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We're told by the author, who is heavily anti-car, that American cities are designed around cars and have requirements for large amounts of parking per built unit. He recommends making cities more pedestrian friendly, having a mix of uses in a neighbourhood and increasing housing density, especially as older empty nesters move back in from suburbs. Lots of good ideas here. He adds that young people are not getting driving licences, preferring to live and work in walking areas. Great, for those who have the choice.
I can understand why housing and parking are both expensive in geographically cramped locations. According to Walkable City, on page 117, "Parking spaces under Seattle's Pacific Place shopping center, built by the city, cost sixty thousand dollars each. .... The twelve hundred space Pacific Place garage cost $73 million." Such details abound, more than most of us would ever need. Some very interesting facts about cars in the US though, such as the car companies buying up trolley car firms in the past and scrapping them so there would be no public alternative to cars.
This book is heavily anti-cars in cities, but in rural areas (even in Ireland), cars are a necessity if you are ever to get anywhere or carry anything, especially after dark when cycling is suicidal. The author overlooks or doesn't know an awful lot of detail that seems obvious and important to me. In discussing promoting cycling, the author never mentions the biggest drawback about bikes, which is theft. He tells us that the Netherlands has a wonderfully high rate of cycling. Yes, but he never mentions that this land is all flat. I did not see one single mention of parking, walking or public transport provision for disabled persons. For instance, traffic lights are having to have a longer pedestrian crossing time here to cope with an ageing population using walking aids. The author even insisted on a street junction outside his home being kerbless, brick-tiled from one row of houses right across the street to the others. How does this help a blind person, a mother with toddlers and pram, a dog-walker, a person in a wheelchair? We're also told that Zipcars are helpful. I don't know what that is and we are not told. I can make an educated guess, but it seems like a glaring omission.
Also, the book recommends building housing without parking spaces and charging to park on the street outside these houses. This ensures that people like me, who drive a van to and from work (at your house) and need to remove all the tools every evening, and may tow a trailer, will never come to live in that neighbourhood. So your plumber, carpenter, gardener, sparks, painter, tree surgeon, kitchen fitter, dog groomer etc will not live where you live, which pushes up the price of services. And if your housing in the city centre is entirely pedestrianized with no parking spaces, how do they get to you in the first place? In one area where I work, the parking charges are so steep that I only go there on a Sunday and park around the corner in a space which is free on Sundays. This charge would otherwise force up the price I had to charge my client.
I'm pleased that the author is heavily in favour of trees. The urban heat island effect is by now well known, and trees create shade as well as absorbing rainfall. Since childhood in Dublin I've seen that wealthier areas tend to have mature trees in gardens and on roadsides, while poorer areas do not; why did it take this bright man until middle age to see this at the prompt of a friend? He never mentions that trees increase biodiversity and help migrating birds to cross a city or give resident birds nest sites and food. Also, it never seems to occur to him that trees create problems - aside from windows being too dark, the infrastructure can suffer as tree roots buckle paving, tilt walls, break pipes, and tree limbs tangle in wires or obscure street signs, lighting and traffic lights. They can also make it impossible to see for a driver coming out of a gate. So just dropping trees, or particular species, everywhere is not recommended.
The author also says that people using street cafes prefer to sit looking at parked cars than at traffic that might hit them. Actually, they don't; they just need to know they won't be hit. So in Dublin, there are cast iron decorative bollards to protect shop windows and seated café patrons. But pedestrianising can go too far. I used to go to Dun Laoghaire regularly, some years ago; then the planners introduced parking charges and spread them over an increasingly wider area. When the walk got to ten minutes each way I stopped visiting Dun Laoghaire. Now I never shop there and nobody else I know does either. Similarly, one major store after another has closed in Dublin city centre, because people can't get near them and don't like long walks carrying lots of goods. A shopping centre policy often seen here is that staff are to park at the end of the car park, as the cars are left all day, and that frees up spaces next to the shops for oft-changing cars and for mothers with toddlers and trollies. This kind of common sense could be mentioned in this book, but isn't because the author doesn't make provision for the fact that families actually need cars.
The data compiled is interesting if you are looking at this topic, and it's certainly educational about American city sprawl and the expense of providing for cars, a cost paid by everyone.