Archive for the ‘New Urbanism’ Category

In a previous post I wrote long before the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) revealed its plans to rebuild the interstate that runs through downtown Birmingham, I suggested that the highway was destructive to the inner city and should be torn down and replaced with a boulevard, a trend pursued successfully in other cities around the country.   I found this article today that I would like to share with you:


The writer, Mark Kelly points out that the main reason this highway is so destructive is the ALDOT mindset that downtown Birmingham is an obstacle to traffic flow rather than a destination. This was true when it was first built 40 years ago and is still true today. So, ALDOT is proposing to rebuild a bad idea!

Since there is an alternative bypass around the city (Interstate 459) and plans to build a northern route for this, I and several others feel that we have a great opportunity to reinforce downtown as a destination rather than an obstacle by tearing down this eyesore.

There are also alternative ways this interstate highway could be rerouted around north Birmingham since the northern bypass is decades away and faces its own opposition.

There is considerable local opposition to ALDOT”s plans. Here is just one article I have found

Residents Upset by Plan for I-20/59 Redesign through Downtown Birmingham

If you agree that more time should be spent studying alternatives, you can find a petition here.



I plan to watch this with a skeptical eye.

I agree there are serious environmental and social problems associated with suburbanization, but I do not agree that the automobile as a means of transportation is unsustainable. IMHO, we need to simply stop government subsidization and promotion of cars and urban sprawl and let the market decide the fate of the automobile.

The utility of the automobile, SUV and pickup truck is not easily replaced, especially by mass transit. A free market will not run out of energy and will find substitutes for oil should it become scarce and thus more expensive. Or you can make it scarce by making it  illegal or taxing and regulating it out of existence.  Is that consistant with a free society?

Finally, the economy of scale and inexpensive goods found in big box retail are here to stay as well. The corner grocery store with its limited range of items is nostalgic, but expensive. It will return en-mass only if forced on us.

I also believe land planning needs to be a local and state driven process, not dictated by the Feds. I can almost take bets on what position this program this take!

Enjoy. No doubt there will be some value in this program to make it worth watching. Just don’t suspend your brain.



This is the second of two articles I have seen recently that claim that, although many central cities (like Birmingham) are loosing population overall, many are seeing residential growth in their inner urban cores, demonstrating a growing attractiveness of the urban lifestyle. » Downtowns Are Back, and They’re Bringing Central Neighborhoods Along.

I am looking for evidence of this in Birmingham in the recent census data, but have so far not been able to find a database that allows me to compare the population of different neighborhoods in Birmingham. If anyone knows of such a data base, please let me know.


Do tall buildings and high density make for a better city? Read this and let me know what you think?


Let cities reach for the sky – The Globe and Mail.


According to an EPA study, homes in smart growth communities enjoy better resale value than your typical suburban home.  This is consistent with studies that show that homes in older traditional neighborhoods of our cities also have held their own better than suburban sprawl neighborhoods during the recent housing downturn. See article here:

EPA: Smart Growth Developments Enjoy Stronger Resale Appreciation.

This makes sense if you think about it. Smart growth neighborhoods and traditional neighborhoods just feel better as an environment that fosters more community. When you can walk to the store, you are less likely to use your car, and more likely to encounter your neighbors.

Visit a local traditional neighborhood like Edgewood in Homewood, here in the Birmingham metro and take a walk around. You will quickly see what I mean!


Here is a great example of how Federal Policy has encouraged sprawl and discouraged the mixed use development that used to be so common in our communities:

CNU and NTBA’s Reform of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and related housing programs | Congress for the New Urbanism.


Kaid  Benfield proposes an update of smart growth principles for the 21st century in his blog:

Smart growth principles for the 21st century | Kaid Benfield’s Blog | Switchboard, from NRDC.

Here are the updated principals he recommends (Photos are from his blog as well-place cursor over image for photo credit):

  1. Foster neighborhoods hospitable to residents with a range of incomes, ages and abilities.
  2. I'On, Mount Pleasant SC (by: I'On Village)Enhance, create and maintain communities that encourage healthy living.
  3. Provide walkable access to shops, amenities, and services, including good schools, healthy food, and parks.
  4. Accommodate and provide a variety of convenient, safe, affordable and efficient transportation choices.
  5. Respect nature, integrating natural areas and systems into regional planning and neighborhood design.
  6. Identify, respect and enhance the strengths and character of existing communities.
  7. Keep regional footprints small and discernible, limiting the encroachment of new development onto natural and rural land.
  8. WHigh Point Hope VI housing, Seattle (by: Michael Wolcott, creative commons license)hen constructing new development, use land efficiently, with design appropriate to the context.
  9. Encourage collaboration in planning and development that leads to predictable, fair decisions that benefit all stakeholders.
  10. Take advantage of resource-efficient design, development and management practices.

I support these goals and look for opportunities to put them in practice. The trick is how to do it in a way that works with free market principles, consistent with the values of a free society. I think the key there is look at the subsidies, government policies and zoning laws  that foster, encourage and in many cases mandate urban sprawl and eliminate or update them. We have seen some progress in this approach lately in the Birmingham Metro area lately, in both Jefferson and Shelby counties, but many bad laws still remain on the books. Many of these goals can be met organically as our cities grow if we just get rid of bad policies.

After all, aren’t the traditional neighborhoods we like so much the result of free organic growth occurring before the automobile took over, rather than top down directives?  Let’s not forget that or we could end up with built  urban environments that are just as much a failure at satisfying our needs as our pro-sprawl past.