play catch out of the street; a private backyard where you could throw a barbecue or grill steaks while tossing back a few beers (without being cited for "public drinking"), or tan, or just sit and read and enjoy the birds in peace and quiet, maybe with fruit trees or a pool.

It's about not having to knock on the walls at four a.m. because your neighbors are arguing or playing the television or radio too loud. It's about an escape from blight, visible poverty, traffic noise, and it's about fresh new infrastructure rather than decay.

It's about safer neighborhoods (where presumably your fellow suburban professionals are unlikely to stand on the corners selling drugs or sex, or engaging in shoot-em-ups for gang turf), and it's about better schools (or at least, that's the theory).

Probably it's about racism and ethnic paranoia, too, or at least it was for a substantial number of better-off Whites in past decades.

"Walkability" in the index cited above refers only to being able to carry out "errands" on foot, not beauty, safety, quiet, architecture, or general aesthetics. If you want to take a walk, then "walkability" needn't rate for much; but if you want a loaf of bread and HAVE to walk, then it's important.

As for being "isolated" in a suburb, there is something to be said for having greater freedom in choosing whom to associate with and when, and this can be a real advantage. The average urban neighbors today are less likely to be rear-window photographer Jimmy Stewart and Miss Torso, than they are Jimmy the kid who listens to death-metal and cuts himself, and Miss Tattoo. Snooping neighbors can hear (and disturb) easier through shared walls than between detached houses. Modern apartment construction tends value cost-savings over sonic insularity.

I don't see boredom as more of a problem in suburban settings unless you're bored without nightlife (e.g., clubs, bars) in which case you can always get in your car and drive. You can also drive to libraries, theaters, and so forth.

In a suburban setting you have the space, quiet and privacy to concentrate, get in touch with your creative "inner monologue," and pursue hobbies without being disturbed by (or disturbing) your neighbors. In an apartment every arrival and exit is noted by someone, space is at a premium (forget about that photographic darkroom), and noise carries both from surrounding units and from surrounding traffic arteries, as well as from one's own unit.

True, there is a trend among today's suburban developers to make the lots too small and place the houses too close together, to cram more houses into the same land, thereby making more profits from home sales. And contemporary construction techniques can be poor in houses, too.

I'd want my own house to be surrounded by miles of land on all sides, all of it owned by me, to insure the absence of noise attacks and other harrassment.

Soleri, thanks for your comments: as usual well-expressed.

To avoid losing text, compose your comment in Yahoo email (where the auto-save feature usually re-saves every few minutes -- manually save as a "draft" occasionally if it fails to do so). That way, even if you get knocked off-line, you'll have most or all of your text preserved. No need to specify a sending address.

Then cut-and-paste into Rogue. You might need to clean up the formatting (i.e., paragraphs may now be doubled-spaced in the Rogue comment box). If typepad eats it, at least you still have the composed text in your Drafts folder.

Quality density and reclaiming places worth caring about means understanding this:



Very thoughtful post.

You write:"But if we're going to concentrate on neighborhood density rather than metropolitan density, it isn't enough to look at city limits"

Again, you have to look at this problem intracity at a smaller geography than political boundaries. Planners produce density maps using census data all the time - think of a weather map with graduated colors (say reds being heaviest, yellows middle range, and greens lowest) showing the locations with the heaviest rainfall - only using housing unit data in this case instead of weather data.

If you produced these maps and held the geostatistical parameters constant for Seattle and Phoenix, you would see much less land area in the reds compared to seattle, and, as a percentage of the region's total housing stock, less greens as well. The Yellow, or medium density areas (think Maryvale's 1 dwelling unit per 6,000 square feet or "R1-6" zoning) dominates the map relative to Seattle's - especially as a percentage of the total housing stock.

you write: "(Post war suburbia is about) shade trees, flowering shrubs, a green lawn where the kids could play catch out of the street; a private backyard where you could throw a barbecue or grill steaks while tossing back a few beers (without being cited for "public drinking"), or tan, or just sit and read and enjoy the birds in peace and quiet, maybe with fruit trees or a pool"

I agree. When suburbia as a commodity was first marketed, these things your write - quiet personal space, outdoor settings, privacy, safety, etc. - were sold as amenities of rural areas, not urban ones. A hybrid of these two "sub-urban" was invented as the best of both worlds - you could have these without sacrificing access to the employment and cultural amenities of the city. My argument is that, in may cases, this outcome did not occur for a myriad of reasons. I don't want to paint an over general picture here because there are many medium-density suburban neighborhoods that people value and love living in - more often these tend to be in the "first ring" or closer in areas (think Arcadia or the Biltmore areas)

Phx Planner, thanks for that comment. Can you provide a link to an online source showing density maps for Phoenix and Seattle? Thanks!


This won't satisfy your data-driven, rigorous mind, but I have lived in Phoenix and other cities, including Seattle.

Phoenix lacks the convenient density of any number of Seattle neighborhoods: Downtown, Belltown, Capitol Hill, South Lake Union, the U District or Wallingford.

What do they have in common? Abundant transit. Business districts with the buildings right up on the sidewalk, easily walkable from the residential areas. Dense, mixed-use buildings. The elements that create the appealing "outdoor room" of good civic design. What's missing: Wide highway/streets; shopping only every mile in a shopping strip; suburban zoning; separation of nearly everything.

No place in metro Phoenix has this quality urban density. Downtown Tempe comes sort of close, but lacks real shopping options or much residential (it's astonishingly weak compared with the U District in Seattle). Downtown Scottsdale lacks much residential or a grocery store. I have two grocery stores within a block of my condo, and many more just a few blocks away, including Pike Place Market.

I found an amateur population density map for Seattle purportedly produced from Census 2010 data. It's a nice map drawn at the "block groups" scale, but the density numbers make me wonder if he interpreted the data correctly. Come on, 125,000 residents per square mile for parts of Belltown?


I am starved for Internet time today so that's all.

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