Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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20-minute Neighborhoods

The idea is that, like a traditional neighborhood, most of what people need should be within 20 minutes of walking, biking, or public transit from home.  Doing this decreases driving and traffic, because people would rather get what they can locally than waste half the day going crosstown if they don't have to.  It increases jobs, because those goods and services need someone to provide them.

This is how you fix suburbs.  Find a good center and put useful things in it.  Add accessory dwelling units to improve density.  Is there room for a small (4-12 units) apartment building in a similar style as nearby houses?  Or can a large corner house be expanded into a sharehouse or apartment split?  Is there an old parking lot or empty lot that could become a food truck park, farmer's market, flea market, or other open commerce space?  Is all the greenspace parkland or is some of it just sort of there?  If the latter, add a community garden, wildlife refuge, stormwater garden, etc.  Create centers, and let some of the in-between places depopulate if they're too expensive to maintain in a shifting economy.  It's a lot cheaper to run municipal infrastructure in a small area than spread all over everywhere.

Some of these changes can be done for little or no money.  It costs nothing to change zoning so people can add ADUs, run a home business, or turn an empty house into a resale boutique if they want.  It also costs nothing to cut the requirement that everyone be "on the grid."  Indeed, if some houses go back to using a septic tank, a well, or convert to solar panels then it will reduce the need for extending municipal supplies through low-density areas.  That doesn't mean abandon poor or rural people, it means offer more options than everyone being stuck with  municipal systems.  It costs little to make the area more friendly to walking, biking, or public transit.  Add trees, benches, shelters, etc.  Unpaved trails cost nothing but letting people tramp them down.  Putting extensions on buildings is a lot cheaper than building whole new ones.  In the middle price range, cut connections from dead ends to nearby streets to make something closer to a grid.  Increasing mass-transit service or building a new strip mall costs more, so do that later.

Similarly, where you have a road bracketed by large far-flung businesses, it gets more expensive to support those the farther out they are.  Meanwhile the older buildings closer to town, still serviceable, often stand empty.  One very straightforward way to save money is to cut off the end of the line and reuse buildings farther in.  That lets you decommission a lot of infrastructure such as streetlights, electrical lines, city water, sewers, etc. -- maybe even the road itself if it doesn't go anywhere vital.  This is the route of "good enough urbanism."  Use what you have, just use it better.

If you're looking for a place to put some affordable housing, this area can be a viable option if you upgrade the walkability enough to make it feasible for low-income residents.  Plus it should have a lot less resistance because it is not, in fact, in anyone's backyard.  Say you have a health clinic out there.  If your shift of businesses places a remainder bookstore and some sort of eatery nearby, you have a cluster that's convenient to live near.  Pop in an apartment building or two, and maybe a small business strip.  Now the businesses have a supply of customers and the people have a few places to go.  Later development can build on that.
Tags: activism, community, economics, how to
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