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Posted by on Aug 25, 2009 in General, Transit | 15 comments

Barely On Topic

This posting is on topic only because our Metropolitan Planning Organization and thus MetroPlan has made it so. After attending the recent Metroplan presentation, it has become obvious to me that New Urbanism is what the MPO wants and Metroplan has (I suspect a bit reluctantly)  joined in.

Since I spent a couple of years living in a city that developed during the first 10 years of the last century (the golden years for new urbanists) and watched it de-evolve, I am wary. Apparently, I’m not the only one that is wary.

Here is a post about new urbanism in Orlando by a fellow named Richard Reep and how economics is again the problem. I don’t know this fellow, but I would like to. The comments below his post are interesting as well.

We need some clear thinking about this. I can’t even convince people that a business that generates no additional traffic, no noxious fumes, no noise, no nothing (something like an accountant’s office), what some would call  “Class D” office space, should be allowed to exist in a “residential area.”

15 Comments

  1. Eric,

    I’m kind of confused; you refer to Metroplan and “the MPO” as though they were two different entities.

    Regardless, there is no reluctance on Metroplan’s part. The board voted unanimously to support a new land use strategy that will encourage infill development that is compact, mixed-use, and walkable. It did so because in no small part because we (staff and consultants) were able to show that ALL of the key performance measures improved with the new land use.

    This strategy is not about shoving businesses into neighborhoods; it’s about redeveloping blighted areas with a mix of commercial and residential.

    And how is this germane to cycling? Street connectivity is key to any walkable environment, and makes cycling easier, too.

  2. I have to find the old Orlando Sentinel article that describes how the old transportation department split off to create Metroplan.

    Let me your question around, “Street connectivity is key to any walkable environment, and makes cycling easier, too.”

    and “how is this germane to cycling?”

    I think you answered your own question.

    If you read the article, you will see that he makes this point:
    “The formula of “live-work-play” must stick in the craw of those who are employed in these stores, because the Publix employees, Starbucks baristas, dry cleaner cashiers, and others who do work in these Town Centers can not possibly afford the New Urbanist real estate. Rather than a social continuum (as was more common in the idealized version of America), there is a new social schism, with the New Urbanist underclass forced to commute to the New Urbanist communities from more affordable but less trendy housing nearby.”

  3. I live in a “New Urbanist” community. Except nobody calls it that and it was never planned that way. It is Jane Jacobs’ old stomping ground – Toronto. Call it an “Old Urbanist” community.

    Where I live, the commute mode share of cars is at 26% and falling rapidly. The fundamental driver of that is simply not providing car infrastructure. The proposed expressway system was cancelled in 1974. Many of the existing car lanes on roads are being turned into bicycle lanes (Jarvis Street) or exclusive streetcar right-of-ways (Transit City). Virtually all car parking lots have been built upon by buildings that offer lots of secure bicycle parking, but zero (or very little and very expensive) car parking.

    Our current plan is to add one million more people to the population of the City. And take away a lot of car infrastructure at the same time.

    Needless to say, this saves a bundle of money. Car infrastructure is very expensive for the City to build and cars are very expensive for people to own and operate. If I were to buy a car, I could not possibly afford too many of the other things in my life. And the taxes to pay for building and maintaining the car infrastructure would be quite a burden.

    Still, I can definitely “work, live and play” in my neighbourhood. And so does an incredible diversity of other people. Ranging from millionares to penniless immigrants living eight to an apartment – who risked their lives to come to freedom in Canada.

    Here is one look at what the future will be like:

    http://www3.ttc.ca/About_the_TTC/Projects_and_initiatives/Transit_city/index.jsp

  4. “Except nobody calls it that and it was never planned that way.”

    Next paragraph in the post:

    “In contrast, the region’s native communities have been thriving throughout the same growth period. Communities like College Park, adjacent to Orlando’s downtown, offer something that New Urbanist communities do not: diverse housing, from garage apartments and rental communities up to stately mansions, all within walking distance of each other. They offer an idiosyncratic mix of sacred places, playgrounds, schools, and shops in what the Philadelphia architect and theorist Robert Venturi calls “messy vitality.” No overarching body dictated the form, developed transects, or rigidly controlled the distance between the front porch to the street to achieve these vibrant, socially cohesive, and proud neighborhoods.”

    Next time, I’ll just repost the whole thing rather than put in links. I was trying to keep it short.

  5. Eric wrote:
    “Communities like College Park, adjacent to Orlando’s downtown, offer something that New Urbanist communities do not: diverse housing, from garage apartments and rental communities up to stately mansions, all within walking distance of each other.”

    I’m glad to say that’s not true Eric. There are a number of examples of New Urbanist communities that include affordable options. It depends on who builds it. The City of Orlando’s housing authority built Hampton Park, which has a mix of market rate and subsidized options (and you can’t tell them apart from looking at them).

    New Urbanist communities have tended to be expensive because A) the homes are new, B) there is a limited supply, and C) most developers have been focusing on the higher end over the past two decades both in conventional suburban and neo-traditional.

    Old traditional neighborhoods can also get beyond the reach of affordability. College Park is actually a good example. So is my neighborhood, which was started in the 1920s. Ten years ago the 2-bedroom house next door sold for $60K. Five years later it was torn down and replaced with two 3-bedroom condos which sold for $250K each.

  6. I suspect there are 2 models at play here. The actual concept, which is good and has substance, and the Disneyfied version which is a feel-good façade.

  7. Eric wrote:
    “it has become obvious to me that New Urbanism is what the MPO wants and Metroplan has (I suspect a bit reluctantly) joined in.”

    Perhaps Eric is confusing myregion.org with the MPO. MyRegion is an independent, non-governmental organization that grew out of a collaboration between the Greater Orlando Chamber of Commerce, the regional planning council, and others, including Metroplan Orlando, in 2001.

    “Metroplan Orlando” is the doing-business-as name of the Orlando Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (the MPO). The MPO was created as a formal quasi-governmental organization in 1977 in response to changes in federal law. We started doing business as Metroplan Orlando in 1997.

    All “New Urbanism” is is an attempt to replicate the proven form of traditional neighborhoods, but with modifications to fit with current market trends. How well it works depends on a number of factors: proximity and relationship to existing built-up areas, size of the development, and existence of transit probably being the most important.

  8. Man, so much to say. Great topic Eric. I struggle philosophically with some of the new urbanists. Many are architects and many tend to focus primarily on individual sites within a vacuum. Luckily, they’ve since come up with the transect concept and branched out from merely being walkable to incorporating the need for transit.

    Good design will beget good neighborhoods and good communities. Transit can connect those neighborhoods to CBDs and employment centers. Paul Krugman had a great blog post about this very topic of density and how many of us live in fairly dense areas (even in those single family neighborhoods) in far flung areas connected by transit.

    I think we’re achieving a tipping point in Central Florida where the various planning and transportation agencies are coming together and embracing good urban design (nothing new about that) and transit. From MyRegion.org, to Metroplan, to the East Central Regional Planning Council, LYNX and FDOT I’m seeing more collaboration than I’ve seen in a long time.

    The article you posted amused me a little when it spoke of Horizon’s West as being the newest new urbanist kid on the block. From my perspective, it’s actually one of the oldest. The challenge for Horizon’s West is transportation. There’s no way to get there from there/here/anywhere. It’s been in the planning stages since about the time Celebration was conceived.

    Baldwin Park is an EXCELLENT example of a brownfield/infill development. It’s really beginning to gell and it’s in close proximity to downtown Orlando and Winter Park. It sets itself apart from Horizon’s West, Avalon Park and Celebration because they were all developed on greenfields. They’re just sprawl dressed up in a pretty package.

    My fear about the MPO’s embrace of urban design is that they still don’t quite get it. When the Metroplan Board adopted the How Shall We Grow principles of compact mixed use development, the board immediately took up the issue of transportation issues in Horizon’s West. The issue? Concurrency. Maybe Senate Bill 360 will help in the sense that Orance County meets the threshold for being an ‘urbanized area’ and therefore a Transportation Concurrency Exception Area which will allow for (hopefully) meaningful multi-modal transportation approaches.

    Sorry for such a long/rambling post. I could go on and on about this topic.

  9. Laura… can I entice you to write a blog post on these topics? :-)

  10. The FIRST thing that the politicians could do to relieve traffic, is to change the zoning laws to allow people to live and work in closer proximity. People who work from home shouldn’t have to go through all sorts of trouble just to get an occupational license.

    I have lots of anecdotes about people and their reaction to the local governments REQUIREMENT that they rent business space which requires a commute.

    Here is but one example from my store of anecdotes.

    Most people realize that we sometimes have a problem with certain bars, but I remember one in that city I lived in when I was a kid. The bar was on Main Street and the owner lived above it with his family. I went to school with one of his kids. His kids went to bed at 8pm. Do you think he would allow much noise at that bar after his kids went to bed? Do you think he allowed illegal activities there?

    So the neighbors never had any complaints about the place. It was clean and well run.

    I have another one, from Atlanta, where an artist that did huge outdoor installations bought an old warehouse. It had a gallery upstairs for office space that ringed the outside of the building. You could stand up there and look down to the main floor area. She wanted to convert one of the offices to be a kitchen and another to be a bedroom (she had two bathrooms) so that she could live there and the zoning department said “no.”

    She had to take it all the way up to the City Commission to get some sort of Use Permit, which she did, to do exactly what the bat owner was doing.

    People that live in a “business district” increase security at night. If they own the property they care how the place looks. There is a long list of good reasons to not only allow, but to encourage people to live and work in or near the same place.

    But it can’t done the way these new developments are being done. There is a small section of Baldwin Park where people live upstairs and run their office downstairs, but it is very small.

    And it is VERY expensive. Too expensive for most small businesses to survive for long.

    People that rent or own business space have double the worries about everything. When they are at work, the house could get burgled, a fire or a pipe burst and vice-versa when they are at home. It’s a legitimate concern.

  11. Baldwin Park is great, but the village center is struggling.
    It is central and is very walkable. I find most of the bike lanes unusable and have adopted the “door zone lane” stated here before. A few things need to happen to make Baldwin Park and the surrounding areas better.
    Dropping the speed limit from 25 to 20 (maybe even 15) on interior roads. People are driving too fast already. Getting a ticket for 10 over, rather than letting 5 over go may get the message out.
    Get rid of the “bike lanes”!
    Corrine Drive. Currently not bikeable with the family. With B3 and Lue Gardens down the road, it is a destination. With no side paths or back roads (to Lue), biking is not an option. I use the sidewalks with my kids and am currently training my 6 year old to ride on the road. My 4 year old is still on training wheels. Regardless, there is NO WAY I will take them on Corrine or it’s sidewalks. It’s a shame.

  12. I think if Baldwin Park wanted to offer symbolic encouragement for bicycling, sharrows would be a good replacement for the doorzone bike lanes. I totally agree with Chris about reducing the speed limit and stricter enforcement.

  13. People are speeding in Baldwin Park because some of the roadways are too wide.

    What “downtown” Baldwin Park lacks is civic destinations. No library, no post office, no community center.

    Real cities are created and grow because there is an economic rationale for them besides selling houses and storefronts. For example, Kissimmee exists because it was where the ranchers loaded their cattle onto railroads to ship north. Winter Garden and Orlando for citrus. Thinking along those lines, it was rather dumb to put the Burnham Institute and the whole “medical city” complex down there near the airport. They should have been built in downtown Orlando or Baldwin Park. The city permitted all those condos downtown, then puts the biggest new job growth generator 15 miles away?

  14. Mighk, I totally agree with your comment. Land in Lake Nona is a helluva lot cheaper and more plentiful than land in Orlando’s CBD. It wasn’t just the City that put Burnham down there, but Orange County had a lot to do with cobbling that deal together.

    There have been a lot of poor planning decisions made by local governments and other leaders in this area and there will be lots more. Most of the time those folks are just responding to the demands of the private sector and the private sector claims they’re just responding to what the market wants. When really, a lot of those decisions are balanced against the cost of the land and cost of building.

    Too bad the timing of the New Arena construction and the Burnham Institute weren’t better, there’s going to be a giant hole downtown between Amelia & Livingston when the Old Arena is closed down.

    That said, I think some of the rationale behind locating the Burnham Institute in Lake Nona has to do with the Medical School, Nemours and proximity to OIA. That side of town is getting very built up and those facilities are needed to serve the people in Lake Nona, Avalon Park, Lee Vista and the neighborhoods around UCF. At least there’s some diversification in land uses developing out there and it’s not strictly residential.

  15. Eric said, “The FIRST thing that the politicians could do to relieve traffic, is to change the zoning laws to allow people to live and work in closer proximity. People who work from home shouldn’t have to go through all sorts of trouble just to get an occupational license.”

    Zoning laws have definitely been a problem over the last generation or so. That said, the original intent behind zoning laws was to seperate incompatible uses like residential from cattle yards. But then that morphed into everything being incompatible with residential which must be protected at all costs. Add in the automobile and the fact that it’s easier to develop a greenfield than redevelop an existing site and you have the suburbs with their curvy-linear streets, endless blocks and cul de sacs we have today.

    Dan Burden is fond of saying that the most walkable neighborhoods have a coin laundry. My neighborhood still has one, but I can’t really say that I’m thrilled it’s there. The homeless like it during those cold winter nights though, LOL. Thornton Park still has one too. Don’t think there’s one in Baldwin Park though.

    Orlando’s traditional city zoning does allow for work/live space. Neighborhood bars and restaurants are also allowed, but may require special use permits and abide by additional regulations depending on their siting and zoning.

    I’m not aware of Orange County’s regulations on work/live zoning. The thing about Baldwin Park, Avalon Park and other developments like them is that they are Planned Developments and much of the zoning/uses are dictated within the development order. It allows for a lot more flexibility, but again, it’s really dependent upon what the developer and local government envision and what both parties are willing to negotiate in terms of uses allowed/planned.

    I really think the only way things will change in terms of development trends is for oil to continue to rise in price. People generally won’t change until it’s too painful not to.