What to do with America’s suburbs? That is a pressing question these days. The high cost of maintaining the lifestyle that suburbs have grown accustomed to is straining municipal budgets. Low suburban density, strict separation of uses, high infrastructure costs, and automobile dependency produce little tax revenue in return to help pay for its upkeep. Making matters worse, poverty rates are climbing faster in the suburbs than in the Cities. The inevitable rise in gas prices may be the punch that does suburbia in as the ultimate failed 20th century experiment.
One Paseo in Carmel Valley is being proposed as a possible answer to the suburban question. Others would argue, however, that One Paseo is an urban development being dropped into a suburban neighborhood, much like Dorothy’s house dropped into Munchkinland.
I believe One Paseo has many good qualities, among them being a good mixture of uses, higher densities, attention to placemaking, and a focus on pedestrians. I doubt it will be the carmageddon or the destroyer of community character that its distractors claim. Once inside the development, it may be a very nice place to be. Once inside (and that’s the catch).
However, I do have a problem with the way One Paseo is being marketed to the public. One Paseo is being marketed as Carmel Valley’s village center – a walkable, livable, sustainable place where residents live, work, and play. It is promised that One Paseo will finally give Carmel Valley it’s long awaited Main Street, an identity and a town center where all of Carmel Valley can gather. The promotional literature for One Paseo says it best: “One Paseo would finally complete our shared vision for Carmel Valley and enhance the quality of life for everyone.” (original emphasis)
I prefer to call One Paseo what it really is; A Lifestyle Center on steroids. Let’s take a good look at the what One Paseo claims to be.
Walkable? Bike Friendly? Transit? Can’t get there from here:
Fact: Most Carmel Valley Residents will need to (and want to) drive to One Paseo.
Fact: Walking to One Paseo from surrounding neighborhoods is difficult, or at best, a long, very unpleasant walk.
Fact: Bicycling to One Paseo is also discouraged by the high volume, high speed 6 lane roads that bicycles must navigate. Even though bicycle lanes are provided, only the most experienced cyclists would brave these conditions. Would you let your children ride on these roads?
Fact: Public transit: There is no public transit to One Paseo, and there may not be for years. While Bus Rapid Transit stops are planned in the future, they are not scheduled to be operational until 2030.
Fact: Work/Live/Play: People who work at One Paseo will most likely not live at One Paseo. People who work at One Paseo will drive there, and people who live at One Paseo will drive to work elsewhere.
Why is it that I make these claims? To understand, it’s necessary to take a look at Carmel Valley’s development pattern.
Islands in a Sea (of cars)
Carmel Valley, like most suburban developments, is divided into large, disconnected subdivisions – “islands”. One Paseo is just another one of these development “islands” that make up Carmel Valley. These island developments are self-contained, and the streets of one development rarely connect to the streets in adjacent developments. These islands are surrounded by wide, high volume, high speed “rivers” of cars that funnel cars to other “islands” for shopping, working, and on to larger roads and freeways.
By contrast, the traditional town is laid out in a grid of highly connected streets. Walking between neighborhoods is easy, direct, and pleasant.
The Island of One Paseo:
One Paseo is no different. It too is an island surrounded by rivers of cars, acres of parking lots, and disconnected subdivisions. The design of One Paseo continues this suburban tradition by not connecting its streets to any adjacent developments.
Walkable / Pedestrian Oriented / Sustainable:
One Paseo’s promotional literature claims that the project is “specifically designed to reduce automobile dependance” … and “can potentially reduce car trips by as much as 40%”. How will this be achieved? It will be achieved because One Paseo allows people to “Live, work and play in close proximity”.
Walking to One Paseo would be nearly impossible, even for the person who lives directly across the street. Because there are no connecting roads, a person living across the street must walk 3/4 mile to get from her house to One Paseo. Furthermore, the walk is along a busy, high traffic road, with no buildings fronting the street to capture the interest or attention of the pedestrian. The walk, if taken at all, would be very unpleasant.
As proof of One Paseo’s commitment to the automobile, developers have promised to implement over $6 million in improvements for automobile traffic. This includes road widening and a light synchronization program which promises to INCREASE traffic flow efficiency by 15%-30%. Likewise, One Paseo boasts that it is providing “free and ample retail parking”. Some 3,650 new parking spaces will be added. There are no similar million dollar improvements that prioritize pedestrians, bicycles, or transit.
Live, Work, Play:
One of the ways One Paseo hopes to reduce automobile trips by “up to 40%” is by providing a live/work environment. Ideally, the people who live at One Paseo will also work and shop at One Paseo, making car trips less necessary.
Will this live/work condition work? Will the check-out clerks and stockers who work at Traders Joe’s be able to live at One Paseo? How about the retail clerks, the restaurant waiters, the cinema employees, the landscape maintenance, security workers, or janitors? Will they live at One Paseo?
Will the shops be local, or national chains? Will you see Panera Bread, or Joe’s Subs? The organic quality that gives a real Main Street it’s character cannot be built overnight. That happens over time. More than likely, this main street will resemble UTC or Fashion Valley Mall with cars.
One Paseo is providing 500,000 SF of commercial office space, but there is no guarantee that the people who live at One Paseo will work at One Paseo. Most people probably will not.
Main Street Carmel Valley:
Instead of connecting the community and serving as a downtown/Main Street, One Paseo will be a destination – not unlike a mall – that people will drive to for shopping, eating, entertainment and work. It is not connected physically or by design to the rest of Carmel Valley. Its form, density, and design is so incongruous with the existing community that the belief that One Paseo will be the unifying “shared vision” of Carmel Valley is a delusion. Its design is as disconnected as its streets.
Should this stop One Paseo from going forward? No. It’s clear we cannot continue the traditional suburban development pattern. One Paseo offers a possible solution to the suburban question by urbanizing in place.
However, One Paseo’s marketing of faux urbanism is doing a disservice to all who believe in cities, in good urbanism, in pedestrian oriented development, and in economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable place-making. Make no mistake, One Paseo is an automobile dependent, suburban development that is out of character with its surrounding community. It is a Lifestyle Center, not a connected urban neighborhood. It has more in common with UTC than Hillcrest.
One Paseo has been endorsed by some of San Diego’s best alternative transportation organizations, all of which I have great respect for. Looking at One Paseo in isolation, and not as a part of a whole Carmel Valley, one can understand its appeal as a pedestrian friendly, mixed-use development. But looking at One Paseo in isolation is like a cardiologist pronouncing your heart is healthy, while ignoring the disease killing the rest of the body.
The real issue is not One Paseo, but Carmel Valley. Connecting the isolated “island” neighborhoods, taming its bloated roads, and finding a way to end its automobile dependency are the issues Carmel Valley must eventually address. Once that has happened, projects like One Paseo will make more sense and will be much more appreciated.