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Old 11-16-2014, 12:33 PM
 
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Whenever we discuss density on this forum, it always seems like our only options are either rowhomes and highrises or sprawled-out McMansions. Arguments against urbanism on this forum often are critical of environments like this where everyone is "packed in like sardines." Frankly, I totally understand that-rowhome and apartment-type settings are crowded, and they are certainly not for everyone, only those who really, really want to live close to or in a certain area. In otherwords, they're great if you have very little land and a lot of demand, but that's usually not the case outside San Francisco, DC, NYC, Boston, or other similar cities. However, this kind of built environment isn't even close to being the most common type of urban development for US cities. I feel like both urban opponents and proponents ignore moderate-density urban environments (think streetcar suburbs). This kind of development is frankly the most common type of housing in all cities, so it's not like these aren't common-it is the typical urban environment for all cities not on the East Coast or in San Francisco. Why don't we pay attention to built environments like this, or this, or this, or this, or this, or this? Notice that not only are these all single-family homes, very well spaced apart (not "packed like hamsters"), and they come with good-sized lots and yards, but they also are in very walkable, urban environments that are amicable to mass-transit development. And some of those homes even have space for driveways and garages! It's the best of both worlds. Why are we as a forum not giving built environments like these more attention, and why are developers not building more infill like this?
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Old 11-16-2014, 01:46 PM
 
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The examples you linked to look like pretty typical carcentric suburban neighborhoods to me.

Not sure what makes them so amazingly walkable in your view or why you think they are ideal.
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Old 11-16-2014, 03:03 PM
 
Location: Portland, Oregon
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This is my idea of perfect density, which would probably fall into the classification of medium density. It has a density rating of about 8-10K per mile, not too crowded, but not too light in density. Here.
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Old 11-16-2014, 04:01 PM
 
Location: Canada
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I think talk of built form can often be very local. What you posted wouldn't count as medium density in lots of cities, and context around it matters. I think you're posting with thoughts about how more of this could benefit your city, St. Louis. So how would you build more of this stuff, knock down big old houses and double up with 2 houses in a patchwork fashion? That's what's happening in single family neighbourhoods around DT Calgary. I think a key here is that these neighbourhoods need to be near areas with retail and jobs, real urban areas, to make any sense. All they have is residences, so unless you can walk to somewhere not like that they're not any different functionally then McMansions. Building that stuff that makes this purely residential "medium density" viable, where people don't necessarily need cars, is the key, so I think that's why we concentrate on it. This can grow up around it, but on it's own it could make things worse. Out in the suburbs I'd rather have a big driveway and less traffic from lower density if my house was miles from anything, because this stuff is useless if there's nothing nearby to provide the urban lifestyle that it implies.

Last edited by BIMBAM; 11-16-2014 at 04:19 PM..
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Old 11-16-2014, 04:28 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cisco kid View Post
The examples you linked to look like pretty typical carcentric suburban neighborhoods to me.

Not sure what makes them so amazingly walkable in your view or why you think they are ideal.
Uh, no, they were all built prewar before the rise of autocentric development, so they are not carcentric. What makes them ideal is their balance between space and automobile convenience, and dense, walkable urbanism. It's in that sweet spot that appeals to everyone who isn't heavily skewed one way or the other for preferred density, which is most people. I'll call it "Goldilocks Development"-it's just right.
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Old 11-16-2014, 04:59 PM
 
Location: Portland, Oregon
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OuttaTheLouBurbs View Post
Uh, no, they were all built prewar before the rise of autocentric development, so they are not carcentric. What makes them ideal is their balance between space and automobile convenience, and dense, walkable urbanism. It's in that sweet spot that appeals to everyone who isn't heavily skewed one way or the other for preferred density, which is most people. I'll call it "Goldilocks Development"-it's just right.
That is probably a subjective term because each one of the places you linked looked a little too suburban for that right balance of density. Not saying any of those neighborhoods were bad, actually the opposite, they all looked like very pleasant single family neighborhoods that one would want to live in. But I think the "Goldilocks Density" would be something a bit more dense with a mixture of single family homes, townhouses, and apartments.
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Old 11-16-2014, 05:06 PM
 
Location: Youngstown, Oh.
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I happen to agree that this is a good middle-ground for density. But BIMBAM makes a good point about context. These neighborhoods, whether old or new, need to be walkable to a vibrant commercial district.
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Old 11-16-2014, 05:08 PM
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Location: Long Island / NYC
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OuttaTheLouBurbs View Post
Uh, no, they were all built prewar before the rise of autocentric development, so they are not carcentric. What makes them ideal is their balance between space and automobile convenience, and dense, walkable urbanism. It's in that sweet spot that appeals to everyone who isn't heavily skewed one way or the other for preferred density, which is most people. I'll call it "Goldilocks Development"-it's just right.
That doesn't follow. If it was built before cars but rather low density, the selection of neighborhood retail may have been small, originally, requiring people to take a streetcar ride away. Transit may have dried up, shops moved elsewhere. Just right is subjective.

I'm not sure if moderate density as you define it gets ignored, I've seen lots of posts on "streetcar suburbs" which usually refer to something like your examples.
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Old 11-16-2014, 05:46 PM
 
Location: Youngstown, Oh.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nei View Post
That doesn't follow. If it was built before cars but rather low density, the selection of neighborhood retail may have been small, originally, requiring people to take a streetcar ride away. Transit may have dried up, shops moved elsewhere. Just right is subjective.

I'm not sure if moderate density as you define it gets ignored, I've seen lots of posts on "streetcar suburbs" which usually refer to something like your examples.
I think that the examples of "rather low density" in the OP are quite typical of the kind of older development found in most small and midsize cities that aren't in the NE. In Youngstown, for example, almost everything built before WWII, that wasn't downtown, was similar in density to the examples provided. But, there were many commercial corridors, ensuring that no one was more than a 1/2 mile away from one.

However, instead of having 2 adults and 3+ kids in each of these homes, we now have singles, childless couples, empty-nesters, etc.. The population density may not be high enough to support that much retail and public transit, today.
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Old 11-16-2014, 06:40 PM
 
Location: Thunder Bay, ON
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It's fine to have small towns predominantly at those densities, because they're small enough that you can walk from the edge to the core, but if you want a city to be big enough to benefit from the benefits of agglomeration while avoiding being overly auto oriented I think you need higher densities. I would say that today, you can achieve those goals with those kinds of densities (SFHs on about 1/8 acre lots) with a city of about 10,000 people like Nelson, BC, but beyond that you'd probably want a bit higher densities.

The examples you linked are mostly of much larger cities, but first of all, those neighbourhoods were built mostly before cars were widespread, and probably built around a streetcar. Most of those cities would have had employment and a lot of the services and shops concentrated downtown. You'd still have a few shops and a bit of industry further out in these neighbourhoods, but much of the workplaces and shopping was probably still done downtown.

I think what you had was a downtown and a radial streetcar network influencing each other in a virtuous cycle of sorts. Because the streetcar routes all converged onto downtown, downtown was by far the part of the city best served by transit, so any employer or business owner that relied on a large catchment area for workers or customers didn't really have any alternative but to locate downtown. As a result, the concentration of jobs and businesses downtown increased and got very denser, even small cities would have had mid rises and very high ground coverage. This reinforced the importance of having streetcar routes connecting residents to downtown and reduced the need for streetcars to go anywhere else.

Concentrating all these businesses downtown meant building at high densities, which was somewhat expensive compared to typical 1-2 storey construction. Streetcars didn't have any competition from cars back then either. Once cars got into the mix, fewer people used them since cars could be more convenient, streetcar frequencies dropped, streetcars got caught in congestion, there was more downtown demand for parking and greater viability for decentralized employment and retail, which also allowed infrastructure to be used more efficiently in the sense that traffic wasn't as unidirectional towards downtown. Even if streetcars were given their own rights of way, parking requirements were not implemented and highways and roads were paid fully for with tolls/gas taxes, you probably would have seen a shift towards decentralization and at least somewhat more auto-orientation.

As a result, cities start to need a less radial and more grid-like transit system, and higher densities to maintain the same transit frequencies. You also need higher densities to counter the effect where once people are in their cars, they're likely to also get to other destinations along the way by car, like stopping at the shopping centre for groceries on the way back from work.

The streetcar suburb examples given seem to have had their streetcar retail strip experience decline, sometimes the walkability has decreased very significantly like the Birmingham example which is just a few blocks of houses surrounded by several blocks of vacant lots. Also, many of these neighbourhoods are benefitting from having more retail and employment nearby than can be supported by local residents, usually within a couple miles of downtown, if not closer, which draws in employees from much further away by transit and car. If you tried to build a city (the same size as those in the examples, i.e. 1-4 million people) entirely at those densities, the average neighbourhood might be more like 5 or 10 or even 15 miles from downtown, and at those distances, the kind of transit neighbourhoods of such density could support (mostly local bus) would be too slow for such a distance, taking maybe an hour to get to downtown, maybe even a bit more.
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