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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

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It certainly helps when people point me to articles that I need to read and link to. The second offering today is from Ron Richings (that’s two I owe him for) and is about “demographic inversion’. It is in the New Republic and is by  Alan Ehrenhalt who has been watching Chicago change. And he cites Chris Leinberger and Jane Jacobs – two sources often cited here too.

Once upon a time cities grew as people grew more prosperous and moved out to the suburbs. The gentry of course always had their country places as well as the house in town, but the industrial revolution not only made a lot more people wealthier, it i also made cities less habitable for those who could afford to move. The real crunch for most people was the journey to work, which was mostly a walk. and not unusually much longer than we would contemplate. The mechanisation fo transport changed that. Omnibuses first, then trains, streetcars and interurbans all made a 30 minute commute much longer in distance that could be covered twice a day. Suburban development got going long before the car became common. But the post war sprawling suburb was very much the creation of mass car ownership and the freeway.

In Vancouver we saw that change, when we decided not to build the downtown freeway – and allowed condos to start competing for downtown space with office towers. We were slightly ahead of the curve – but places like Toronto and Johannesburg also – for quite different reasons – kept a livable, desirable core, and had large low income suburban housing. So did many cities in Britain – where the suburbs were divided almost equally between private sector built owner occupation and the council estates. Some of these edge estates once sold into private ownership still flourish – others have become “sinks” of despair and social unrest.

The US is beginning to see a change as the inner city – once shorthand for “social  problems” – has been “gentrified”. The better off are moving back in for an urban lifestyle: and lower car ownership. And I may be wrong, but I seem to recall seeing other articles suggesting that the current collapse in US house prices is much worse in the outer suburbs, not just from the mortgage issues but also gas prices. And it is much worse in some cities than others.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 6, 2008 at 12:43 pm

Posted in Urban Planning

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