Video Of The Week: Overcoming Sprawl

I have been fortunate to work for the last 25 years in the Flatiron District of NYC, which is a mixed-use neighborhood (office, retail, residential) that has excellent mass transit options (three major subway lines converge at Union Square), great biking and walking streets, and a feeling of vitality that is infectious.

So this video I watched this morning rings very true to me. I think cities around the world (both new cities being built in Asia and existing cities looking to transform themselves like Los Angeles) can and will adopt policies that limit sprawl and get us back to living with other people in mixed-use environments that make us happier, more productive, and more sustainable.

#climate crisis#Current Affairs#NYC

Comments (Archived):

  1. jason wright


  2. creative group

    CONTRIBUTORS:A question to the esteemed group of educated, professional and well connected contributors. What are the intended consequences of gentrification in these areas?Captain Obvious!#UNEQUIVOCALLYUNAPOLOGETICALLYINDEPENDENT

  3. William Mougayar

    City planning is so important. City planners can botch up a city or keep it evolving & thriving.

    1. awaldstein

      yupmy favorite cities are invariably defined by their open spaces to me. ny certainly is.can’t wait to see what my takeaway from Tblisi is.

    2. Matt Zagaja

      I did not come to AVC this morning to have my career choices validated (though am not a planner, just work at a regional planning agency supporting them with data + digital tools) but I am ok that is happened ;).

      1. William Mougayar

        wow. i didn’t know that. which city / region if I may ask?

        1. Matt Zagaja

          Working in the Boston region ( Our little organization is pretty well respected in the pretty small world of urban planning, but when I talk to folks in tech I often have to start by explaining what exactly urban planning is and what planners do. However folks in the civic tech world have learned that if you want to build a “start-up” inside government, planning agencies are a good place to do that.

      2. Susan Rubinsky

        I provide services to COGs and MPOs too. Also public transit agencies. There is value to consolidated planning. One of the CEOs I work for in transit was once a planner at MAPC. Great org, BTW.

    3. Matt A. Myers

      I seriously considered getting into politics to help fix the city I was living in, until I realized I’d be running into a brick wall because the status quo is the status quo for a reason. Only real way to attack an issue is solve the problem yourself to show as a demonstration of what’s possible, and then the mechanism of capitalism will flood resources to the more efficient, healthier system(s).

      1. William Mougayar

        Are you back in Toronto now?

  4. awaldstein

    Yup–human density is both the issue and the solution.Notice that a ton of investment is going into vertical urban farming btw.Enjoyed this, thanks for the share.

  5. Matt Zagaja

    Just attended a local community meeting in Southie (my new neighborhood) where they were proposing to replace a toxic waste site (former power plant) with a mixed use development. Residents were up in arms. The alternative proposal was a 100% commercial development or to leave it a waste site. I was surprised how many people supported making it not a mixed use development. In our car centric culture, the vision shared in the video is still radical. We have ways to go.

  6. lasvegasreb

    Urban design touches on so many issues. This video is outstanding. And think about it: poor urban design helped create the obesity problem in America.

    1. JLM

      .Damn, I’ve been telling people it was McDonald’s.You sure?JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  7. Vendita Auto

    Three billion people OMG we never new that, the sprawl blah blah like the general working class public did not know ? we live work and die in theses areas why not just just stop polluting black blah blah This chap is an expert ? now he is touching on China lets have a green edge !! all he says is what the public living in theses areas have known from day one, then I read comments here jumping on the bandwagon like what he is saying is new (have you shared your car with people who pick there nose, moan all the time etc) The people you want are the ones that lay down in the road and disrupt your (Greta Thunberg) journey to make a point not clap at a Ted Talk about what he had been paid to produce, middle class out of date blah blah

    1. Richard

      Agree – almost useless consultant

  8. Richard

    4 point plan – add more light rail to cities, tax single family homes to free up unproductive capital (slowly and progressively), eliminate home mortgage deduction and invest in basic sciences.

  9. Rick Mason

    Smokey the Bear is turning 75 this month.

    1. JLM

      .One of the best branding campaigns and public service announcement series ever formulated.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  10. jason wright

    As i’ve always said, the people who design, plan, and build some of this shit should be made to live there. Standards would suddenly rise dramatically if that happened.I’d like to see the TED talker’s pad.

  11. JLM

    .City planning is one of those disciplines in the real estate development racket that has no free market equivalent and is dominated by theory rather than practice. It is like taking advice on landing a plane from somebody who has 1MM frequent flyer miles, but who has never actually been a pilot.Cities have legitimate police powers as it relates to land use (zoning), planning (not city planning, but how the land can be used after jumping the zoning hurdle), building (building codes that are supposed to ensure structural integrity), services (water, sewer, power, drainage, transportation, fire, and law enforcement) and long term maintenance.Cities provide these services funded by taxes on the real property that is created under this aegis. It is a cycle of plan, build, tax, service, regulate.There are efficiencies that are created by stuffing as much density on a given piece of dirt from a services and property tax perspective. One water connection for 500,000 SF of office or 1,000 apartments with a larger pipe is way more efficient than one water connection for every house in a neighborhood. Policing is cheaper as people in expensive apartments are better behaved.When I was building high rise office buildings, suburban office buildings, apartments, warehouses, and large mixed use land developments, the sheer complexity of doing it was a powerful moat keeping people from getting into the business.You had to know how to navigate the regulatory swamp, how to hire/manage designers (architects, engineers, designers, consultants), how to buy /drive the construction, how to get the building built, how to market/price the finished product, how to finance the entire thing up front before any of it was a reality. You had to deliver the project under budget and on time to meet the fleeting market demand. Then you had to operate it.[Next time you are tempted to suggest that Donald J Trump is a dummy, remember he did this stuff in his sleep. It is a hard racket.]City planning — and guys like the speaker — does not have any appreciation as to how complex the process is AFTER you decide what the Hell you want to build. That decision is made by the market. The market tells you what to build, not city planning.There is a tendency to suggest that “sprawl” is universally bad. I don’t agree to that premise. In fact, many times sprawl is the highest and best use for a particular area or piece of property.A healthy city has a vibrant core and neighborhoods. Many folks visit the core and don’t want to live there. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. There are plenty of folks who don’t want to live in a high rise in an urban setting and prefer a single family home in close proximity to the urban core.[There will be a cost to do that. In my neighborhood values have gone from $100/SF in 1995 (this is why a lot of people moved to Austin, it was cheap to live here) to $800/SF currently. It is close to downtown, there are only 640 homes, and the homes are larger. If you live in a 6,000 SF home, you can do the math. The city gets to tax you at that level without providing any additional services.]There are folks who want to live in a community — many of which provide vastly superior lifestyle support and living conditions than any planned quasi-urban environment — even when part of the cost may be to have to commute to work. Many of these decisions are driven solely by school district. People want to send their kids to the best public and private schools.There is a well documented effect that happens in healthy cities — the “edge city” effect whereby the disadvantages of downtown development spawn satellite edge cities. In a place like Austin By God Texas, it is places like the Arboretum or the Domain wherein there is housing, shopping, entertainment, hospitality, and retail. I used to hunt birds on both of those tracts of land in the 1980s.The edge city effect was the “it” thing 30 years ago. It is a more market driven phenomenon than the idea of generalized city planning that is detached from any market reality.The dialog that such a presentation as the one Freddie shared spawns is good if purely theoretical. It has to be tempered by the reality of the market, the desires of the individual property owner, and the actual experiences of people who have been in the trenches.When approaching city planning, existing cities never are able to work on a blank canvas. There is always a different, existing use in place. Take, for example, the Meat Packing District in Manhattan. A utilitarian industrial use was converted to a chic hospitality, entertainment destination while preserving the scale of the former use and injecting high rise elements. This is the reality of how things develop in real cities. This is also why gentrification is not a four letter word. It is creative repurposing of an outmoded use.The first attempt at gentrification or reuse in that area was courageous; the sixth such effort was just following a trend. Nothing wrong with following a trend.When I moved to Austin By God Texas in the very late 1970s, it was 200,000 persons. Today the SMSA is 1.6MM headed to 4MM by 2040. When I moved here, it was impossible to fail. The big challenge was getting the money.Temper everything with the market.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    1. sigmaalgebra

      You mentioned “market”. The speaker mentioned “planning”, i.e., “central planning”, so central his talk is for the whole world. And he never mentioned market.Sooo, uh, market versus central planning — we’ve seen this movie before.

  12. sigmaalgebra

    First, there really are Greenies. They use words like sustainable; don’t upset them by telling them what happens to the earth when the sun starts burning helium instead of making it from burning hydrogen. And they are deep into the quasi-religion of the old trilogy of (i) transgression, (ii) retribution, (iii) redemption, in this case from “human caused climate change” from burning fossil fuels. Here DO correct these lost ones by suggesting a movie:The Great Global Warming Swindle…Second, maybe not everything that poor lost one spouted is as bad as his sustainability goals and flim-flam, fraud, scam, trilogy, neurotic climate change anxieties. But he really HAS totally blown his credibility for anything realistic.Third, if people don’t like commuting by private car 100 miles a day, 250 days year, 25,000 miles a year, then they will scream for something better. I hear the TeD speaker’s concerns but not those of very many other people. Lots of changes are possible: If enough people don’t like all that, then there will be some changes.Fourth, omitted by the speaker, Darwin has something to say here: Whatever is going on in the US, it is dying out. The US is shrinking. Without immigration, it is shrinking really rapidly. Bluntly the birth rate is so low we are rapidly going extinct. I’ll guess: In some areas, people really are doing well with family formation. Soooo, via Darwin, the next generation will emphasize those situations. Let me guess: The designs the speaker has in mind, to the extent they exist, are failing at family formation.Fifth, the speaker omitted a biggie — the Internet. Sooo, people could work at home or work in relatively small offices close to home but remote from the company HQ where in either case they communicate with the rest of the company and world via the Internet.Sixth, call the Internet information transportation and then notice that modern life also needs physical transportation, i.e., trucks, planes, trains, boats, etc. My guess is that computing and the Internet have made physical transportation much more efficient than before. Soooo, with this progress in efficiency, moving away from dense areas is much easier.Seventh, the speaker hates privately owned cars and is all hot for autonomous vehicles. And, to skip some obvious signs and details, no wonder he likes China — he wants a very powerful government to take total control, at least water, sewer, electric power, taxis, etc., all the planning for his dream communities, etc.Eighth, the US is absolutely totally awash in fields, forests, with lakes and rivers, with lots of wildlife and very few people per square mile. An easy way to see this is just some browsing with Google Maps including the satellite images.There really are huge problems, e.g., we are failing badly at family formation, but the speaker’s nonsense, e.g., about human caused climate change, would make things worse. Worse? Sure: His dream carbon-free, sustainable, delusions would be very destructive and make things worse.Net, the speaker is a Greenie, i.e., a special case of a wack-o.

  13. gmalov

    No offense, but I prefer living along the coast and I have absolutely no desire to be surrounded by mixed use buildings (office, retail and residential). My point, if people like beach life, live along the coast, if you like metro life, grab a flat in the big city, and if you like everything walking distance, perhaps move to union square. Choice and diversity of lifestyle are important factors, I hope city planners (especially in LA) don’t lose sight of these factors; we should always maintain a certain level of uniqueness – from one city to the next.