Jobs, Housing, and Carless Urban Villages

Traffic is becoming a more prominent topic in many areas as a result of growth. Earlier in our country’s history with cars their affordability extended man’s ability to greatly expand travel distances over walking and the horse and buggy. This dramatically changed the way towns and cities developed.

Prior to the car towns were compact and centralized with a business and retail core surrounded by streets of houses. That core also had some amount of housing above the stores, what we now call mixed use. Then there were farmers and ranches requiring larger plots of land further away. But everything was within walking or horse and buggy distance away.

After the advent of the affordable car, towns started to decentralize and spread out into sprawled housing developments at the end of WWII. That was when the “American Dream” was coined by developers who build large expands of cheap and affordable tract housing especially out West in California, the dream Golden State of opportunity. Housing developments outpace jobs but businesses quickly took root. They spread like weeds. Businesses, retail, and other jobs sprung up at the periphery of these huge housing tracts some distance away requiring people to drive to work and shop but that was easy to do with a car.

Later as these cities grew and started to merge into one another in regions restricted by land, roadways and freeways started to become congested, especially in areas rich in jobs. Now jobs were far outpacing the growth in housing causes the cost of housing to escalate beyond what the average wage earners could afford forcing them to buy and rent housing in more remote areas.

This causes workers to spend more and more time commuting to and from work further congesting the freeways and roadways during commute hours resulting in the gridlock nightmares many commuters experience daily as their most unproductive periods in life. And that is exactly what many are experiencing today elsewhere worldwide.

Often different regions take different paths of development to get to this point but what they all share in common is the use of cars as the dominant mode of transportation. What once offered man freedom of travel has become his bondage in commuting.

In suburban areas around America, the convenience of car travel has hampered the development of effective alternative transportation systems.

Instead of cars being a privilege to drive they have essentially become a right. So traditionally taxing gasoline is frowned upon as unAmerican unlike many other countries with very high gasoline taxes to subsidize public transportation. Consequently, the U.S. has one of the most underdeveloped transportation systems in the world. This has only compounded an already very bad traffic situation.

So how are we to get out of this fix? What are our options? How do we wean ourselves of our dependence and love affair with Cars in the most non-disruptive manner? There is simply not enough public transportation funding to make a significant difference there alone.

City planners have returned to the fundamentals of how we did it before the advent of the affordable car and putting a modern spin on it. How did people get along with their lives before the car? They built walkable communities. So why is it not possible to build completely walkable communities today in a suburban city that can handle larger numbers of people? Many suburban cities are too large to have a single walkable community. So planners came up with the idea of smaller walkable communities called Urban Villages. They are small very high density, compact, completely walkable, thus urbanized, villages designed as mixed-use communities. They consist of varying elements of offices, housing, retail, and other amenities needed by residents. The ideal situation is for them to have the optimum balance of elements to be self-contained.

This allows clusters of Urban Villages to dot public transportation corridors. These urban villages may have thousands of inhabitants. This would be intended for people not yet settled down. So it would not disrupt current established residents by forcing them to move to these villages. Urban Villages will be built along transportation corridors as more jobs are created to facilitate commuting.

Some private companies such as Google and Facebook in the San Francisco Bay Area are already developing such Urban Villages for their employees. They use bicycles instead of cars to get around larger Urban Villages. This all reduces people’s reliance on cars. Many young millennials don’t even own a car.

It is no longer so cool to own the nearest car. Having a neat bicycle is becoming far more popular for many young people. Health and exercise are becoming fads by walking, jogging, and bicycling in these high density urbanized villages.

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