Twenty years ago (when I got started in community planning), the thought of thinking about land use and transportation together was a revelation. Considering both together is now commonplace, and adopted in some shape, form or fashion at all levels of infrastructure planning. But a critical look at the equation is needed, especially here in the suburbs. To whit:
- Land use is just that. You can plop down unrelated buildings that check the "mixed use" box and still have land use.
- Transportation investments also have a "check the box" feel. Florida planning, like many other places, still pays more attention to the existence of a facility, rather than the user experience. Think about all those crazy bike lanes painted on arterials.
- Transportaton is all about how people move from Point A to Point B. But trace the roots of how communities determine transportation needs, and it rests heavily on "trip generation." It's based on the building - not on the person. There's also an obsession (at least in Florida) on "internal capture." This is intended to describe the number of trips that can be satisfied within a development area. While internal capture is - in essence - what cities do, in suburbs success can be claimed by placing a deli in an isolated office park. Internal capture is also - in essence - what prisons do.
- Innovation in transportation is stuck. Look at the set of modes we have and most gracious way to describe activity is sideways evolution. Bus Rapid Transit is hailed as a brand new force, but it's really a fancier bus with its own lane.
- We don't have a building boom anymore. The land use and transportation exemplars from the past decade or so have been big ticket. The "Best Practices" from the early naughts kind of feel like a luxury item.
So where does that leave us? How about a new equation? Instead of land use+ transportation, it seems like we are moving more to a placemaking+mobility+technology world. To another whit:
- Organizations like Placemakers, Project for Public Spaces, Center for Neighborhood Technology, and others have been building the case for making places, not just an assortment of stuff that "the market" congers up. In the past, concrete and steel were the focal points of land use and transportation. While they are necessary components, our landscape is littered with places that simply don't work because we never considered how people fit in. Placemaking adds the human algorithm to the new equation.
- Mobility helps break through the arguments that car based travel is supreme. Mobility implies movement and traffic congestion, by definition, is not movement. Mobility provides a nice platform for talking about all kinds of options which can include cars, buses, bikes and feet. Actually getting from Point A to Point B, and having an enjoyable experience along the way, is what is supreme.
- Technology is emerging as the bridge to make the place+ mobility work no matter the setting. Bike and car sharing are examples of this technology bridge, but there is so much more waiting to happen, especially for suburbs. Technology will be the fix, not land development, at least in the short run. This blog will spend a lot of time looking into those technologies, how they fit, and how, politically, those technologies are one of the most important factors for the smart growth movement going forward.