Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Of Thoughts and Freeways

Upon my return from a weekend trip to greatest city on the planet, San Francisco, thoughts of development and comparisons of structural factors that create places have filled my mind. What makes a city "work"? Is Joel Kotkin right when he argues that cities are attractive because they are cheap? Or is it Richard Florida's hypothesis regarding the creative class that wins this debate? Ooh, I know, maybe it's a balance of both.

Anyhow, our fair city is in the middle of a struggle to determine how our future will shape up. Will we invest our money in a freeway loop and further interstate expansions or will we invest that money in mass transportation systems? Ooh, I know, maybe it can be a balance of both.

After this trip, I'm reminded of San Francisco's decision to squash plans for a rather elaborate freeway system in favor of what we have come to know. More recently, the city changed a portion of the onramp to the 101 from an elevated expressway portion to a typical street, pushing the expressway further out of the city center. Boston comes to mind at this juncture as they've spent a decade relocating their expressway below ground to stengthen their urban form and continuity.

I think that what makes this decision so difficult for our city to make is that we are not only a city center in a middle of a mega urban region. We have far more interests at stake here with everyone from farmers to suburbanites to urban dwellers. It's no wonder we have such a difficult time making decisions. Here is where our sector plans and neighborhood associations come into play. It is up to us to determine what our future holds.

For a few minutes here, however, I'd like to assume the duty of determining that future for everyone. Draw an imaginary line along Coal to San Mateo, along San Mateo to I-40, I-40 to the Rio Grande, and back to Coal. For this entire area, I'd like to see only urban development lining every major street. No more setbacks, no more drive throughs, FAR requirements, and limited parking requirements. Outside of that boundary, business as usual. However, I think new developments should follow the Mesa del Sol model and be entirely master planned with new urbanistic ideals. Oh, and I'd like to see a preservation of intercity farmland.

Attempting to not oversimplify the entire argument, we need to create a need to build upward as opposed to outward. In a heartbeat, I would support an urban growth boundary to nudge development in that direction. However, I'm unsure that I live in a city whose ideals tend toward a socialistic approach that would suggest that we're all in this together. It's the wild west here and I get the feeling that far too many people only care about their home and the 150 feet surrounding their property.

1 comment:

Michael said...

I think one of the most important things that you said in this entry is in the last couple lines: too many people here don't think beyond their own backyards. (Reflected in the liberal acronym NIMBY: Not In My Backyard.) Further, I'm pretty sure that this is what I think of as the purpose of government; to think about these things that (most) individuals don't. And that's why I don't think that the government is a terrible, horrible, useless organization. Because I depend upon them to take these steps when ordinary individuals won't.