Originally published in Western Real Estate Business - October 2012.
In land-use planning, as in other fields that respond to developing trends, yesterday’s truth becomes tomorrow’s heresy. Housing and development trends often exemplify that truth.
Congress enacted the first housing bill in the late 1940s declaring as its goal, provision of a “decent home in a suitable living environment” for every American family. The then-current aspiration translated that concept into single-family residences each on its own quarter-acre lot. That type of development inevitably consumed acres of open land, pushing housing farther away from places of employment, creating long commutes in single-occupant automobiles, as well as other trends that we now condemn as “sprawl.”
In addition to this, suburban growth had the effect of “hollowing out” the central cities from which the occupants of the new suburbia migrated, leaving a necklace of poverty, crime and decay around urban centers. Worse in some places than in others, the deleterious nature of the trend became painfully apparent in the urban riots of the 1960s. Those who initially attributed that phenomenon to reaction against the Vietnam War did not discern the wider cause or properly identify the nature and grievances of those actually rioting.
It is not the place of this article to recite that history in detail but only as a preface to where we are today: at a recognition that a vibrant, healthful and environmentally sound urban society requires development of mass transit, with the transit hubs strategically located with reference to urban jobs connecting those jobs to residential concentrations. Achieving that goal should ultimately reduce traffic congestion, reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and contribute to commercial vitality by creating centers of activity in urban areas in existing city centers or within the near periphery.
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