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“New Urbanism” is pushing back against Automobile-Centered City Planning

Change and the desire for real change in the design of our urban areas are beginning to gather momentum.

In the beginning of the 20th century neighborhoods consisted of a mix of housing types and uses. Commercial uses were mixed with residential uses. These old neighborhoods were designed for social interactions and for pedestrian traffic and for easy accessibility to goods and services needed by the residents.

Most people who lived in urban areas walked to work or took the streetcar. They were connected to the neighbors and the neighborhood in which they lived.

After World War II a new system of development was begun nationwide. The assumption became that everyone would drive a car to get to wherever they were going and thus began what is referred to today as “suburban sprawl” or sometimes the term is just “sprawl.”

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Urban Areas Vary from City to City

Older cities developed close to their peak population prior to World War II seem to be not as severely affected by automobile-centered planning as those urban areas that experienced most of their growth after World War II. Minneapolis is one of those cities that did most of its growing prior to World War II.  Suburbs such as St. Louis Park, Bloomington, etc. of course blossomed following World War II, but not so much the city of Minneapolis. Minneapolis has a population almost twice that of Garland, yet it has the feeling of a much smaller city because it is so much better connected. The city proper is tied to the old way of developing neighborhoods.

Minneapolis, MN

I lived in Minneapolis from 1968 to 1988—in two urban areas: the Kenwood area and then later in the Uptown area. These are real neighborhoods with small and large grocery stores, large old homes, apartment buildings, apartments over commercial buildings, drug stores, cleaners, restaurants, bars, libraries, hair salons, doctor’s officers and office services all within walking distance of the homes in the neighborhood.

The Uptown area where I lived my other ten years in Minneapolis is like a small village. Just about everything I needed or wanted was no more than a four-block walk from my home. Furthermore, if I wanted to go to a great art museum, The Walker, all I had to do was walk half a block, get on a city bus (that ran every 10 or 15 minutes) and in about 15 minutes I would be dropped off at its front door. If I wanted to go downtown to shop at any of the numerous stores located downtown and also in the warehouse district--again all I needed to do was to get on a city bus and I would be down town in no more than 20 minutes.

Minneapolis is abundantly rich in water. Within the city limits it has twenty lakes and wetlands, the Mississippi River, creeks and waterfalls—most of which are connected by parkways. Once again most of the people who live in Minneapolis live within walking distance of one of these lovely examples of nature—nearly all of which are popular swimming holes for the neighborhood in which they are located.

As a business and procedure analyst I took the bus downtown to meet with clients—nearly all of whom had offices down town. It was very convenient. I rarely drove my car. But even more important than the convenience were the social element of the neighborhood and the sense of being connected and belonging to people and to nature. I knew the people by name in the cluster of shops within walking distance of my home as well as many of their regular customers. We even had a few neighborhood characters—just as we did in the small town in West Texas where I grew up. I lived in a village within the city, yet my village was connected to the larger city. I knew the butcher from whom I bought my meat. I felt grounded and secure, a sense of neighborhood, connection and belonging.

Huntington Beach, CA

Then in 1988 I moved to the west coast to Huntington Beach, a beach city south of Los Angeles about 40 miles. The weather was great and the ocean even greater. In fact, were it not for my attraction to the ocean, I probably would have returned to Minneapolis within the year. The ocean was within walking distance (three blocks) from my home. It is a great and special connector to all of humanity for me. I could go there and swim or even just stand at the edge of the sand with the water of the Pacific lapping at my toes and feel connected to that comforting feeling that life will continue long after I am gone. I would remember that the water touching me had touched millions of people all over the world and creatures as well. The ocean is a great comforter and connector to the world, the past the present and the future.

Other than the ocean, there is no center, no connecting heart to this city or any city along the coast that I could sense. Everything and everyone seem to be busily speeding by, lost to a sense of the present moment while living in the future of their next destination. For the first few months I felt lost and hopeless—sad that I had sold my home in Minneapolis. Sad that I was now living in a place that seemed to have no heart or soul. But gradually the ocean became my community and the place I visited daily for solace.

Like most everyone else, I had to get on the 405 and often spend over an hour to travel to work—just as many people in the DFW area get on one of the Interstates or toll roads to get to work every day. You get used to it and eventually lose the sense of how disconnected you have become from other people who live right next door to you. Your world becomes more tightly circumscribed and limited to a few people and one loses sight of the bleakness of this disconnected existence.

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New Urbanism Is Arriving in Garland and other Urban areas across the USA

New Urbanism is a trend that is still in its infancy in the USA. According to Robert Steuteville, editor of Better Cities & Towns, www.bettercities.net, New Urbanism is a growing movement of architects, planners and developers who believe that a return to traditional neighborhood patterns is essential to restoring functional, sustainable communities.

One of the more obvious early beginnings of the arrival of New Urbanism in Garland was heralded in 2008 with the construction of the mixed-use development of Oaks Fifth Street Crossing near Garland’s DART rail system. It continues today with additions of mixed-use development units being built in the area of the new Garland City Hall construction.

A Community Blackboard in Downtown Garland

Other smaller yet important evidences of creeping New Urbanism and its elements of a more social, human-interacting community-minded environment can be seen in the Garland public blackboard. In the fall of 2014, the Garland Youth Commission engineered the creation of this blackboard. It is located on the State Street side of the Garland Civic Theatre building at the corner of Fifth Street. Lucas Cerevellini, a Garland resident who formerly taught art in Argentina was the first artist to display his work on the blackboard. People are encouraged to write and draw on the blackboard.

 

507 State Street--a Happening Space in Downtown Garland since November of 2014

Just across the street from the blackboard is 507 State Street—an innovative and creative happening space that is a burned out building on our downtown square. November 8, 2014 from noon to five Garland’s first pop-up food truck patio was launched with Rock and Roll Tacos, Steel City Popsicles, and Intrinsic Brewing’s craft sodas and beers. Since that time several functions, including a Ground Hog Day event, have been held in that space. Downtown Garland Business Association member Robert Smith and owner of the 507 State Street space, is the driving force behind these examples of creative New Urbanism in Garland.

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Authentic Neighborhoods—What do they look like?

Town planners Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk (www.dpsz.com )believe that an authentic neighborhood contains most of these elements:

1. The neighborhood has a discernible center. This is often a square of a green, and sometimes a busy or memorable street corner. A transit stop would be located at this center.

2. Most of the dwellings are within a five-minute walk of the center, an average of roughly 2,000 feet.

3. There is a variety of dwelling types usually houses, row houses and apartments so that younger and older people, singles and families, the poor and the wealthy may find places to live.

4. There are shops and offices at the edge of the neighborhood, of sufficiently varies types to supply the weekly needs of a household.

5. A small ancillary building is permitted within the backyard of each house. It may be used as a rental unit or place to work (e.g. office or craft workshop).

6. An elementary school is close enough so that most children can walk from their home.

7. There are small playgrounds near every dwelling not more than a tenth of a mile away.

8. The streets within the neighborhood are a connected network, providing a variety of pedestrian and vehicular routes to any destination, which disperses traffic.

9. The streets are relatively narrow and shaded by rows of trees. This slows traffic, creating an environment suitable for pedestrians and bicycles.

10. Buildings in the neighborhood center are placed close to the street, creating a strong sense of place.

11. Parking lots and garage doors rarely front the street. Parking is relegated to the rear of buildings, usually accessed by alleys.

12. Certain prominent sites at the termination of street vistas or in the neighborhood center are reserved for civic buildings. These provide sites for community meetings, education, religion or cultural activities.

13. The neighborhood is organized to be self-governing. A formal association debates and decides matters of maintenance, security and physical change.

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A Neglected Commercial Area Near Downtown Garland Could Become More Walkable and Connected to the Downtown Square.

There is movement toward creating a plan to make the stretch of Main Street from the railroad tracks in front of Roaches eastward to the tri-corner of 78/First/Main walkable. Currently there are no sidewalks on either side of this stretch of Main Street.

Typically what happens when such ideas bubble to the surface is that a committee is appointed by government officials to “study” the idea for about two years, then another three to five years are spent in hashing out a budget for the project and then figuring out how/who will pay for it. Finally about five to ten years later, part of the project may be implemented. Sorry for the cynicism, but this is often exactly what happens. I would especially like to see all the residents of Garland star in a different movie on this one. In fact, I see no reason why a walkable path can't be built in this area before the end of 2015.  

In my literal can-do world I ask:  1. How long would it take to lay a crushed granite walking path on both sides of this street? Really, how long? (3 days at the outside is my guess.)  2.  How much would it cost?  [Crushed granite typically cost $40 to $50 a cubic yard.  It's not that expensive.]  Couldn't we think up a fund raiser to pay for this and/or perhaps write a winning proposal and submit to some foundation that supports urban renewal efforts?  Of course the walking path is not all that will need to be developed but it is the first layer after the issues of auto traffic in the area are dealt with.  The landscaping around the walking path is the next consideration after the construction of the path.  The path must be inviting and enticing to lure walkers into the area.  We must think of things to place along the path that will keep people walking. I would like to see as much of this landscape as possible be edible landscaping such as blackberry bushes.

I read the rumbling beginning of a plan for this area just about a month ago in Better Cities & Towns titled “Better Plan for the Other Side of the Tracks.” This article, written by Robert Steuteville, discussed a plan for this area that was a outgrowth of collaboration among a New Urbanist team led by Van Meter Williams Pollack and sponsored by the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) at the national conference here in Dallas back in early May of 2015. They suggested to rebrand this stretch of Main Street as the Old Embree Neighborhood and develop the area to promote entrepreneurial activity. More at www.alstrategies.com/Where/Entries/2015/3/27_Garland_Legacy_Charette.html

Note: I’m not for naming the area “Old Embree Neighborhood”. I would prefer to have it called “Blackberry Trail” and plant at least 100 thornless blackberry bushes along this walkway and also more blackberry bushes in the triangular space in front of Roaches. Embree was at the intersection of State Highway 78 and the Santa Fe Railroad here in Garland. There was a rivalry between Embree and Duck Creek, but finally they came to an agreement and located their post office between the two communities. Then, on March 31, 1891 Embree and Duck Creek were incorporated as the town of Garland. Naming this strip of Main Street “Old Embree Neighborhood” is not even an accurate description of this area as Embree encompassed more than this strip of what is now Main Street.

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WALK AND TALK TOUR PLANNED

To help support (and hurry up) a proposed transition of this space to a walkable area, members of the Loving Garland Green Sustainable Living Committee, chaired by Anita Opel, have invited members of Loving Garland Green and any interested members of the public to meet us at Roaches Feed Store at 6 PM on Wednesday June 10th (weather permitting) for a Walk and Talk tour of the area. We plan to walk the length of this stretch of Main Street talking as we go and sharing ideas of what a walkable path through this area might look like as well as what types of interesting things could be placed along the path to entice people to keep walking.

In addition, the walkers will be asked to provide input as to how the path could be funded as well as how certain spaces might be used and enhanced.

Loving Garland Green will have at least three note takers jotting down the ideas. After the event we will write up the notes and post them on our Website. From there, what happens next will be up to the participants and the residents of Garland, Texas.

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