How to stop urban sprawl and get more people to live in a densely populated area was the focus of a lecture by Julie Campoli Wednesday night. This was the last in a series of events about urban design hosted by the Chattanooga Design Forum.
A better title, said Ms. Campoli, would be “How to create a more walkable neighborhood.” Work, home and play were all in close proximity when cities were being built 100 years ago, but it became cheaper and easier to spread out over the ensuing years, and that was made easier because of the automobile. In 1910, population density in the United States averaged 18,000 per square mile. In 2000 the density was 3,700 per square mile. She gave statistics to show reasons for reversing this trend. The population of the U.S. is 4.5 percent of the world population, and we produce 20 percent of the total carbon emissions. Private automobiles are owned by 60 percent of people in this country with those driving 2.9 trillion miles each year.
In Chattanooga 85 percent of the population commutes alone, 9 percent carpool, one half percent use public transportation and one percent walk. An average household spends $3,000 yearly on gas which will likely go up in the long run. These figures all illustrate the fact that the U.S. needs to make a significant change, said the speaker.
Density plays an important role in the scheme of driving less, but this alone is not the solution. Many factors figure into the overall urban design plan she advocates. The shorter the distance between home and a public transit system, the more that type of transportation is used, she told the audience. Diversity of services in an area is also essential. It is important to have an array of options for stores, banks, and restaurants and a mix of commercial services should be within walking distance so that taking a car or bus for daily chores would not be necessary. “It’s about convenience,” she said. Opportunity should also be available in a neighborhood, to individuals with diverse income levels.
Densely populated neighborhoods must also have accessibility to the frequented destinations, for example, if the area is dense yet separated from services by a river the goal is not accomplished because a long drive would still be required, the speaker said. However if a bridge over the river was built linking the service area to the residential area, it would require only a short walk.
Walk-ability and design go hand in hand in the creation of a successful urban development. The key, Ms. Campoli said, is “interesting and attractive.” A network of blocks connected by intersections, crosswalks and connections in the middle of blocks are the start of a good design. Building patterns are another important factor. Buildings define the walking areas and they should be designed so that a large building or piece of land is divided into a series of different size spaces. The buildings should include windows that look onto the streets that allow a passerby to see into the structure, and features such as recessed inviting entrances and openings onto the sidewalks. The areas should also include a canopy of trees, street lights and a lot of green spaces and landscaping. More is needed than just sidewalks to invite a lot of activity.
Ms. Campoli cited demographics to support her belief in trending to urban living. She said indicators show a changing housing market and that 60 percent of those surveyed would be satisfied to have a small, compact single family house. Also, 88 percent responded that a neighborhood with walk-ability is more important to them than a large house. She also cited the fact that the population is ageing and will be looking for low maintenance housing. This will result in less car dependency.
Another significant factor, she said is that the Millennial generation, young adults ages 18-31, have been deeply affected by the recession and have a lot of outstanding loans and do not want to incur more debt in the way of a mortgage. They also, would prefer to spend their money on electronic devices instead of cars, and are known to use buses and subways where they can continue to “stay connected” instead of driving. This all contributes to apartment living in an urban neighborhood.
The way we move crowds affects cities and towns. The argument for urban living sets priorities for modes of transportation, with pedestrians being the most desirable and efficient, followed by bicycles, public transit, taxis, high occupancy vehicles and the least desirable being cars.
Cars have to be stored someplace, and most cities have too much space designated for parking, said Ms. Campoli. That space is not being used efficiently. There is too much land being taken up by surface parking logs and parking garages. Her foremost suggestion for improvement in Chattanooga would be to reduce these parking areas in deference to bike and car shares and bus systems that have high frequency trips. Another way to reduce the asphalt would be “the road diet approach.” This plan would reduce lanes of traffic and turn the center lanes into green spaces for public use or the outer lanes designated for bike paths. Either would make the roadways not only a conduit for traffic but also “a place to be.”
People make neighborhoods said the speaker, and great places begin with design and evolve over time. As planning and building takes place, she urged the focus to be on healthy living with walk-ability being a contributing factor, convenience, beauty and an attempt to include everybody. These neighborhoods should be places that bring people closer together, she ended.