Friday, December 17, 2010

urban | design.banter:: Book Review - Sprawl Repair Manual

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"The promise of suburbia has been eroding for decades, but reached a critical point with the mortgage meltdown of 2008." 

This Promise of Suburbia is given new hope in "Sprawl Repair Manual," by Galina Tachieva, a partner at Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, an architecture and planning firm in the enviable position on the front lines of New Urbanism and suburban redevelopment. 

Sprawl can be repaired by "building communities based on the neighborhood unit." Instead of building new developments in green fields (land that has never been built on), why not densify existing areas? Not only will this bring life and density to existing suburbs and create what the author refers to as "complete communities," new developments will be closer to existing infrastructure and transportation. Children can attend existing schools (which, if they are in the city, may be underutilized) and existing fire and police can be used and will benefit from the new influx of taxes. However, according to Tachieva, "Sprawl remains cheaper to plan, easier to finance, faster to permit, and less complicated to build."

The main problem with sprawl, in terms of cost to the government and citizens, health, community connectivity, and access is dependence on the car. Part of this is the use of outdated single use zone, which makes it illegal for dwelling units to be near everyday needs. Repairing sprawl and densifying existing neighborhoods would mean integrating commercial and civic buildings into residential areas, and adding dwelling units to commercial areas. 

Reduction of dependence on a car is then created two ways: things are closer together, allowing for walking, and people live closer together, allowing for effective mass transit.  It's a snowball effect from there: people can walk, bike or take transit to more places, cities can require less parking, with less parking lot area more density can happen, and so on. With less area to cover and more efficient delivery, infrastructure costs can be reduced. Tachieva hopes by repairing sprawl that a more connected, cohesive transportation network can be formed, and the open space provided in suburbs will be accessible.

The author presents specific methods of repair at different scales: regional, community, parking and roads, blocks, and individual buildings.The book contains a great mix of text, diagrams, drawings and before and after photos. This is a must read for anyone interested in sustainable communities.

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1 comment:

  1. As a planner who has opposed sprawl from the beginning of my career, but only recently begun to think seriously about the concrete steps to repair already developed suburbs, this book is a welcome development. I hope it continues to engender a lot of disucsison in the profession about how to move the transportation/land use nexus in a healthier direction.

    I also hope that suburbanites themselves will be able to focus on what's missing in their community life and employ their own creativity in producing new solutions that academics and planners wouldn't have considered.