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WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE POD AND COLLECTOR PLAN

The pod and collector system, with each pod connecting separately to the collector as in the top half of the figure, is a common suburban design approach. It looks good on paper, but, Andres Duany argues, it works badly. First, every trip from a point in one pod to a point in another pod becomes an automobile trip on the collector. This is a prescription for traffic congestion. The problem is not that there is a shortage of total road surface, but that this design forces a large part of the traffic onto a small fraction of the total road surface.

Walking for purposes like shopping is discouraged because there is no direct path from the houses in the pod at the upper right to the mall or the stores fronting on the collector. Walking for purposes of visiting, say, between the single-family houses and the apartments, is also discouraged for the same reasons. Even walking from one store to another is discouraged, since the customer at the mall cannot easily walk to the strip shopping because the only link between them is the collector. Thus, in addition to concentrating automobile trips as just noted, the pod and collector system also increases the total number of automobile trips.

The half of the drawing below the collector shows the traditional pattern that Duany regards as far superior. The same elements—singlefamily houses, apartments, stores, and a public school—are contained in each half of the drawing. But circulation is very different. In the bottom half, most trips for shopping and social purposes can be made through secondary streets without having to go out onto the collector. In addition, many trips are easily made on foot. Residents of the singlefamily houses and apartments can walk to the mall by a reasonably direct path along secondary streets with sidewalks. Similarly, schoolchildren can walk to and from school on secondary streets. The student who stays after school for an activity and misses the school bus can walk home rather than have to wait to be picked up by a parent. The design promotes a greater degree of social integration because the two different types of housing, namely apartments and single-family houses, are not isolated from each other in separate pods.

In Virginia, neotraditional thinking has made some headway with the state's legislature. Street Acceptance Requirements enacted in 2007 will not permit the state's Department of Transportation (VDOT) to accept roads for servicing and maintenance if they do not link to the roads in adjacent subdivisions or commercial development. In short, they will not accept cul-de-sac roads. Thus the sort of geometry in the top half of the figure on page 190 would not be permitted. The regulation also requires that roads be able to accommodate pedestrians, meaning sidewalks on one or both sides, depending on the density of the development, and minimize environmental impact. That latter provision will mandate narrower streets than are generally found in recent subdivisions. That, in turn, should mean lower average vehicle speeds. The requirements are very much out of the neotraditionalist playbook.

Of course, as in most matters in planning there is some room for disagreement. Many people like living on cul-de-sacs because there is no through traffic. Many people also believe that cul-de-sac streets are less prone to crime because there is only one way out and strangers are more conspicuous on a street that has no through traffic. Whether research would show this supposition to be true is not known.

Another prominent neotraditionalist is California-based Peter Calthorpe. His general design philosophy is similar to Duany's, although Calthorpe places somewhat more emphasis on public transportation and the building of a sufficiently large, compact downtown to support public transportation. His name is associated with transit-oriented development (TOD), meaning a high-density area laid out so that every residential unit within it is within ten minutes' walk of a transit stop. A series of these "pedestrian pocket" developments strung out along a transit line would give the line sufficient ridership to divert a significant number of trips from automobiles to buses or light rail. (See Chapter 12 regarding the collection and distribution problem in public transportation.) This is particularly important in many parts of California, where rapid population growth and heavy dependence upon the automobile have led to serious problems with traffic congestion and air quality. The project for which he is best known in California is Laguna West, south of Sacramento, though Planning magazine suggests that he may have had more of an effect on the shape of development in California and elsewhere through his work on a number of town and county transit-oriented master plans.

Neotraditionalists rest much of their case on the market. They point out that people will pay very high prices for a fine-grained, pedestrian- friendly pattern. Note, for example, the high price of residential real estate in Georgetown (Washington, DC) or Marblehead, Massachusetts, or Greenwich Village and Brooklyn Heights in New York City.

This writer finds much of the neotraditional design philosophy attractive, but it must be admitted that not everyone else does. Much of the large- lot suburban zoning that the neotraditional planners decry is not so much the planners' choice as it is the will of the public.

The planners are often more open to a variety of urban design innovations than are the citizens. The fears of citizens about who their neighbors might be, whom their children might go to school with, and what might happen to their property values if less expensive structures are built nearby often make these citizens very resistant to smaller lot sizes and mixing of land uses. A substantial segment of the public prefers large-lot development, sharp separation of land uses, and the automobile-dependent way of life that goes with it—just so long as there is plenty of parking and traffic moves quickly. Frank Lloyd Wright's decentralized, automobile-based vision embodied in Broad Acre City (see the final section) spoke to the taste of a great many people. Seeing the pattern of post-World War II suburban development in the United States, it seems rather prophetic.

Neotraditionalism has received some criticism from the left on the grounds that it is elitist and does not do much for the problems of the central cities. The argument is that houses in neotraditional communities such as Kentlands (see page 193) are expensive and that relatively few neotraditional developments have occurred in central cities. In this writer's view, this criticism is not entirely fair. It is true that housing in most neotraditional communities is expensive, but the fact is that unsubsidized new housing in most of the United States is expensive. By spring 2004 several years before the bursting of the housing bubble (see Chapter 11), the median new single-family house in the United States cost $221,000. The average figure was still higher, at $270,000.10 Thus new communities will almost inevitably have expensive housing. It is true that most neotraditional development occurs in suburbia or beyond, but it has to be understood that creating a neotraditional community takes a substantial number of acres and, by and large, substantial blocks of undeveloped land in central cities are rare.

As is true with planned communities in general, doing a neotraditional community requires a very large block of capital up front and generally protracted negotiations with the municipality over rezoning and other design questions.

Two scenes from Kentlands, a Duany-designed new urbanist community near Gaithersburg, Maryland. The development is characterized by closely spaced housing, sidewalks on all streets, alleys behind most housing so that garages and trash cans are out of sight, and generally meticulous attention to urban design details. The town center and adjacent areas contain multi-family rental units, a senior citizens' facility, and a variety of service and retail businesses.

 
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