"Downtown Revitalization Rules"

This is a guest post from Hans Noeldner.

I am a trustee in the village of Oregon, Wisconsin, a rapidly growing bedroom community of about 8,300 near Madison, Wisconsin. I ran for public office because I believed that 90% of the work to create a sustainable society must be done at the community level. Having served for nearly two years, I am even more convinced this is true. Our consumption of resources and production of wastes is more powerfully shaped by our land use decisions than any other factor I can think of. And land use decisions are intensely local.

More of Hans' interesting (and it being Sunday, it has an NPR-Michael-Feldman-esque feel about it...) observations on the rules of downtown revitalization under the fold.

Oregon began over 160 years ago as a stop on the Oregon Trail, and it soon evolved into a relatively self-contained rail center in a dairy farming community. For nearly a century the village had a "full-service" downtown where residents and farmers could do virtually all of their "trading" within two or three blocks. But like small downtowns everywhere in the United States, ours nearly collapsed during recent decades. Fortunately our downtown has begun to recover in the past ten years, but the going is tough. There have been repeated plans to kick-start redevelopment and improve aesthetics, and a number of downtown property owners have nicely restored individual structures. Thus far, however, there have not been any major redevelopment projects or overhauls of civic or municipal infrastructure in the area. But streets and sewers are crumbling, and we need to replace and rebuild them soon. Downtown Oregon is on the front burner again.

Over the past several months another village trustee and I, along with help from some dedicated citizens, have been working on a new plan to revitalize our downtown and establish a "square" or "plaza" - i.e. a large contiguous pedestrian area for public gatherings and events. In August and September of this year we held four listening sessions and a public forum. During the process I became increasingly frustrated that participants at these events were willing and eager to discuss some things - parking in particular - but were unwilling to discuss the things that matter most to me - connections between our lifestyles, our community, and the possibility of a sustainable world. Following the public forum I compiled the explicit and implicit "rules" that currently govern our civic discourse.

And once I saw them in black and white, it became utterly clear to me that my real challenge is to enroll my community in another game - one of connections, responsibilities, and transformation from within, one in which our personal actions matter.

But for now here are the rules for the game we have been playing - "Let's Revitalize Downtown Oregon!" Some of the rules consist of objections that have been raised against wasting valuable downtown parking space on a pedestrian area. Many pertain to smooth flow of motor vehicle traffic. Other rules comprise underlying assumptions that everyone knows but no one speaks aloud. The axiomatic rules are at the end of the list.

"Any loss of parking would be painful, because people just don't want to walk anymore." - Oregon business owner.

The desire to avoid walking is especially keen in places like downtown Oregon; people will drive to malls and walk several hundred yards from the parking lot to the entrance, but downtown Oregon is entirely different. A customer who can't park right next to the entrance is a lost customer.

"...no matter how people feel, people are not going to give up their automobiles." - country estate resident from township adjacent to Oregon which claims it has the most progressive land-use policies in Wisconsin.

Forget giving up automobiles, Oregon-area residents are not going to cut back on their driving at all. "Absolute reliance on the automobile" is at about 98% right now, and it's not going down. We have to accept reality.

The fact that some people truly need to drive and park downtown - elderly and disabled folk, farmers, and businesses people who are moving materials and equipment - means that everyone else is going to drive and park too.

Township residents have no choice but to drive downtown. A few Village residents may walk or bicycle most of the time, and some residents may walk or bicycle occasionally, but it will never be enough to make any noticeable difference in downtown traffic levels, parking demand, or non-motorist business activity.

Downtown "ambiance" - a sense of place - is irrelevant. All that matters is parking.

Downtown business owners have a right to Village-owned parking stalls near their front door and on their side of the street - then their customers won't have walk across streets.

Downtown business owners and their employees have a right to park in a free municipal lot close to their businesses and then complain about not enough parking downtown.

Village employees have a right to free all-day parking close to Village Hall, in the municipal lot that is closest to downtown businesses.

The Village cannot afford to enforce parking time limits downtown - not two-hour limits, not two-day, not two-week. The cheaper alternative is stay the course - i.e. give little pink warning slips to downtown business owners so they can warn offenders, and then build and maintain more and more free surface parking.

Downtown business owners have a right to maintain and increase traffic levels on Main Street - more motor vehicle traffic is the only way to attract and retain customers.

Residents from Oregon suburbs and the surrounding countryside have a right to drive through downtown Oregon as much as they want without being impeded by narrow streets, lower speed limits, parked cars backing out into traffic, stoplights, too many turns, or stalled traffic.

Residents on major and minor "collector" streets in the Village have a right to keep as much traffic as possible on Main Street rather than allowing some of it to be diverted to "their" streets.

Residents along Main Street do not have a right to less traffic. If they wanted low traffic levels nearby, they should have purchased a house on a cul-de-sac or a 35-acre country estate in a township.

The need for pedestrian safety downtown is almost entirely defined by motorists walking from and to their vehicles. People in Oregon don't walk further than this unless they are exercising their dog or jogging.

Oregon motorists have a right to street widths and parking arrangements which ensure that the rear end of a parked nineteen-foot-long full-sized crew-cab pickup truck (our favorite single-occupancy commuter vehicle) will not be clipped by traffic.

Downtown Oregon is a poor venue for events and activities like the Farmer's Market, festivals, performances, civic gatherings, and so forth. There isn't enough parking, and the Village already has expansive parks near Village limits for stuff like this.

Downtown events and activities do not appreciably increase income for downtown business owners.

Existing downtown businesses have the right to prevent additional businesses and residents from coming to the downtown area because the newcomers would appropriate "their" parking stalls. Downtown Oregon is already parked to capacity, and every 2000 square feet of public plaza or new first-floor building space would steal about six (6) free Village-maintained, no-time-limit surface parking stalls from the businesses.

Oregon-area residents have a right to drive as much as they want and then park without feeling accountable for the fact that downtown Oregon nearly collapsed due to "not enough parking".

Oregon-area residents have a right to drive as much as they want and then park without acknowledging any connection between their driving and their sense that our Village has lost a "sense of place".

Oregon-area residents have a right to drive as much as they want and then park without feeling any guilt or responsibility that our automobile-dependent way of life is linked to regional and global phenomena like wars for oil, petroleum financed terrorism, sprawl, global warming, congestion on the Beltline, the national debt, obesity, isolation, road rage, etc.

Our lifestyles are personal, private matters. We have the right to consume as many resources and occupy as much land as we can legally afford. Beyond this, it is totally unrealistic to plan a community with the expectation that residents will freely exercise self-restraint and stewardship of the Earth's ecosystems on behalf of current and future inhabitants.

Freedom of movement - i.e. driving a motor vehicle whenever, wherever, and as much as we want - is one of our most precious and fundamental rights.

[editor's note, by Prof. Goose] And these, my friends, are just a few of the reasons this is a tough row to hoe.

(Also, if this topic interests you, you should check out peakguy's (really good and related to this topic) piece on NYC here).

DISCLAIMER: The views herein do not necessarily represent those of the Board of Trustees in the Village of Oregon, Wisconsin.

Ouch...that really was a depressing read. Our mayor, awhile back, proposed that we shut off traffic to one of the historic plazas in our downtown area and return it to its original parklike atmosphere. It didn't take long for one of our "prominent" business leaders--the owner of a bank adjacent to the plaza--to squash this plan like an annoying bug.  Cars rule!!
Not necessarily the case. It has been my experience that the presence of cars, parked and driving, make the pedestrian feel more secure, atleast on streets, and thus more likely to walk there. Especially the on street parking, ie the presence of a ton of metal between you, the pedestrian, and the street makes people feel very safe.
An example would be our our city's most pedestrian dominated district, one whose streets are packed & lined with cars (to the point where one can oft walk across the street at any point, the traffic is so slow).
Another example is a certain street in Cambridge, Massachussets, (cannot remember the name...) where at one time the city placed large planters to entirely cutoff cars and make it pedestrian only. Without the cars, the urban, normally pedestrian dominated area suffered severely, to the point where shops were going out of business, forcing them to reopen the street.
A final, obvious one is New York, perhaps the least car dependent area in the nation and yet, all the same, one of the most car trafficked.
Great piece. A slap right into the face. Hans Noeldner, creator of the concept of autocism, is one of my personal heroes.
Local merchants always report downturns on trading if there are parking restrictions.  We've seen this in London with 'Red Routes' (no parking at any time during peak business hours, aggressively enforced).

It seems that what the mall offers, is a High Street, but enclosed and with the parking problem solved. Downtowns don't offer that (any more).  The Big Box offers the 'one stop' solution.

For reasons of human nature, parking at the mall or the Big Box, doesn't seem to be an inconvenience.  not being able to park within 50 feet of a destination shop in a downtown region, is enough not to do it.

I can't comment in detail as I have to run, but rest assured, this post is typical of all suburban jurisdictions or small towns that have suburbanized and are seeking to (re)create a real place.  It would be interesting to get together a network of small town/suburban policy makers to swap stories.  Meanwhile, a book specifically about parking the poster may want to check out is Donald Shoup's "The high cost of free parking".  Parking can be addressed by the market.  Being perceived as anti-car will never work in my experience.  Anyway, good luck - you are absolutely correct that the path to sustainability and liveability will begin and end at the community level.  
As I wrote in a previous post:

"We Americans worship the god of free-flowing traffic. We make blood sacrifice to that god in mind-boggling numbers. And woe be to the unbeliever who suggests a little slowdown, a bit of inconvenience, and a little less turf for the cars, might make us better off."

Many people deride Jim Kunstler for his pessimistic, doomsaying prognostications. But Jim is a bright guy; he's traveled widely -- to hundreds of U.S. communities large and small -- advocating walkable, mixed use neighborhoods and transit. And he's taken note of the responses. In many places, the responses are just as you report here. There's a head-in-the-sand impulse to ignore the negative impacts of auto dependent living environments. When the issue is framed as losing something (in this case, door-to-door parking), people dig in and growl out any number of justifications for maintaining the status quo, no matter how absurd or evidently self-destructive.

Better to frame the issue as gaining something: A better quality of life and a more sustainable town that will be better positioned to weather the challenges of the future. If the town adopts a "park once" strategy and redevelops as a pedestrian friendly district, it can be a win-win for the majority of residents. Sure people have to walk a little farther, but they are passing other stores on the way, and increased foot traffic means increased sales. On top of that, attractive pedestrian oriented neighborhoods become destinations in themselves, offering civic spaces, street-level vitality and municipal pride that retail strips, strip malls and power centers can't compete with.

There are many examples of towns, both old and new, that have successfully adopted strategies like these. The best method for convincing skeptical citizens is to visit the good examples in person and speak to the officials, activists, designers and developers who have implemented redevelopment plans and regulations, and who have seen demonstrated positive results.

As a planner I saw this line of thinking all the time, especially in Auto-centric central California.  Most of our decisions revolved around accomodating the automobile.  Now I am planner in somewhat more progressive Northern California and automobile-based planning still weighs on our decision.

But really this is expectations problem.  We (with limited exceptions) expect that we can continue to keep doing as we always have with perhaps cosmetic adjustments.

Like substituting ethanol for gasoline.

We EXPECT that just because we drove in the past and can drive today that we will continue to drive in the future.  Any other planning assumptions cannot reconciled with.  Even some of those that get that petro-fuel based transportation system is not sustainable cannot connect the dots so to speak into land use decision making.

I have come to the conclusion that we wont change until we literally run out of gas. Then the masses might just wake up.  

Hopefully anyway.

At the very least we wont worry about parking regulations when half the stores are closed and 90% can't afford or get gasoline.

I have to agree. At the local level often the best possible compromise is to keep future options open. Like not building on disused railway tracks - if it has to be converting the right of way into recreational cycle paths , or like planning short cuts only for pedestrians...
I am really happy to see you get back into the Planner's role. Which part of Northern California are you now in?
Also, are you going to start writing on your blog soon?
We EXPECT that just because we drove in the past and can drive today that we will continue to drive in the future.  Any other planning assumptions cannot reconciled with.  Even some of those that get that petro-fuel based transportation system is not sustainable cannot connect the dots so to speak into land use decision making.

I have come to the conclusion that we wont change until we literally run out of gas. Then the masses might just wake up.  

Before gasoline people still had personal transportion vehicles and they needed parking.  There happened to be a bunch of shit in the parking spaces too.

Absolutely correct. Must have been dreadful. In NY alone thousands of deaths were attributed to the spread of infectional diseases by flies around 1900.
When electric trams where installed (don't know about NY exactly, more generally spoken) and less horses were around it was a benefit.
Seems like the world needs PRT. With the current state of AI and automation, it should be possible now, or soon, to simplify the track design and allow the PRT cars to travel in something like our current HOV lanes.

By making the vehicles a little more sophisticated, the track can be much much cheaper... It doesn't have to be a monorail or peoplemover type thing.

I am having a lot of trouble understanding what these replies suggest. I have gone to several conferences on saving small communities and all of them have emphasized walkability as a way to enhance property values.

I have had several successful real estate bets by simply betting that property prices will increase faster than inflation in walkable areas. These sorts of neighborhoods have done well all up and down the Pacific Coast. Try South Beach in San Francisco, the north end of Seattle's downtown. Downtown Olympia, Washington. Don't even try to mention property prices in Vancouver or Victoria, BC. They are ridiculously high because of the walkability of these neighborhoods.

Perhaps the communities being discussed here make it difficult for folks to walk safely downtown or maybe they are extremely good a designing communities that drive property prices down by making it dangerous or uncomfortable to walk. Perhaps they should use their sales techniques to convince their real estate developers to make more profit.

One possibility in understanding a difference between Oregon, WI and the places that you mention is weather.  Another possibility is demographics.  Many midwestern towns are becoming quite aged.  Thus, elderly don't want to walk far in bad weather.  I have first hand experience with this seeing my parents in a small midwestern town.  They will drive one place, and if the next place they want to go is a block away, they'll move the car.  Since parking is never a problem this is easy to do.  Please know that I'm not endorsing this.  I think this is largely cultural, everyone else does it so it's the norm.  I've seen how much people walk in NYC, including the older people who are in pretty good shape because of it and they don't question it because that is their culture.  I'm lucky that my town of 250,000 isn't too bad for biking.  I biked to our farmer's market downtown yesterday and carried the produce home in rear bike baskets, as usual.  I think part of the success of our's and other farmer's markets is that streets are blocked off so that for one time a week people can actually enjoy walking and lollygagging in an auto free area.  The atmosphere is so completely changed and festive from its normal auto invaded rat race.  I suspect farmer's markets held in or close to downtowns are much more fun to go to than on city peripheries.  One of my favorite sayings is "be careful what you wish for".  We wish to park close to where we're going but we've destroyed where we're going to.  I really sympathize with this coucil member because I know what he's dealing with.  No amount of public discourse will change these people's minds.  baby steps...
The elderly do sometimes have difficulty walking in bad weather, but really its hard for everyone when sidewalks aren't cleared of snow and ice, which occurs in places where they don't give a damn about people, only cars.  Around here, they used to actually plow the snow from the street so it piled up on the sidewalk which made getting to work quite a challenge even for able-bodied me.  They now don't do that on main pedestrian routes (at least).

One thing, though when people bring up elderly - you need to look at when people get old, can they and should they be driving?  My parents are both in their 80's and can't drive any more due to a very common low-vision condition (macular degeneration).  I think there are many others that probably shouldn't be driving that are because to stop would mean a total loss of freedom.  If they do stop driving and don't live where they can walk or have access to some type of transit, their options are really limited.

Arlington provides a paratransit service for people who need and qualify for it (typically elderly/disabled)


Yes, you bring up another big problem.  Elderly cause many of the traffic fatalities around here.  But try to convince them to give up their cars... A neighbor was telling me how her 92 year old mother who lives in an eastern state can't see very well to grocery shop, however she drives to the grocery store!
I prefer walking above all else.
I cycle if it's too far to walk and drive if I can't cycle it.
Macular degeneration for the most part is likely diet related.  A diet high in cholesterol (animal products) will not only steer you towards heart attacks and strokes but also take your sight from you.


As for the elderly driving - I've seen it.  They know that they're having problems; the kids hope that the license doesn't get renewed; the doctor punts and doesn't block the renewal.  In a year or two they eventually come to their senses and the ones I've seen self-restrict themselves to daytime only ....  It's not right - but it's very hard for us to give up something we've taken for granted for decades.

I complained about the lack of free parking at my current employer as I had a decade of free parking under my belt.  I was floored when parking went upto $3 per day - it's cheaper to take the bus and still the parking lots are jammed at this university.

Would you mind sharing your age praetzel?  I appreciate your lifestyle and health.  You are exactly right about diet and daily activity!  Bless!
The current state of AI really isn't important for PRT - we would have been able to program a PRT system 20 years ago.

I've been looking into PRT for the last few weeks.  As far as transport concepts go, it ranges from pie-in-the-sky utopian to not enough improvement over cars to justify the expense.

We have tens of trillions of dollars in car-based infrastructure built right now.  It's the solution that we developed for the go-anywhere culture, and the energy situation doesn't look like it will support another go-anywhere culture being built, in whatever form.  PRT is somewhat interesting as a logical way we could have developed instead of cars, but it's laughable as far as a way to solve our current problems.

All the PRT essay's I've read tend to be utopian - they highlight the positive aspect of one feature, then the positive aspect of another feature which is mutually exclusive of the benefit already mentioned, and go on for pages and pages.

When in car mode, dual-mode PRT (which the "realists" have settled on) has all the problems of car culture as well as the technical problems of an electric car.  Furthermore, they can't operate in AI mode safely on normal roads by any stretch of the imagination, leaving them out of the active vehicle pool when one has to go to an area without guideways.

When in guideway mode, PRT proponents imagine impossibly close spacing of cars on a single cheap guideway (rather than double or triple guideways for accel + decel + stopping), with many-times-per-second highspeed switches.  Many of them want vertically elevated track (Good luck with the drop, or the track, when something breaks down), and most of them require wide loops for every dead end, large turnways, etc.

It all comes down to this: A guideway is inherently much less 'open' than simple pavement.  

We pay (and have invested) a LOT for the car culture.  The externalities dwarf any other aspect of the economy other than perhaps weapons-making.  It wasn't so much to pay when we were the best automakers, oil producers, and empty-land-owners in the world - but we're not anymore.  Things are getting pricier, both in terms of blood and money.  In the past, people thought that to replace the car, one had to best it in every way - this is where PRT came from, and it succeeds in some aspects of this (while failing miserably in others).  But personal, private, high-speed transit from home to work to the other side of the country without getting off my ass, with room for 5 kids, a dog, and  groceries is not necessary for the vast majority of us to live our lives.

Changing the culture is a nearly impossible thing, looking at it as an individual - but it's  far easier and more practical than implementing PRT in a fashion anywhere near universal enough to allow us to keep our current land-use practices.

oh sweet jesus the prt people contact me a lot. don't even get me started.
Oh well, I'm off to mow down some more Austin pedestrians. Problem is, it won't really make that much of a dent in the population problem ...
When in car mode, dual-mode PRT (which the "realists" have settled on) has all the problems of car culture as well as the technical problems of an electric car.

Well, just to debate this one point, PRT will NOT have the problem of nearly blind elderly drivers ...

But you are correct about the cultural aspect. The car culture is entrenched. I see it as more of a supplement to walkable urban areas and a way to move (us) aging baby boomers around without a car. Not a replacement for the interstate system and not a way to commute from exurbs 100 miles from the workplace.

When I read things like this, it makes me realize how truly remarkable the pedestian mall is in Boulder, Colorado, which has been in effect for 30 years and is as popular, if not more so, than ever. Unfortunately, autos have overrun Boulder, like everywhere else, but at least there is that little slice of heaven and enlightened planning.  
Having lived in Boulder for 15 years, the biggest issue for the city regarding the Pearl Street pedestrian mall is and always has been providing sufficient parking around it. The mall is lined with chain stores since these are the only businesses that can afford the rents. It is very hard for people working in those retail stores to park. Often, the people working in those stores must commute in their cars from outlying areas because they can not afford to live in Boulder on $8.50/hour. Moreover, the mall is a tourist destination which brings many cars into the city which wouldn't ordinarily be there. Parking meters are very expensive and there are parking police everywhere. Don't let that meter run out! Parking tickets is a huge source of city revenue.

Enlightened planning? I think not.

Last transportation survey had more than 60% of downtown Boulder employees walking,biking, or taking transit to work. Downtown Boulder has better transit service than almost anyplace else in Colorado. Sure some employees  still have to drive, but somebody with an EcoPass (giving  all downtown employees free transit) that chooses to spend their $8.50 an hour on driving and parking is on a financial treadmill heading nowhere.
Pearl Street is a financial goldmine for Boulder the whiners about parking need to compare the vitality of downtown Boulder to the thousands of decrepit strip malls sitting half-vacant around the US.
All the stores in the mall provide parking stickers for shoppers, so the cost of parking is not an issue for shoppers. If it weren't for the mall, downtown boulder would just be a desolate, wasteland drive through  through like most other American downtowns.  The fact is that there are tons of pedestrians in the mall area which makes it a pleasant place to hang out for tourists and non tourists alike.

My experience is that it is easy to find parking so people are not driving around looking for a parking place. Regardless of the other issues you bring up, I still think a pedestrian mall is preferable to all other downtowns.  

But the reality of just restricting parking without doing anything else is this:

People causing more traffic jams, burning more fuel at idle, as they circle around and around for others to leave.

This is the reality in many 'walkable' neighborhoods in significant cities, (I'm thinking about Santa Monica and San Diego).

With pay parking (not city parking but private) a 10 minute errand adds 5 dollars, far higher than the value of shopping there versus somewhere else.

And the higher the property price in mixed use neighborhoods the more likely people will double up on rooms (roomates/housemates) and have more cars than in the plan.  They take whatever street spaces are available.  

Squeezing parking does nothing to encourage alternate transporation if that alternate transportation is unfeasible for other reasons.

The trick seems to be to have a significant population that lives near enough to walk to the stores in a walkable area. Another useful thing to do is to provide reasonably priced transit to access these areas.

If the areas are a good time to be around they can compete very successfuly with malls.

I seldom shop in our "downtown" area because of the shortage of parking - any parking.
However, if the city would install free streetcar service from the edge of the city shopping malls and big-box stores to the down town I would very likely take it to go into the downtown area.
But, also, I would NOT take a bus; free or otherwise. Can't tell you why, cause I don't know why. I just know that's the way I feel.
The downtown main postoffice - 6 parking places (on street only) for a town of over 50,000. The main newspaper office - 3 parking places. They have built a couple of EXPENSIVE vertical parking ramps downtown, but none of my farm pickups will fit in them (and they charge you to park there). They built a large convention center in downtown but have totally inadaquate parking and no rail service (or bus service) to outlying parking lots.
If you want to do away with downtown traffic, the first thing you HAVE to do is provide free transportation from an outlying free parking lot with the transit running often enough to satisfy consumers needs (every 10-15 minutes). If you don't people will continue to favor the malls and bigbox stores that do provide free parking. Last time I went "downtown" I was a couple minutes late getting back to my vehicle and the parking meter (they charge you to park downtown) had run out and I got a ticket that cost $15.00. Do the City Fathers really think I am going to go downtown again? When I can get all day free parking at the big malls and bigbox stores?
My 2 cents worth on the problem.
What a remarkable document. Sometimes, a story just grabs you and shakes you up. This is one of those.

Re: Freedom of movement - i.e. driving a motor vehicle whenever, wherever, and as much as we want - is one of our most precious and fundamental rights


people just don't want to walk anymore

I think the mobility provided by motorized transportation satisfies a deep-seated need in human beings. It is nature at work, not culture. Pre-automobile cultures, once the motor vehicle is introduced, eagerly and quickly adapt to the new mode of living whenever possible. We witness this happening in many parts of China today. Consider this passage from Thesis #6: Humans are still Pleistocene animals.

The superpredators of Africa had created a harsh Darwinian niche for scavengers, leading to powerful packs of hyenas and flocks of vultures that could easily overpower australopithecines. Instead, australopithecines adopted a strategy of finding the kill site first, getting to it first, grabbing their meat, and retreating before other, more powerful scavengers showed up. Walking upright allowed them to see farther across the grasslands, but a kill site could be anywhere. The more ground a scavenger covers in a day, the more likely that scavenger is to stumble upon a kill site. Scavengers don't necessarily need to be fast--the dead rarely outrun them--they just need to keep moving as long as possible and cover as large a range as possible. The larger their daily range, the higher their chances of finding a kill site. That's precisely what walking allows for, and australopithecine anatomy was built for nothing quite so perfectly as walking.

We retain those traits even today, which is precisely what makes walking such an important activity. Thomas Jefferson remarked, "Walking is the best possible exercise. Habituate yourself to walk very far." For more than 99% of our history, humans have been foragers--which meant, more than anything else, walking. While foragers work markedly less than we do, that work consisted almost exclusively of walking: up to four hours every day. The effects of the automobile in the 1950s not only gave us dating, it also destroyed our communities. Resources were no longer grouped together, as walking from place to place became impossible and automobiles became a requirement for existence. Face-to-face interaction died off, and so did the habit of walking--resulting in our current obesity crisis. This doesn't mean that cars and dating are bad--what it means is that we now live in a context to which we are not adapted.

Think about this part of the quote:

"The more ground a scavenger covers in a day, the more likely that scavenger is to stumble upon a kill site. Scavengers don't necessarily need to be fast ... they just need to keep moving as long as possible and cover as large a range as possible" -- it was true for the Australopithecies, it was true for our ancestors in the genus Homo, it is true today. Similar remarks apply to hunting as opposed to scavenging. Mobility allowed hominids to survive for millions of years.

People will get out of their cars because necessity will force the issue on the downwards part of the oil production curve. But they will have to dragged from those cars kicking and screaming.

People will get out of their cars because necessity will force the issue on the downwards part of the oil production curve. But they will have to dragged from those cars kicking and screaming.

This is true if you mean "some people" or even "most people".  There are plenty of communities, big and small taking steps to make their citizen's lives not so utterly dependent on driving everywhere, for everything, all the time.  If you can't convince your community that it is a prudent thing to be working together toward, move to one that is already doing it.  

Most of the communities I'm aware of that are doing it well are those with some residual memory of what it used to be like to have beautiful, functional public spaces and live without need for the constant prosthesis of the automobile.  

The ones that aren't are those that really cannot even imagine in their most lucid moments, an enjoyable, rewarding life without using a car for everything.  These will not change voluntarily, but will wait until their steering wheel is pried from their cold, dead hands by reality.  

Re: This is true if you mean "some people" or even "most people"

I will make your suggested correction. ≅99.2% of all people with motor vehicles will have the "steering wheel ... pried from their cold, dead hands".

Oh, it's not that bad.  About 10% of people according to the 2000 census walk, bike or take public transit to work.  So that is some indication.  One's perception is definately skewed by ones own surroundings.  I would have guessed wrong on the other side, because that's what I see happening in my region.  
My Danish kin walk or ride bikes for 20% of their trips (link below).  Are you so sure American culture has killed that genetic ability?


... maybe the Danes will inherit the earth.

For a deep, detailed look at Danish planning and the trade-offs between cars and other means of transport (bike, bus, ped, etc.) have a look at Bent Flybjerg's case study of Aalborg in Rationality and Power


"It's like the story of Little Town," an influential actor says in Rationality and Power when choosing a metaphor to describe how he manipulated rationality to gain power, "The bell ringer . . . has to set the church clock. So he calls the telephone exchange and asks what time it is, and the telephone operator looks out the window towards the church clock and says, 'It's five o'clock.' 'Good,' says the bell ringer, 'then my clock is correct.'"

Perhaps it is perverse of me, but I believe it is best for me to stay in Oregon, Wisconsin and fight the battle here.  Why?  Because where I live exactly represents most of what has been built in the United States during the past 60 years.  If a sustainabile society is a real possibility, then it must arise in places like my hometown.
Not perverse at all.  Well, your screenname is a bit perverse :)

But anyway, stay and work toward a better community!  It's always difficult to reach a consensus on these types of things so don't give up.   Looking at the satellite view of Oregon, Wisconsin it looks like you have a lot of surrounding farmland?  That's a really good thing to have if so.  The community I live in is very walkable, with excellent transit, but surrounding us all the farmland has been eaten up by sprawl so that's our weakness.  

Marshall McLuhan had a term for it:


About one-third of Americans want to live in walkable, mixed use neighborhoods, according to market studies and surveys. But 90 percent or more of new housing is suburban, in terms of location or character. So there's a shortage of supply.

That's one reason why fine, human-scale town centers are "so crowded, no one goes there anymore" -- a market failure caused by political, legal and institutional obstacles.

I once heard an anthropology professor say that homo sapiens is the #1 walking species on earth. We can outrun dogs and rival horses over long distances. Thomas Jefferson was right on.

I enjoyed reading your comparison of Ottawa and Austin on your website, BTW.  Since I live in San Antonio just down the road, I think you nailed some of the problems Austin has experienced with explosive growth.
actually what i read was that human on a bicycle is the most efficient propelled animal on the planet.

We walk, perhaps because our ancestors lived in trees (or swam, or both).

But our moment of genius was the invention of the bicycle.  Everything since then has been somewhat retrograde.

Believe it or not there is a book 'The Revenge of the Methodist Bicycle Company' about the war between the street car companies and the Churches in 19th century Toronto.

The latter objecting to streetcars running on the Lord's Day.

They lost, but got the last laugh.  Bicycling became such a popular weekend past time that the car companies never made enough money on a Sunday.


Astoria, Oregon-- sort of the other end of the Oregon Trail is putting a lot of effort into making the town "walkable" -- with mostly good results.

Downtown businesses simply can't compete with big box stores -- they have too many advantages, some of which are in the form of hidden subsidies (like low property tax, even though they make heavy demands on the government for water, sewage, policing, fire, schools for the employees children, state medicaid for the low-paid employees, etc., etc.) which neither the stores nor their shoppers nor their employees will cop to.  So Astoria is trying to increase the population of people who actually live downtown, and who will walk to shopping and the theater and the library.

But there are plenty of forces opposing this -- I walk everywhere, rain or shine and rarely see pedestrians enjoying the spectacular views or each others' company.  They are mostly in their cars or in their houses watching the Blue Screen of Mental Death.

In my ongoing researching of places to move my family from Baltimore, MD, I've actually considered Astoria a couple of times, but haven't visited yet. As a local, do you feel that its a good sustainable and enjoyable place to live, raise children etc? I can tell from photos and descriptions that its obviously a beautiful place. My wife is a web developer and telecommutes 100%, so at least in the short term, the local job prospects aren't a huge concern. I'd appreciate any input, maybe I'll decide to visit soon, the inlaws live in N. Cali.
You want to know why people, both men and women, are obsessed with the human ass?

It's actually what allowed us to walk upright. I could post some links if I had more time but they were on New Scientist a while back It's also the most active muscle group when sprinting, more active then the legs.

How did I find this out? Well when I started working out again a while back I kept tipping forwared when I would attempt a squat. I went online to figure out what I needed to do to fix this and came acroos some articles which indicated my problem was weak ass muscles, at least weak in proportion to the lower back. I then stumbled across the article on New Scientist about the human ass being what allowwed us to walk upright. I DID NOT come across this while googling for pictures of Jennifer Lopez, just so you know.

Anyway, what the piece you posted failed to mention is that after a long bit of walking, the person spotted a site and then sprinted to it. So sprinting was important too, not just walking.

It should come as little surprise that studies are now showing the best form of exercise is some form of interval training which is basically walking for say 2 minutes, then sprinting for 30 seconds, then walking for 2 minutes, then sprinting, and so on.

It's also why marathoners look like crap while sprinters look much more pleasing. (Flo Jo versus some marathon runner, who would you prefer?)  The human body did not evolve to run marathons, it is a horrible form of exercise for us humans. Any event where the first person to do it dropped dead upon completing the event is not an event I'm going to participate in. Just do a search for "the battle of marathon" to learn more if you are so inclined.

According to wiki Phidippides' death after running was a myth:


" think the mobility provided by motorized transportation satisfies a deep-seated need in human beings. It is nature at work, not culture."
I would modify this to "nature at work, not just culture". Harper's index claimed that Toyota's annual advertising budget was greater than all annual transit expenditures in the US. "General Motors reduced its national advertising budget from $1.5 billion in 2005 to $1.3 billion for 2006"

Let me say that even $1.3 Billion buys a LOT of culture. Kids watch 4 hours of TV a day and about 15% of that 4 hours is car commercials (my rough estimate).
GM would not spend that $1.3 Billion if they did not think it produced results, and it does.
So sure we have an innate attraction to speed and mobility, but we live in a sea of propaganda for the car culture that spins and manipulates that propensity to a fever pitch. Riding a mountain bike really is more fun than driving a car, but there are no billions being spent to convince you to meet your need for speed on singletrack instead of pavement.
US car addiction is a temporary cultural extreme, which I believe is peaking even without the impact of peak oil. Pretty  much every other culture on the planet does a better job of resisting car addiction than the AutoNation, proving that everyone won't need their cold, dead hands pried off the steering wheel.

I second your comment on the fun of riding a bike...mountain, road or otherwise.

my observation of Europe is the normal human tendency is towards car culture.  The UK being the prime example, I've never met anyone (other than Australians, Canadians, Americans, South Africans) more likely to use a car than a Brit.

Outside of London public transport is for students and poor people.

China, which was the greatest bicycle country in the world, is now definitely a car country.  No one bicycles or uses public transport if they can afford a car-- it's a mark that you are not succeeding if you still use a bike.  New subdivisions are built without provision for bicycles.

The realistic side of me asks: population 8300, and you want a "downtown"?? Consider that in Germany or other places in Europe many villages of that size don't really have a downtown, and in America? Is that realistic? Shouldn't one try and revitalize the downtowns of 50,000 population cities first?

With a more speculative mind, put a roof over Main Street and call it a mall. People might be willing to walk from the parking lot if it is a mall. Put in a trolley once population has reached 50,000.

What I also find interesting about this post are the constraints imposed on our elected leaders.  Looks like there is a council person who understands the need for an energy transition and knows some of the policy tools available, and yet because the public does not believe in these changes (nor perhaps colleagues on the council) it is hard to make any difference.  

On the other hand, I am reminded of the courage and resolve of the major of the southern Brazilian city Curitiba who forbid cars from the town center.  On the day this was to begin, he had school children come out onto the streets and draw pictures with chalk.  This diffused the tension among the business owners who were going to stage giant protests by driving their cars into the forbidden zone.  Now the business people are big supporters.

Funny thing when seeing business owners complain about losing customers when parking, or even reaching their stores by car, is not possible, is that in Europe, in urban areas, pedestrian streets are by far the most popular shopping areas.

The value of the stores, and the buildings, they're in, surpasses that of others by huge margins.These North Americans have got it all wrong. European business, on the whole, loves to see parking and cars banned.

That said, don't waste your time trying to change it here. It is a useless effort. By the time you get anywhere, there will no longer be the cars, or the streets, to bother you. The problem will solve itself, and it doesn't need your help.

Cars are the absence of freedom, not the symbol of it.

The freedom to drive trumps the freedom to move on foot, the freedom for children to play, and the freedom to breathe healthy air where you live. Your right to drive is worth more than my right to breathe.

There is only one sort of freedom left, and that means it is not freedom.

But until billions are spent in daily media to promote that truth, what is now will persist. Until it becomes economically profitable to change it.

Any politician who proposes anything remotely serious to change this, will not be (re-)elected.

PS: An example: property taxes are (at least mostly) paid on buildings. Shift that to taxes on land, and you liberate the owner. He can, and will, build more homes on the same piece of land. That's how you ger higher density.

I wonder about those attitudes that Hans Noeldner reported that pervade America. Do those people get out of their cars in an asphalt sea at a place like Walmart, take a breath of air and say, "Isn't this beautiful? What a way of life!" Probably most everyone on TOD thinks we have squandered our national wealth on suburbia as Kunstler writes about. And we have little choice to live in car independent areas, but maybe enough people just have terrible taste. For many, a convenient parking lot to buy a cheap Walmart hair dryer, or  cheese whiz and soda pop at Safeway is more beautiful and valuable than a town square. What a lack of imagination among people in America to build the world we have--it is pathetic and if it weren't for the catastrophic effects peak oil is going to have on agriculture I would say, "Bring it on!"
I would punctuate the phrase "bring it on" with the word "biatches" but that's just me.
Not likely that many people admire a parking lot for its asthetics, but in one respect, a Supercenter store can be considered a friend of the environment. Assuming most people are going to drive to do all their shopping (a safe assumption in America), shoppers need only make one car trip a week to purchase almost everything they need or could want. No need to drive to the grocery store, toy store, gun shop, auto parts store, pharmacy, card shop, etc. Take the minivan to the Supercenter, load it up, and drive it home. Repeat next week.

An objective analysis might find SuperCenters a more efficient use of land than dozens of stand-alone shops with associated parking and road requirements. Similar complaints and arguments abounded when Supermarkets replaced bakeries, meat markets, produce stands, etc.

Subjectively, those of us who want to shop as quickly as possible also prefer one-stop-shopping. Shopping, to me, is a necessity that I want to complete as efficiently as possible so I can enjoy the great outdoors with my family.

European business, on the whole, loves to see parking and cars banned

I'd wish you were right, but as of Germany I have to disagree. Lamenting of the business is widespread when plans of banning cars are only publicly discussed.

In my city (100,000 inhabitants, northern Bavaria) the city restricted illegal parking on sidewalks in the main street last year by attaching bollards. The free space now provides great possibilities for bikes with trailers (mothers with kids and so on, wonderful) to handle their stuff without being in danger by cars.

Nevertheless - the business around was in a rage. They commenced a kind of poll (signature lists; hundreds of customers signed) against the measure. And there were letters in our local newspaper, written by suburb bigwigs, letting us know they would do their future shopping at different places with sufficient parking space. (There are malls of the american style here).

This has been a year ago - the business is still alive and well ..

Well, it is a mixture, of course. Karlsruhe's main shopping area is pretty auto unfriendly (and the parking tickets unbelievable in how many they hand out), but then, KVV (the mass transit system) does an excellent job being shoppers from the entire region. And the newest mall is downtown, not outside of town. (Pretty stupidly designed mall, with a good amount of foot traffic but looking at what people buy, not a lot of sales, but that is another story.)

I would guess that it depends on a number of factors, the most important being the retention of customers. In terms of the car/streetcar trade-off, the streetcars (which also runs over the normal DB rail system) seem to bring at least as many customers (especially people without cars) as the auto restrictions take away.

Yes, Karlsruhe (and the Pforzheim/Bretten-Region) is a frontrunner in Germany. Some months ago on a train I had a talk with a retired railway engineer from Karlsruhe, great man, who explained the street car system running on railway tracks to me. I wish people like he would be heard by a larger crowd.
<excuse me please>
Uebrigens expat, du schreibst interessante Sachen. Bist du per Jabber (oder ICQ, oder Mail) erreichbar? Wenn du Lust hast koennen wir uns mal austauschen. Ich bin immer an Neuem aus Region KA interessiert.
No, I don't really write much except what is posted here. Sorry.
There's a simple way to avoid people driving 'like there was no tomorrow':

Tax Petrol.

Unfortunately not.

Gasoline taxes are one of the largest sources of revenue to the British Exchequer-- about £20bn a year including sales taxes that apply to all goods and services.

We have the highest petrol prices of any major country in Europe, and some of the highest in the world.  About 90p/litre which is about $7/gallon or about $6/US gallon, I think. (X/R $1.80/£, 1 litre = .22 gallons).

There's not a huge amount of evidence we are particularly frugal with gasoline.  Yes we drive more efficient cars than you do, but AFAIK not more efficient cars than Europeans in general.  1 in 12 cars sold is an SUV-type vehicle.  We've rigged the petrol duty to encourage diesels, and that has worked: about 1/2 new cars is a diesel (but again, same on the Continent).

Most of the difference in driving in our country and yours is simply that we have smaller distances (whole country 700 miles long and about 250 wide) and we have (much) worse traffic than most places in the US (except some of the big coastal connurbations).

Gasoline is still only 20% of the lifecycle cost of car ownership (the other big costs are depreciation, insurance, annual road tax, repairs).  The real cost of driving after inflation has fallen by about 10% since the early 1970s (vs. 60% rise in real train fares).

Petrol is a price inelastic good.  That is why it makes a good source of revenue: tax it more, people don't change their consumption patterns more.

In the short term, true.  In the long term, they factor it into how they form habits, and they do things like:
build denser
bike more
walk more
build around mass transit
build mass transit
live closer to their work
build more efficient structures

In the short term, very few people are going to quit their jobs because the gas prices just destroyed their disposable income.  In the long term, very few won't.  That's demand destruction.

I think people will get more fuel efficient cars, first.

Maybe in the long run cities and economic life reshapes, but I must admit I am sceptical.

Even so will I break this people and this city, as one breaketh a potter's vessel, that cannot be made whole again:

Jeremiah 19:11

captures my feelings about the modern urban form.

(Jeremiah was a bit of a pessimist ;-).

http://www.gsd.harvard.edu/research/publications/hdm/current/25_Krieger.pdf#search=%22sprawl%20histo ry%20of%20an%20idea%22

interestingly the review of the book Sprawl: a compact history specifically critiques it on the absence of sensitivity to environmental issues.


Thanks for your contributions. I live in Madison and read your articles in the Fitchburg Times, along with the ad you posted in the State Journal last week. I appreciate your efforts to call our community onto the carpet. I tried this with close friends and family and received either blank stares or vehement denial. I'm discouraged and have pretty much avoided the topic of culture change with all but my closest contacts.

We just moved to a near-west Madison neighborhood that is one of the most walkable in the community. I like it a lot because those in the neighborhood are conscious of the fact that it is walkable and want to keep it that way, or make it even more walkable by encouraging a diversity of businesses to serve the neighborhood. But living in a neighborhood like this is a luxury for us and we're stretching the bank account to do it.

I hope I live to see the day that a streetcar rolls by my front door. You must have some hope that things can change based on your actions. I admit that I'm more skeptical that people will change voluntarily. The car-culture disease can only be cured by starving it of gasoline.

Tom Anderson-Brown

Tom - give me a call 444-6190
Fool that I am, I don't want to wait for Finite Nature to whack us over the head with a 2x4
While I'm able to bike to work each day....  cheap oil means that my wife has the possibility of transporting our children 10 minutes across town in a car each day to a better public school (in our subjective opinion) than the local walking distance public school.

If we had no car we would perhaps fight harder for the neighhborhood school (we tried that route in the past.)   But 20 minutes of driving each day makes possible access  to what we consider to be a much better education for 2 young children.

Cheap oil disolves locality and place.  I know many people who drive much further than we do for a million reasons like ours.

Expensive movement forces people to fight for the place they are....   cheap movement enables us  to neglect it... in fact, relative to our children's well being and our limited resources... it all but obligates us to ignore the local  and seek fundamental goods at a greater distance... distances that require energy use.

It's hard to see how anything but price will alter this equation.   That's why people like me are hoping for higher energy prices, preferably imposed by nature (absolute supply) rather than taxation (subject to cheating and repeal).    

I don't believe that it is possible to value place (and therefore to create place based community) as long as the universal solvent (oil) disolves the  limitations of locality and distance in which places and community's flourish.

But y'all know this.  

It is touching to see people trying to build local community in a cheap energy world... but it seems to futile.  Only the "deus ex machina" (or, shall we say "gaia ex machina"?) of absolute supply limits seems up to the task.

In theory  a wise planetary leadership could increase  taxes and prices to a level where place could be revalued... but that seems beyond hope or human nature.

"Cheap oil disolves locality and place."  Beautifully put!



I'll stir the pot a bit and question some of the premises on which the post is founded.

Other than "for nostalgia's sake", why is a vibrant "downtown" desired? A vibrant commercial district situated appropriately for the village would seem a better goal. Space limitations in Oregon prevent our downtown from ever attaining the critical mass to become a place people frequent. Moreover, the mix of businesses currently residing downtown doesn't encourage walking and window-shopping. Few people are going to stop for an oil filter, then decide they want to browse the insurance office, physical therapy office, computer repair shop, pool installation store, etc. People stop downtown to visit one business, then they leave.

The people of Oregon have chosen the North side as their primary shopping district. Almost everyone visits our only grocery store regularly (Bill's). Let's make that area more appealing so people walk to a few shops before or after buying their groceries. Focus here also makes economic and ecological sense. People are going to drive, not walk or bike, to get their groceries, so let's make it an efficient trip.

Similarly, the push for a downtown square seems driven by nostalgia. People are not going to congregate downtown just because there's a small patch of green space. Regardless of any redesign, the downtown square will be too small for children to play or  for large gatherings of people. Oregon's large parks border the downtown area and already provide ample space for events. The existing parks appeal to families as they have playground equipment, bikes trails, and other amenities. Oregon's closest neighbor of similar size, Stoughton, has a vibrant downtown, but no downtown square. The success of their downtown stems from a critical mass of interesting stores, an appealing streetscape, and yes, ample parking.

Finally, the premise that people will proactively change for the common good is (sadly) unsupportable (as Hans is learning). Much of the populace are sheep (or lemmings), moving with the majority, too uninformed, self-absorbed, overwhelmed by life, or unconfident to change direction absent a crisis. A small minority of the populace, who either don't care about the future or lack the insight to understand the consequences of our actions, actively oppose change for the common good unless they would personally benefit. The remaining small minority of the populace are smart, independent, and caring enough to do the "right" thing, but are largely unsuccessful in convincing the majority to change.

To change the direction of the majority, the proper levers must be found. Appealing to the common good or even common sense will be unsuccessful. For instance, successful anti-smoking campaigns focus more on eliminating yellow teeth or bad breath or lined faces than preventing lung cancer. The lesson here is that sometimes the ends justify the means. To make the changes you want, you will need to find the right selfish reason for people to change to benefit the common good.

Take a look at this picture of the 'downtown' that is a few blocks from my single-family home, there is an ice cream shop, hardware store, barber shop, and restaurants on this block and lots of other stuff including stores (chains and independants) on other blocks:


This photo depicts a very typical day.

Nearby (about 3 blocks) there is a small park/plaza (about 6000 sq ft) where small bands play and we have the farmers market on Wednesday and Saturday and the antiques and collectable market on Sunday.  I walk to the grocery store  about 3 times a week (usually on my way home from work) which is another 2 blocks away.  There are about 1500 single family homes within walking distance (1/2 mile) of this area.  There are several thousand more apartments and condos, nearby or on top of this area.   There is office space.  Every year we have several big events where we shut off the streets and party.

If I want, I can drive anywhere pretty easily because the roads are largely unclogged.  The only time they get clogged is during morning and evening commute and it is people living in sprawl who are driving to work through my town that is clogging them.

I think most/all people who live here, love it.  They don't mostly live here to save the planet.  

If you like living in a place where there is no choice for anyone but to drive everywhere, for everything, all the time, and love the ambiance at big box stores, then this would not be for you.  

But I know many people choose it.  The only real problem we are having is that it is so popular and there are not enough places like this to meet demand, that prices for any type of real estate are very high and still rising.  

I'm not saying that some communities don't have interesting, useful downtowns. That is not my point at all, I've visited numerous communites with vibrant downtown areas and enjoyed them.

I'm asking why having a commercial center in what was at one time the "downtown" location in my Village is a better than having a commercial center that is half a mile from "downtown"; but still in the Village and adjacent to residential areas (closer for some people to walk to, further for others). I want to know what's so great about it being "downtown", besides the nostalgic feel? The existing buldings are small and not energy-efficient, limiting the types of businesses that would be interested. The little open space that is available for building is insufficient for the downtown to atttain the critical mass of businesses that would make it appealing.

These issues are definately things your community needs to come to grips with and gain a consensus on.  I am not familiar with the specific location tradeoffs that you talk about. I can tell you that we cherish our 'small buildings' for many reasons.  One is that where I am they tend to be better looking than new stuff due to more interesting attention to detail in the masonry, the use of terrazo tile etc.  They convey to people a sense of the history of the place and the idea that we actually could at one time build beautiful stuff that would last (in our case) 100 years.  Our old Woolworth building for example has been converted to a Ballroom with rooftop dining


The small floorplates and odd shapes are not as attractive to national retailers who have standardized requirements but local entrepreneurs love them and often do interesting things with them so this gives us space for small, local, unique retailers.  Having said that, we welcome new construction, yet strive to make new construction fit in with our existing buildings while adding opportunities for tennants that desire more modern (usually larger) space.  

So we like all that, but again if these factors are not present where you are or represent different values than you hold as a community, your thoughts may be different.  Good luck!

OK WalkingMan, who are you?  Let's have a cup of java and talk!
Similarly, the push for a downtown square seems driven by nostalgia. People are not going to congregate downtown just because there's a small patch of green space.

Oxnard, Cali has a pretty cool square.  I've been there a few times.  The aerial is here:


They have an amazing farmer's market at least weekly with fresh local produce and vendors grilling meats.  Of course the weather there is amazing.  The town is largely one to three story buildings office and retail with lots of closely spaced single family around it.  The block under construction in the aerial is now a movie theatre, starbucks, ice cream shop, and several restaurants with a plaza and small fountain.  The construction doesn't match some of the older buildings, but it wasn't terrible.

Like many places, they have a beautiful old Woolworth's building that is now used as an international market/cafe and offices above. Picture here:


Many seem to walk here from the surrounding houses, but there is a fair amount of parking scattered around.  It's a dense street grid so there is a lot of parallel street parking.  They have one of the few (only?) independent (or maybe a very small chain) drug stores I've come across.  

They seemed to have a very robust bus network that is highly utilized.  It is well situated near Port Hueneme which is a Navy base, but also a commercial port.  Lots of rail lines come through.  

So, given this, the square in the center of town didn't seem to me to be for nostalgia at all, at least in Oxnard.  

Once your population density passes a certain point, you can have a viable downtown.  It gets too inconvenient to drive out of town.

The real 'downtowns' of modern America, are, in fact, the mall.

Another thought:

To make a downtown work, you need public security.  One of the reasons the American downtown died, I am sure, was the crime wave, call it the crime boom of 1965-1995, which made most downtowns creepy places-- homeless people, people with substance abuse issues just hanging around on streetcorners.

Public security can mean violations of civil rights by aggressive policing: think Mayor Giuliani tossing the homeless off Manhattan.  Inevitably there is a racial dimension.

Here in the UK we have CCTV, but have probed its limits as a security device (crime goes on anyways).  The downtowns are still dying for commercial reasons (out of town superstores and 'big box').


There's nothing wrong with the fact that you love the mall.  There certainly are plenty of malls were you can take your sweetheart or children or whatever you like and enjoy the mall ambiance.  However, there are a lot of us that enjoy being in public space amongst our neighbors to shop, eat, listen to music, enjoy the public art, trees, and general pagentry of life that occurs in many many small and large villages, towns, and cities in the US and elsewhere in the world.  

Security has never been an issue in my town, or I would guess in any town that has people on the street.  Public security?  Ha, what about private security.  I guess being such a regular at the mall, you got a free pass from the 'mall cop'.  I just noticed you are in the UK.  Where?  I have been around Scotland in Edinburgh, Glassgow, Inverness and I though these were all great places.  Perhaps not as sophisticated as villages in France or as beautiful and friendly as Italy, but pretty damn fine.    

Granted, many towns destroyed themselves starting about in the 50's.  Why? Well the answer is probably multi-faceted but when the car came along to the masses, it was (and still is) an amazing invention giving freedom of travel and speed of travel.  Along with the massive road subsidies, this wooed people into moving out of the towns where they could get more 'space' and driving around on unclogged roadways was (and still is) a great joy.  But, how many unclogged roadways are there ?  Are you in a place where you can put down the top and cruise alone with the fresh breeze blowing in your face ?  If you are, then don't tell anyone where it is, because it won't be that way for long.

Towns and cities destroyed themselves as a knee jerk reaction to losing some residents in the 50's to the 'promised land' of rural living for everyone.  They destroyed themselves by making the unfortunate decision that they needed to create storage space for cars above all else.

There is a decent web site with pictures that documents how this happened in louisville


As a typical example, they tore down their performance art theatre, a building that was built to last for hundreds of years - in order to have a surface parking lot.  

I know you will never be convinced that a beautiful performance art theatre that will be around for generations is of more value than a surface parking lot, but I hope you can recognize that there are people today that look back on those decisions and believe they were not good decisions and seek to (and are) rebuilding wonderful places to live in towns and cities all over this country (at least).  

Other way.

I despise Malls, and live in the one part of the UK (central London) where you don't have to visit one.


if you look at where most Americans get their public space, it is the mall.

The UK has devastated the urban form. Thatcher kicked off the out of town superstore, and the Tescos and Sainsburys of this world have become the shopping foccii.  The High Street of almost anywhere in the UK is a mess of not very interesting chain stores, charity shops, empty shop fronts and 'vertical drinking' establishments.

'downtown' Inverness ain't anything to write home about.  Edinburgh is OK (if a bit twee) but Princes Street is really unimpressive.  Glasgow is better.

That last point about drinking is important.  Our 'urban revival' has been about binge drinking by largely middle class young people-- any High Street you would care to name is a terrifying mess of yelling, vomiting, urinating, fighting at night (central London isn't so bad, there are people out over 30) after 9pm on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday.

on public security, I remember American downtowns in the 70s and 80s, even New York.  They were hell-holes and spooky to boot: unsurprising the shoppers moved away.  The mall provided security, comfort (no small thing when the summer temperature is +35 and the winter temperature -10C).

(one key 'tipping point' was the civil rights riots 1965-68, which triggered, along with busing, the final white flight to the suburbs.  I remember this effect most strikingly in Detroit).

Louisville was a place I visited in about 1977-- I remember it being pretty bleak downtown (25 year old memory).  Glad someone is doing something to tidy it up.

What American city has a real downtown now?  I mean New York (but arguably simply a shopping mall on mega scale) if we take NYC to = 'Manhattan'.  Toronto and Montreal if we count them as 'American'.

Bits and bobs of San Francisco, Austin, Seattle.  Boston Faneuil Hall is so touristy it is almost cloying (but Newburgh Street I guess-- but then Boylston Street has that huge shopping centre).

Sorry, thought you were advocating the mall.  

All I can say is that center cities are almost all changing for the better.  At different rates and degrees of sophistication and coordination and 'realness' to be sure but that's what I see in this century.  The 'realness' quotient is interesting because lots of small towns have revitalized as shopping areas but either haven't built the apartments for people to live downtown or don't have the types of retail that people need daily downtown (grocery for example) - but even that is changing.  

I mean you are talking about the 1970's, thats 35 years ago.  If you looked at those same places in 1945, they would have been different still.  The 70's were a low point, the 80's not too much happened but in the 90's and in this century, here, in places I see, things in the cities, towns, and small enlightened communities they are getting better and things are accelerating.  

Its a push pull thing.  The suburbs in many places are becoming just so unliveable with traffic and long commutes and all the rest, that is the push.  The pull is that people are seeing that when designed for humans, a more urbane lifestyle is a wonderful thing.  I'm not even talking about the big cities you mention as they are not that common anyway.  

I believe you may mean Newbury Street in the Back Bay ?  I like that place, a greater mix of chain/independent retail and small business would be hard to find.


You've missed my point. I agree that some cities have beautiful downtowns that people love. However, not all downtown areas were initially well-planned, not all have room to expand, and not all have an old Woolworth's store or other large store to serve as a centerpiece. The Village of Oregon's space is limited and the original plan wasn't great. There doesn't seem to be any reasonable hope of turning it into an Oxnard (to use your example).

My question about the square isn't whether it could be an enjoyable part of an already vibrant area, it is whether a small square put into a small non-vibrant downtown will magically draw crowds. I don't believe it will and no one in our Village has presented evidence otherwise.

I won't even go into a comparison of weather between California and Wisconsin, and how that impacts the walkability of a downtown area.

You had said:

Other than "for nostalgia's sake", why is a vibrant "downtown" desired?

So, I thought you were speaking in general and offered the first place that popped into my head (Oxnard) as an example of a vibrant downtown.  And, actually Oxnard is only just emerging from decades of decay and disuse (as are many places large and small).  The locals that do not live near the downtown were in some case unaware of what was happening there.  

The same thing occurs where I am in Virginia, if you haven't been to a place in the last 10 years, people often assume it is the same place of boarded up stores, used car lots etc.  

Anyway, I think I mentioned that I don't know your local conditions.  You seem to want a bigger downtown than some (unspecified) constraints allow in the place that your historic downtown is located.  This is something your community should decide together in my opinion.

All I would say that in general, it is a mistake to look at what the vibrancy is now as any judge of what it could become.  In fact, the small buildings that we cherish now in my town, were once the subject of much derision and many people in the 80's couldn't wait to get rid of them and start anew.  When they were either empty or fully of pawn shops I guess they seemed different to people.  Fortunately economic conditions at the time meant they (mostly) weren't destroyed and redeveloped.

I couldn't possibly say that I think you are mistaken in your belief that your downtown needs to be larger and in a different place since I do not live there or know your local conditions, so I just say good luck and have fun working with your neighbors to figure this out.  

One last thing about weather -please do not infer that successful downtowns only occur in places with weather like California.  Many if not most good downtowns are in small, New England towns.  Anyway, while I enjoy visiting, I would never live in southern california since I actually like the seasons.  Who wants to shop for Christmas presents when there is no snow and its 75 degrees out?

First off, don't let the bastards get you down.

Second, one of the more insightful things that I have heard about transportation planning is that no matter how we travel, we are all pedestrians at either end of the trip.  One of your challenges is getting folks to see this.

The other thing that you seem to be fighting is that their are folks who love comprehensive plans and grand visions but there are unfortunately also folks who only see what could go wrong or who see what they might lose if things change, never what they might gain.

Don't give up on your vision for a more walkable and vibrant downtown.  Take the project on in small chunks.  Work with the businesses and property owners so that they can see what they have to gain (they all want more customers).  Organize the farmers market and/or other events.  Maximize your benefit by holding the event when few people are normally downtown.  Start small and go to the businesses and property owners with your results showing how much money was made, how many people came, etc.

The suggestion above about the roof was a good idea.  Look for ways to make the village's built environment more ameniable.

Also, start with the things that you have the most control over, like that parking lot next to the village hall.  Make it a public lot during the week, and a site for public events during the weekends.  The business owners should love that.  The only people who you will upset will be the village employees, and they work for you.

Good luck.

And this guy is reporting from an exurb near to one of America's (allegedly) most progressive cities. Unbelieveable.

Advantage/revenge may happen in 20-30 years, when all the Americans who have insisted on making one-block drives now have to walk and get coronaries from their Type II diabetes.