Monday, March 07, 2005

Kotkin: Just Fix the Potholes

Joel Kotkin flogs his pragmatic approach to running a city in today's LA Times. I usually stop reading things like this about halfway through, but that would have been a mistake in this case, because Kotkin makes a couple of good points down below the fold:
When it can take more than an hour to travel the 14 miles to downtown, you stop thinking about City Hall and look for local alternatives. "We have achieved our own kind of secession. It's called traffic," says attorney David Fleming, a prominent leader in the failed Valley secession drive.

Yet a lot of what we want is simple and straightforward. Fix the potholes so you can drive something other than a Humvee down Burbank Boulevard. Get us more cops so the gangsters don't even think of showing their faces here. Make dealing with the city less like a Kafka experience and more like a Costco one.

In short, more efficiency and less big picture — please.

Nothing less will help preserve what the British call the "middle landscape," a place with ethnic diversity, shops at a walkable distance and farmers' markets, and secure enough that our 10-year-old can ride her scooter without getting flattened in traffic or razzed by gangsters.

This is the part that's worth a think. Neighborhood takes on a new significance in the lives of people isolated by traffic congestion from the larger urban area. I think it means:
  1. They'll want, and need, a town center that they can quickly walk, drive, or even take some kind of transit to get to. This means less Tysons Corner, more Reston Town Center.

  2. There is a natural limit to the car-driven expansion of the city, just like there was for the commuter train and the omnibus before it. It's a big limit, but it exists.

I can think of an economic model of cities that applies here, but it will take a real paper to expand on that. If every suburban node or development adds its own percentage to the total traffic congestion, then at some distance from the geographic center of the metroplex, you'll be at the edge because the travel time plus congestion will effectively put large parts of the urbanized area out of reach for things like weeknight dinners, drinks, maybe even movies.