Saturday, March 28, 2009

Making Some (Small) Peace With "New Urbanists"

Sometimes in the grand struggle against all that is bad and annoying, you do need to make a little peace with folks that you instinctually do not trust. But because they dislike some of the things that you dislike, therefore causing you to find agreement with them on at least a limited amount of topics, you can begin to develop a kind of appreciation. And that is how I've come to feel about "New Urbanists." 

Now generally New Urbanists are a troubled bunch. They worship public transportation like it is the steel wheeled salvation of the world. They use hideous Orwellian terms like "Smart Growth" to describe the creeping soulless devastation that is high density development. They believe that people can find happiness living on small shelves in densely packed and overly planned deep urban neighborhoods. 

And, what is even worse, they want everyone to believe that cars are intrinsically evil. And I love cars. The faster and bigger the better. Suburban Assault Vehicles, sedans, sports cars, give me the keys and I'll drive 'em. Trust me, it will take some monumental global financial disaster to make me give up my automobile and ride the damned Metro. 

And  apparently New Urbanists not only ride public transportation, they even claim to love it. It is an almost fetishistic attachment to trains and buses that I find to be quite disturbing. But it is their life style choice, and as such it shouldn't be criticized too much I guess. 

So if you happen to be taking the Metro downtown, and you notice some guy grinning vacantly in the back of that light rail car, do not immediately assume he is an addict of some sort. No, he might actually be a New Urbanist blissed out on the virtue of earnest sacrifice. You see, to him it isn't that he's merely riding the 210 Trolly. No, he's both saving us all and moving briskly forward into a brave new world. A heady experience I'm sure.

So, you might ask, what is it that you find redeeming in these fellows? You just spent five entire paragraphs trashing them, where's the part where you say some good things?

I was reading an article entitleded Suburbia R.I.P. on a blog called Fast Company. It was basically the same old rubbish rehashed for the consumption of people who lap this stuff up like it's their addictive drug of choice.  You know, suburbs are sprawl, sprawl is bad, the price of gas will skyrocket, private transportation will become unaffordable, and everything outside of the city core will whither, die, and blow away. It is a form of invective that makes these guys feel all warm and fuzzy inside as they sit in their cramped, sunless slots reading this stuff.

And check out this example of logic in defiance of reason:

Cul-de-sac neighborhoods once filled with the sound of backyard barbecues and playing children are falling silent. Communities like Elk Grove, Calif., and Windy Ridge, N.C., are slowly turning into ghost towns with over grown lawns, vacant strip malls and squatters camping in empty homes. In Cleveland alone, one of every 13 houses is now vacant, according to an article published Sunday in The New York Times magazine."

Now having been to Cleveland, I would hardly categorize it as either a "cul-de-sac neighborhood" or a suburb. Quite the opposite, actually.

But then I came across a paragraph that made me feel a whole lot better about about things.

"So what's to become of all those leafy subdivisions with their Palladian detailing and tasteful signage? Already low or middle-income families priced out of cities and better neighborhoods are moving into McMansions divided for multi-family use. Alison Arieff, who blogs for the New York Times, visited one such tract mansion that was split into four units, or "quartets," each with its own entrance, which is not unlike what happened to many stately homes in the 1930s.  

Interesting. So let's think about this. What development of McMansions is currently being constructed here in our leafy little town? One Carter Estates, correct? The place where developers go to die, at least in the financial sense. And aren't the descriptions in the above paragraph an accurate portrayal of what is being built upside our hills? 

In the current economy houses that go for a million or two dollars are not moving very quickly. As a matter of fact the realty landscape is literally awash with expensive unsold properties that sit in near abandonment like so many beached whales. And will the fate of those oversize structures being built at One Carter be much different? I personally doubt it.

So wouldn't it be the height of irony that, should the One Carter McMansions prove to be commercially untenable, they will then be divided up into apartments? Inexpensive and affordable apartments? The kind of thing so sorely missing from Sierra Madre's housing mix?

Who knows, maybe once chopped up in that way they could be considered to be low income housing? And therefore helping to satisfy our state mandated quota for such things? Certainly not how Dorn Platz might have originally envisioned things turning out, which I guess would make this a good thing.

So is this part of town properly zoned for multiple family residences? If not, that process should start now. It's impossible to get too far ahead of this curve!


  1. This could all be very likely, Sir Eric.
    Look at that monstrosity in Monrovia, now having to be rented as apartments.
    Just imagine everyone.....had the big development crowd had their way in Sierra Madre, we would be looking at the same nightmare!

  2. Low income housing with stunning valley views? Not sure the realty folks will appreciate that kind of irony. The world is being turned on its head now, so who knows?

  3. I think the Congs should donate some of their downtown property to the stroller moms.
    They could start an "affordable" private school.

  4. The city should zone a small area of 1 Carter - right in the middle of each section for low income housing. This will probably ensure that mini mansions or any other homes will not be built on the surrounding properties. Who in their right mind would spend millions to build a custom home next to a low income housing project.

    Let the CONG Church provide low income housing on their residential sites instead of increasing the size of the monster campus. Aren't churches suppose to provide for the needy?

  5. 8:22

    Actually any income the church generates which is not related to being a church is called Non Related Business Income and is taxed according the the IRS. Since the church does not file a tax return, who know if everything is being reported properly. Therefore income from the rental of low income housing would be taxable at least as far as the IRS is concerned.

  6. Do me a favor? We can talk about the Congregational Church and their development plans on some of the other threads, but for this one that is a something very much off topic. Some of this is just bashing, and I'm asking that we move on a bit.

  7. I have spoken to a few couples who bought into the idea of living in refurbished building in LA and either walking or taking public transportation. The thought is was so "urban". They totally regret it. Their apartments are noisy. Sice the buuildings are historic the city forbid double pane glass in the windows and there is constant traffic 24 hours a day. The ciy has constant street closures due to events. Sometimes they are not even told of the event. The day before and the day of they can not get their car in or out of the garage. As for the Carter development...let's get the planning commission moving on how they figure floor area before another monster gets built.
    Give me Sierra Madre any day.

  8. Pasta - maybe things won't be so noisy there in the future. That is if LA tries to make something like this work:

    Amsterdam: Only Electric Vehicles by 2040

    Amsterdam is famous for being exceptionally bike-friendly, but now the city is hoping to become equally well-known for being electric car-friendly. The city has announced its plan to have no internal combustion engine cars in the city by 2040.

  9. Let's face carter has been a nightmare from day one ... wouldn't it be great it there was a park there? If only...

  10. The One Carter Estatelets?
    The Carter Co-ops?

  11. One Carter Mistakes.

  12. I always thought it should be called the Joffe-Buchanan-Torres-Stockley Estates, or maybe the StoJoBuchTor Disaster Area Estates.

  13. When, and, if the homes are built, through proper marketing to the appropriate demographic, either here in the US or overseas, they will sell.OR, Keep the UUT, create a war chest and buy the developers out. what are the alternatives?

  14. How are those casinos working out for you, Donald?

  15. Yes, the appropriate demographic. Sierra Madre's very own multi-millionaire enclave - should fit well with the rest of the town.

  16. "And I love cars. The faster and bigger the better. Suburban Assault Vehicles, sedans, sports cars, give me the keys and I'll drive 'em. Trust me, it will take some monumental global financial disaster to make me give up my automobile and ride the damned Metro. "

    Again, making a total fool of yourself. Do you have any clue how many more ppi of carcinogens waft away from a cubic inch of your car fumes than do from the average smoker? All your talk about public health can be shown, right here in this statement, to be a "mountain range" of lies and obfuscations. If you cared one whit for the public health, you would want to ban cars in Sierra Madre and *require* people to ride safe, clean, efficient public transport in and out of the city. Instead, what we see here is the attitude that you have the right -- the RIGHT -- to pollute our air with your car for no reason beyond your own enjoyment. Does that sound familiar, or at all like what you accused the smokers of?

  17. Josh, weren't you going to leave town?

  18. Hopefully he leaves by public transportation and not in his dad's car.