As I see it, modern urban planning seems to be divided into two camps: Those that want to bring people to places, and those that want to bring places to people.
The people to places group seems to be concerned with moving people from place to place via efficient transportation. Fortunately, I think most planners these days realize that the freeway and road system solution has been played out, so the focus of this group seems to be on alternate, environmentally friendly transportation. This group is behind transit centers with parking garages, TOD (Transit Oriented Development.) rail, BRT, expanded bus service, and regional transportation infrastructure. I assume that this group looks at our post WWII development and sees the need to get people from home to work to shops and back, (i.e. from place to place to place).
The places to people group is concerned with bringing the places to people without transporting people significant distances. This group advocates putting work and shops close to home so that only short trips are required, and walking and bicycling are realistic alternatives. The need to travel from place to place is greatly diminished since the places that people need are close by. In this scenario, rail and freeways are only used to get from one self-contained place to another self-contained place.
Do the two groups intermix? Of course. And both express an admirable concern with sustainability, the environment, and making life better for people. However, the primary focus of each group is different. The difference is Mobility.
Mobility is Good
Mobility is the engine of America’s economy – the strongest in the world. First railroads, and then freeways made moving natural resources and finished goods fast, efficient, inexpensive and easy. Mobility has made it easy for workers to move to where jobs are located. Mobility has given people the freedom of choice, therefore increasing creativity and innovation.
If it’s good, more must be better!
Yet at some point, there is a diminishing return on the hyper-mobility we now have. While the fast and efficient movement of goods and services is beneficial, making numerous daily car trips to the grocery store, to school, to work, to soccer practice, to dinner, to the dry cleaner, and back home is not. In fact, this hyper-mobility is harmful to our health, to the economy, and to the planet.
For all the talk of a “city of villages”, the San Diego General Plan still relies on the post-WWII pattern of development and the failed system of zoning that separates uses. Chances are, if you live in Uptown, you’ll need to commute to North County for your job. Likewise, SANDAG is almost singularly focused on moving people around the county via expanded and “improved” transportation systems. San Diego is still focused on moving people from place to place to place.
San Diego needs to refocus and rethink mobility, and reduce the hyper mobility that diminishes the entire system. In other words, we need to stop moving people around so much. How?
The Planning Department (oops – I mean Development Services), must refocus on making a real city of villages. Adopting a Form Based Code would be a huge step forward, but at least significant deregulation of the current zoning laws would help. We must allow people to shop, work, and live in the same “village”. As our Community Plans are being updated, communities must demand this type of development of The City.
Transportation groups and SANDAG must refocus on extensive local transportation, and not on massive regional transportation projects. Short trips within communities, expanded local bus service, local bicycle infrastructure, and moving people within their communities without cars must be the focus. Regional transportation should only focus on limited stop, fast transit from village center to village center.
Development must refocus on creating dense, urban villages. San Diego needs to make this easier, and reduce the long, contentious, arduous, and expensive process now required to build dense, urban infill. And if you are reading this and still think density means skyscrapers – well, get a life. Sorry … but really, get a life and stop fear mongering your neighbors. Learn about density.
Since WWII, we have built a world that requires people to go from place to place to place via automobile. Now that the automobile has been mostly played out, the focus in San Diego is still on moving people from place to place to place — only now via public transit and alternative transportation. But this plan doesn’t address the real issue – the post WWII pattern of development that requires hyper-mobility, and that is harming our health, our economy, and our planet. The solution is less non-productive mobility created by allowing people to live, work, shop, and play within their own communities. The way we build and the way we approach transportation needs to change radically and refocus on local communities first and on reducing mobility.