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May 26, 2009



But even Andres Duany has said of O'Toole that he gets at least as much right as he gets wrong, so I wouldn't dismiss him that easily. I've read his books, and although I don't agree with him on everything, I do agree with him on some things, such as the need for flexibility over dogmatism (ironically, the opposite of what you criticize him for).

I have some pro-transit, pro-smart growth sympathies. I also have some "pro-sprawl" sympathies.

Smart growthers need to do a better job of asking (and then providing answers for) the questions, "If sprawl is that bad, why would anyone choose to live there?" and then, "How can we get the advantages of sprawl without the disadvantages?" In other words, instead of talking about what people "should" want, find out what they do want and then figure out ways to make that more environmentally sound.

John Michlig

Ah, the most common of comments I get: "If sprawl is that bad, why would anyone choose to live there?"

(A question, by the way, that raises the issue of whether something is not harmful or detrimental simply because it seems appealing to a particular person of group.)

Let me begin by saying that I’m not a person that believes the suburbs should be razed or abandoned. I honestly believe that there are steps that can be taken to improve the choices available in suburbs while making them far, far more economically (and environmentally) sustainable. In other words, "How can we get the advantages of sprawl without the disadvantages?"

Also, it doesn't help when some "New Urbanists" look down their noses at people who prefer to live outside a central city. There is a middle ground; no need to be dogmatic in the other direction.

With that said, I can also tell you that, from my close study of the development and planning process here and in suburbs across the country, the system is obviously broken. In a society where people PAY to go to “home shows” where builders and developers tell us what we “want,” who is deciding what a house should or could be? Builders say: “We just build what people [the market] dictates.” I know they are being disingenuous at best.

Entire books (and dozens of posts on this website) have been written about the non-intuitive nature of city planning. It is nearly impossible for a home buyer to independently perceive the macro sociological and economical consequences of curvilinear subdivisions, single-use zoning, the abandonment of the street grid, non-walkable neighborhoods, edge-city commercial superzones, etc. We just want a safe home. The other stuff, we falsely believe, will take care of itself.

It doesn’t.

We now know what a great number of people want, and they have responded enthusiastically to to traditional neighborhood developments and transit-oriented developments. To offer those choices - CHOICES - here in Franklin and other suburbs, however, means changing the way the city and its zoning regulations work.

Here’s the important thing: Providing the means to widen our CHOICES does NOT impede the ability of someone who is happy with the status quo to continue enjoying it.

If you have the patience, the answers (and more questions) are on this site and in the books recommended to the right.

As for O'Toole: Being half-right does not make his paid lobbying any more palatable.

John Michlig

Correction: Book recommendations are on the LEFT. :)

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