Pedestrian Villages are the most important all around solution for a vast range of social, health, economic, and military problems. Many of these problems are quality of life issues and include sprawl, increasing traffic, environmental degradation, obesity, urban ugliness, inefficient and expensive public transportation, oil-dependency, the foreign trade imbalance, and crime.
The important determinant in the degradation of our cities and surrounding countryside is the role of the automobile. Americans spend twice their gross domestic product as Europeans for transportation, but the hidden cost to society is immeasurable. In the U.S. alone, twenty-seven million motor vehicles are crashed every year, resulting in forty-two thousand deaths and five million injuries. An automobile-dominated lifestyle has increased the cost of living, polluted the environment and raised the cost of health care. On a single health-related issue—obesity—our country is in deep crisis. Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, resulting in 300,000 deaths from related complications. A major factor in weight gain is we do not walk enough because we drive everywhere. With a hostile urban walking environment, a deepening cycle of inactivity eventually results in most people getting far too little casual daily exercise from walking. Half of us spend $33 billion a year trying to lose weight or keep it off. This amount of money could build 165,000 homes a year in Pedestrian Villages, costing on average $200,000 each, and resulting in new housing for over 400,000 people.
The negative effect on aesthetics and the livability of the cities has also been severe. Our last three major wars, and most terrorist acts against our nation are linked to our dependency on the oil we use to power our automobiles. Worsening traffic jams, an immensely costly highway infrastructure, vast parking lots burning in the hot sun, hideous architecture, and various forms of pollution are only the most obvious effects. The automobile has created the illusion that people are free to live or go anywhere they want, anytime they want. But the reality is that this freedom comes at a price that we cannot afford and “anywhere” is beginning to look like everywhere.
Although automobiles will not disappear for the conceivable future, some of the problems related to them could be mitigated. Cars could become much lighter and safer due to technological innovation. Vehicles, as well as homes, could be powered by fuel cells supplied with solar-produced hydrogen that leaves only pure water as its byproduct. This shift in fuel source would eliminate dependency on foreign oil and mitigate most of the pollution-related problems. An enlightened energy policy, powered by a national directive, could create an independent and sustainable energy source within a decade. But even with the switch to hydrogen there are still many automobile-related problems that remain to be solved.
During the last twenty-five years town planners and urban designers have been studying these problems and trying to come up with ways to make our cities livable. “New Urbanism” and “Smart Growth” are two of the best-known labels for new ideas that are basically a return to some of the old ways of doing things. There is a renewed interest in preserving significant buildings or neighborhoods from the past. Many new buildings and homes are being constructed in more traditional styles, or at least with more attention to design. Narrower streets calm traffic in residential areas while space on the side is provided for street trees, sidewalks, and bike lanes. Many new developments are built with greater density so that amenities can be provided within walking or biking distance. Alleyways are being added so that garages, utilities, and garbage collection can be better concealed. Utilities are underground. Parking lots are being landscaped and hidden behind buildings. Public transportation is being improved. Natural features are being preserved or augmented so that they can be enjoyed. New towns in Florida, such as Seaside, Rosemary Beach, and Celebration are being built that reflect these new principles. While this is all well and good, and a vast improvement over post WWII sprawl development, there are still improvements that could be made with Pedestrian Villages:
Pedestrian lanes are linear parks that connect all the homes to each other and to the village center. Some of the pedestrian lanes have landscaped strips or forest on either side, especially where large trees must be preserved. Motor vehicles are equally provided for on attractive tree-lined streets that service the homes from the rear. Trashcans are accessed directly from their enclosures and never seen on the street. Rear-loading garages back up to the kitchen or pantry area, or are connected with breezeways to the kitchen area. Every house has a fenced garden with a garden gate at the rear where visitors arriving by automobile may call. There is also the option available to create a carriage house by putting an apartment over the garage. The entire development is built to encourage walking and biking, and reduce automobile usage. The average suburban household generates ten to twelve automobile trips per day. In a Pedestrian Village, this figure is cut dramatically as residents would feel comfortable moving about on pleasant, shaded lanes for dining out, recreation, visiting neighbors, or just taking a walk or bike ride. If all new housing developments were built as Pedestrian Villages, with thoughtful consideration of how the town merges with the countryside, the word “development” would cease to be an obscenity.
Anywhere where new subdivisions or new towns are being proposed can become Pedestrian Villages. It is also quite likely that local planning and zoning boards will be favorable to this attractive and sustainable form of development. A change in zoning to Pedestrian Village (PV) zoning across the country will be sought so that this form of development becomes the preferred method, instead of the current zoning and street patterns that perpetuate sprawl. Landowning interests desiring to have a new neighborhood or town designed using the Pedestrian Village model may contact me at (386) 956-1554 or through PedestrianVillages.com.
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