For a broader perspective on transportation, look closer to home.
Discussions of bicycling and transportation revolve naturally around, well, transportation. But involved citizens might be better advised to focus less on mobility, and more on staying put and focusing on what’s right next door or down the street. Or, more to the point, on what ought to be there, but isn’t.
European transportation activists are pushing to shift the dialogue on transportation to encompass not only the intuitive issues of traveling, or “mobility” to what they call “proximity.”
“Proximity means focusing less on how to move large numbers of people efficiently across town, and more on how to ensure that people have choices nearer to their homes.”
Proximity means focusing less on how to move large numbers of people efficiently across town, and more on how to ensure that people have choices closer to their homes.
It means focusing on neighborhoods and building community and making sure that everyone, even those who don’t have a car or money for gas, can get food and romp around in a park with their kids.
I’m lucky enough to live within walking distance of grocery stores, large parks, movie theaters, a bookstore, a bike shop, a hardware store, several bars, many restaurants, and countless coffee shops. I’ve lived in other Portland areas with more limited nearby services, and would never want to return to the frustrations of spending so much time in cars and buses, and having to navigate my bike on dangerous, high traffic streets like East 82nd Avenue.
While proximity, in this light, is a pretty basic, non-revolutionary concept (remember Main Street at Disneyland?), unfortunately it is increasingly rare in the U.S..
Of course, people will always need to leave their neighborhoods. We just need them to consider the way they get around, and urge them to make good choices. But we must at the same time consider the reasons people have for traveling so much and so far each day.
Metro Councilor Rex Burkholder is on the right track when he urges people to live near where they work. But to take this seriously is completely out of the question for all but those who can afford to choose where they live and work, and for the diminishing few who can count on working in the same place year after year.
As a city that supposedly “gets” the impacts of transportation choices on our health, environment, and neighborhoods, we need to do more to encourage people to live near their jobs, favorite shops, schools, parks and families.
High-density neighborhood development is not so important, in the grand scheme of things, as much as simply the development of neighborhoods. Inner urban, suburban, or rural areas can all be great places to live so long as you have local places to go.
Moving is hardly the only way to achieve this — active citizens historically have had considerable sway in improving the schools their children attend, affecting land use and parks, and advocating for and against certain kinds of zoning and businesses in their community.
This is not our parents’ and grandparents’ economy, where your career plucked you out of college, trained and groomed you, and carried you comfortably through to retirement. The work economy is becoming more and more flexible. Jobs are no longer stable commitments.
“The greatest success for bicycle advocates will be to shrink the necessary distances between parts of our lives so that bicycling itself becomes obsolete.”
If people are to live near work, much less live and work, broader economic fixes are called for, such as improving the climate for small businesses, so that more people can be their own employer, or have a personal relationship with their employer. We need re-zoning and economic incentives so that all neighborhoods can enjoy multiple options for most services within walking distance.
The government must in turn fulfill its side of the contract by working with citizens to ensure that this sort of proximity is possible.
We need the government to continue to encourage and listen to engaged citizens who know their neighbors and care about their communities. PSU’s Traffic and Transportation class, which teaches citizens how to work with the city to do transportation projects, is a great example of this.
Finally, we need to frame public discourse on transportation in terms of neighborhood integrity, citizen involvement, and quality of life for all.
Councilor Burkholder’s call for people to live where they work will be more effective if he makes his message at once more expansive and more sympathetic to the current widespread lack of transportation options.
The same thing goes for people and groups like the BTA who want to encourage more people to choose bikes — we must also consider limits to bicycling that have nothing to do with transportation per se, but fall into realms of things like zoning, taxation, and school choice.
When all this is added up, the greatest success for bicycle advocates will be to shrink the necessary distances between parts of our lives so that bicycling itself becomes obsolete.
Its funny you should use E.82nd as an example. You can get any of the services you mentioned along E.82nd. Walking and biking are kind of tough though…….Can’t wait for that 70s bike blvd!
One school of thought in urban planning that places great emphasis on proximity is “New Urbanism” (link to wikipedia).
… In case anyone is interested.
This is an excellent treatment of this important issue for the future of our region. Interestingly, I was just in a meeting today at my work (Metro) where it was mentioned that on average, only 20% of the auto trips made are to and from work. All other trips are for shopping and other errands. Imagine if we could reduce traffic by 80% simply by staying put, shopping and recreating locally!
Obviously this won’t happen overnight, but a focus on proximity both individually and as a community is the way to start.
mark! i love a juicy statistic! you say commuting accounts for only 20% of auto trips made … in america? in portland? on earth? when was this measured? what was the methodology? i am trying to imagine how people who commute to work could find the time to make 3 or 4 additional round-trips every single day. or does this statistic include taxi cabs? freight? buses? help me out here …
this is probably the best article I have read on this site yet! Thats saying something since I really appreciate a lot of content on this site.
I’ve read a lot about new urbanism, especially from its chief proponent, William Howard Kuntsler, who’s written such books as The Geography of Nowhere, and new urbanism’s detractors, who claim justifiably that there’s nothing wrong with plain old urbanism. The problem lies in who makes the planning decisions today. We’d like to think there’s enough democratically driven structures that are controlled y the local community, but when you get out to the suburbs, you wind up with a deficit of community structures already in place, so the ones making the planning decisions are often the developers. Their motivations are profit-driven, so the only way you can effect a better community is to make it seem more profitable to the developers, who can package it to the “consumer.” If it takes “New Urbanism” to get some of the ideas of local mixed use development across, I’m all for it. But if the developers pick and choose what they want, and leave behind disneyfied fake neighborhoods, then I think I’ll pass. Our mission is to raise awareness of what makes a great community, with all its unexpected pleasures, incongruities, and variety, and hope that the market will value good neighborhoods high enough that the developers will get the idea that that’s what they want to build.
We need to raise awareness that no combination of “great room,” “bonus room,” or three car garage is going to make families feel like they live in an actual “place” than if they had all the things they need within walking distance of their door, and they regularly interacted with their neighbors in different ways.
Portland has so many great neighborhoods that we often don’t realize what most of the country is missing, but you only have to go out to the other side of the West Hills to find whole tracts of bedrooms clustered in cul-de-sac knots that feed into multi-lane roads choked with single purpose shopping experiences. People work so far from their homes that they spend more time at work or in transit than they do where they live, which leaves them detached from their local communities, and not able to care about their local government. This is how we lose citizens.
I fear for the future of this country, but I feel that Portland could set an example of how we might begin to fix the failed spaces in America.
AC. – I agree, you can find any service you need on 82nd, but Murphy’s Law applies – invariably whatever you NEED at the moment is on the OTHER side of 82nd.
Jeffh – It’s “James Howard Kunstler”, and I pretty much entirely agree.
It’s hard to say if New Urbanism is working – Pearl District is the only “pure” New Urbanist development in Portland (in the sense of brownfields, a central tenet of New Urbanist planning), and for “new” communities the only true New Urbanist development is Orenco Station. Fairview is typically held up as New Urbanist, but transit there is poor and there are a number of “big box” retailers immediately adjacent to the site. Also, the site is bordered on 2 sides by the giant, pedestrian-hostile roads that New Urbanist planning abhors.
To read more about this concept look for an early and fun book called “EcoCity Berkeley” by Richard Register. It uses the concept of “proximity not mobility” to re-vision Berkeley as a less auto-dominant place ala 1980s. Like converting parking lanes into vegetable gardens. Check it out…perhaps there should be an update…and EcoCity Portland with drawings by Shawn G. and a few bakfietsen thrown in.
Background…Richard Register with others went onto found Urban Ecology (now in Oakland). Check them out at http://www.urbanecology.org
PS. As someone who works everyday on transportation planning for a local government…this concept is missing from most staff discussions…we are still trying to reduce the transportation impact while still not dealing with all the cross region commute trips (just working harder to keep everyone in motion while not caring about less travel as long as we can add more plates to juggle)…when local governments do not work to effectively match homes and jobs to the same area – its like bringing coal to Newcastle or spam to Hawaii. How about a mortgage swap or a jobs trade board, so that folks can just walk to work (or at least one spouse can).
But then again…there is the whole schools issue…contributing 25% of most AM peak trips…as an outsider it seems Portland is successfully working on most issues within the core prewar city while closing down schools during the population trough (renters = higher enrollments vs. recent renovators with future families = low enrollments for now). Where will the schools be for these future kids…not within walking distance? Perhaps the school district should work out a private and public partnership with the McMenimans…schools by day and bars by night – what with all those great old school buildings and the brothers’ crews of artisans (potentials art teachers). At least until the birthrate catches up.
For a peak inside the book EcoCity Berkeley go to Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/1556430094/ref=sib_dp_pt/105-9806365-7274024#reader-link
If The Pearl District is the vanguard of New Urbanism then, no thank you!
While some of you see “visions” and “community”, I see overpriced housing only the wealthy can afford afflicted with many construction defects, overhyped and overpriced retailers, restaurants, and art galleries, and a basically cold and sterile neighborhood oozing of pretense. I work down here everyday – don’t believe the hype. Come see the Pearl on something other than a sunny summer Saturday or First Thursday.
Orenco Station is a much better attempt. Afordable homes mixed with high end homes to purchase, inexpensive rentals, easy access to light rail, and a nice mix of big box retail, local stores, groceries, and restaurants for all tastes. There are even summer farmer’s markets and real parks with grass that kids and dogs can frolic in. Best of all, it looks and feels like a neighborhood and you don’t see the plethora of small time dope dealing, drunk hipsters hollering at 2:30 AM, and strip clubs that blight many of Portland’s much hyped “up and coming” neighborhoods.
I also ask some of you to look deeper into Portland’s development scene where The Pearl and South Waterfront are concerned. The amount of corporate welfare, sweetheart deals, nepotism, tax abatements on million dollar “historic” lofts built in 2006, and other largess for the monied will make you angry beyond words.
Oh yes, the streets in and around Orenco Station are rideable and the major thoroughfares have bike lanes or separated mixed use paths.
The Pearl is a thorn in my paw.
I need a little mouse to come pull it out…
thanks for writing on this topic. It’s true we need to take a hard look at how we develop and where the resources we consume come from. Urban agriculture and farmers markets are another aspect of this discussion.Having goods produced closer to home is part of the solution to making things accessible for all. The energy that we use moving goods of all kinds is insane. Supporting locally grow and produced makes a lot of sense. Yes, I love a good avocado or mango now and they just don’t grow in Oregon. Drives me crazy to wrestle with that dilemma – satisfy my craving or stop contributing to the practice of shipping things long-distance for consumption. Such indulgence drives fuel consumption – what to do? – I love my avocados!
For more reading James Kunstler fans should check out the article by in this month’s Orion Magazine – “Making Other Arrangements” – http://www.orionmagazine.org/pages/om/07-1om/Kunstler.html . Kunslter writes about what could happen when we do run out of oil. He states, “We invested most of our late twentieth-century wealth in a living arrangement with no future. American suburbia represents the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.”
Portland does have a lot going for it and you don’t have to live in an “over-priced” neighborhood to experience community and car-free living. But it does take discipline to make decisions that lead to that lifestyle – living near work, using the services near your home,and supporting locally produced goods. Lots of P-towners do this and it does contribute to the livability of the city.
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Most urban areas can be divided into ‘pre-automobile’ and ‘post-automobile’ segments.
Most of Portland’s inner city is ‘pre-automobile’ and was developed along street car lines with local neighborhood centers located at major stops along the route, providing very good proximity. Between the streetcars and walking, you could access any services you needed on the major boulevards, which are underdesigned by today’s road standards.
Most of the outer city and suburbs are ‘post-automobile’ and were developed with the automile in mind: you need a motor vehicle to access services, sidewalks are inadequate or absent and the roads are generally overdesigned, and not pedestrian friendly.
Unfortunately, a lot of the shops that used to provide essential services to street car riders in ‘pre-automobile’ times have morphed into trendy boutiques, witness the changes that have occurred on SE Hawthorne Blvd. over the last 20 years, so proximity has lost some of the value it used to have.
If you ever get a chance to attend one of Gordon Price’s lectures, it is well worth it – he explicitly descibes the differences between pre- and post-automobile design, explains why Vancouver BC rejected the interstate highway plan for its downtown, and why you cannot add enough lane miles fast enough to keep up with the growth in the number of private vehicles on the road.
I think that many of you are missing one important aspect that WILL change where and how we work and live: TECHNOLOGY.
Remaking urban landscapes is all well and good but the day is coming where folks will work remotely en masse and I’ll be able to sit at a home desk in Bend (or Bangkok, Ottawa, Chicago…) while working for a Portland employer. Unless your job is “hands-on” or requires a physical presence, there is no immediately compelling reason to create neighborhoods near workplaces. Allowing the American office workforce to telecommute would do wonders for congestion, fossil fuel use, and carbon emissions. Think about it, what is cheaper and more efficient: crowding people into “New Urban” neighborhoods built around limited use of old ideas of work and commuting (not to mention the physical and natural resources needed) or investing in new technology for telecommuting? Read “The World is Flat” by Thomas Freidman. That will open your eyes and should scare some of you also.
Work trips are only a small percentage of total trips.
people still need to get to stores and other community and social destinations.
I agree with you and I think Elly was referring to this point in her paragraph about this not being “your parent’s economy”.
do check out the Orion article. Kunstler argues that technology won’t save us. He’s referring to alternative fuel technologies but still I have to agree with him (on this point). Many jobs will ALWAYS require physical presence (e.g. mfg.) and others still are built on the value of face-to-face interactions (service-oriented retail). The need to move bodies to work will exist – someone will have to work at the stores and community destinations that telecommuters frequent.
I do agree
Until someone can email me a tomato, I think technological optimism is of limited value. People don’t want to hear it, but technology can only do so much. We’re going to have to change our lifestyle. Sadly, many Americans have come to expect and glorify taking up an insane amount of space. I really don’t know how to overcome this. It is an enormous obstacle we’ve built for ourselves.
Elly does a great job of making this point without coming off as an smug sociopath as our painfully-correct friend Jimmy Kunstler so frequently does. Bravo, Elly!
I disagree with the telecommuting argument. I’ve worked in software companies for the past decade, and though telecommuting is an option for some of the time, it will never become the standard.
Having people in the same physical room, working as a team, is absolutely paramount to doing business well. While telecommuting will always be a perk, I seriously doubt it will become commonplace.
I am speaking merely from experience, having not read the reference you cite. But I have had many conversations with colleagues about this exact issue, and have never found anyone who thought telecommuting was more than a perk, or should be.
If it won’t change the software industry, one of the most adaptable industries we’ve yet to see (and the one that defined the term), how can we expect it to become a great mecca of the new urban worker?
In actuality the shift is becoming somewhat more insidious. You’re now seeing the emergence of the “always connected” worker. This twist has no direct connection to physically being at work or at home. It is transforming the notion of telecommute into “be able to work wherever you are”. This is nuanced, but different than the common notion of a laptop at home or at the coffee shop. Think iPhone and a few generations down the line.
There is value in the social aspect of work, the proximity. Planning would be best served in improving that scenario than the ephermeral notion of a perfect worker who can get their derring-do on in any location.
I don’t totally disagree with Kunstler and I do think that regionalized economies and the demise of the personal auto is coming. That said, I do think that people are more adaptable than most think. Portland and environs are already well along the path with light rail and, compared to places like L.A., rather well organized suburbs. We’ll be fine.
What Kunstler doesn’t mention in his writings either for effect or personal politics is that alternative fuel technologies exist that can sustain a modified form of global trade. If we can build nuclear powered naval vessels, there is no reason we couldn’t build nuke powered container ships. European rail passengers and freight ride electric trains and we can build nuke plants to power those and our cities. Is this the most attractive option? Maybe not for some but until someone invents the elusive non-polluting cold fusion reactor it is an alternative. In his book, “The Long Emergency”, just how were those pesky Chinese pirates supposed to plunder our west coast without fuel?
My objection to new urbanism is that Portland has a history of bastardizing it beyond its original intent (Ex.-The Pearl is just an enclave of wealthy retirees, dual income gay couples, and snooty hipsters – where are those vibrant middle income families Vera crowed about?) IMHO, build better mass transit and bike connections to the ‘burbs from PDX. I live there and it already seems to meet what Elly talks about – one trip (ten minutes driving each way) nets me groceries, housewares, hardware, clothes, lunch etc. at a strip mall complex (Horrors!) where my urban dwelling friends must drive to four or five divergent locations over a period of hours to do the same tasks. If I just need some groceries – I can ride to any of four markets, including a New Seasons, in less than 15 minutes. Why spend tax dollars building new communities when this stuff already exists but Portlanders are too proud or too cool to visit Beaverton, Gresham, or Tualatin? Perhaps the solution sought is already in the suburbs? I bike or MAX to work each weekday and now only fill my Subaru’s tank once every eight or ten weeks. It sounds like the city is the problem when it comes to sustainability, efficiency and the ability of individuals to conserve?
Adapt or perish? When the time comes, I am confident which side I’ll be on without changing my lifestyle or requiring millions of other people’s tax money to keep me comfortably yuppie.
Actually there are three or four buildings in the Pearl of the affordable kind, both for seniors and/or low income. Standing at NW 11th and Lovejoy and looking south a felt for the first time since returning to Portland 20 years ago that I was in a real city. But real cities aren’t for everyone.
We move on average every 5 years, so there is plenty of opportunity to think about the most important transportation decision we make… where to live and where to work. Indeed, data from the 2000 census tells us that most people live relatively close to where they work. Check out the Rideshare study done for Metro by UrbanTrans. They plotted where the folks who work in 16 employment areas in the region live, and the clustering of those dots is pretty striking. Its almost as if our transportation planning is done for those who don’t get it, not for those who do.
Huh. I haven’t read the links about New Urbanism, so I’m sort of talking out of my hat, here.
It’s more of the cozy feeling of being in a neighborhood that I have in mind here. That you can only get when you wander down the street for an orange or a cup of coffee, and run into your neighbor, and maybe drop by the cat food store, and pick some rosemary out of your friend’s yard on the way back. Not that this is everyone’s exact dream, but you know what I mean. Cozy.
You can’t get that feeling quite so much by driving, or by placing a delivery order online for an orange, a cup of coffee, and some rosemary in between emailing a friend and working on whatever you’re working on at your laptop in your pajamas.
And Brad’s totally right, there are some very urban areas that don’t quite have that feeling, like the Pearl or even somewhere central like Irvington, or 20th and Hawthorne.
Kunstler is no oracle. He is sensationalist prone to jumping to plausible but illogical conclusions. However, he is good for a chuckle from time to time. His swipe at Hillery last week was good for a grin. His weekly column can be found at Clusterfuck Nation
Regarding the Pearl, it is almost exactly what the New Urbanists claim to want – walkable, services close by, brownfield reutilization, and infill development. It’s transit-oriented, has adequate nearby greenspace and public places, et. al.
It’s also, as was pointed out, totally unaffordable for the average person. When I said it’s the only “pure” New Urbanist development, I wasn’t necessarily saying it was a *good* thing. New Urbanism has its heart in the right place, but there are still serious issues with that philospohy and its repercussions just as there is with any other.
Regarding Kunstler – he very correctly identifies the causes and effects of suburbia, and when he sticks to that subject, he’s at his best. Unfortunately, he’s not really saying much that’s new anymore, and his forays into politics, economics and future-telling, while entertaining, aren’t as informative or accurate as his observations on the mass-culture. I agree with Coyote that he is a sensationalist.
Elly, you hit the nail on the head with my issues with New Urbanism – a “new” (dare I say “fake”?) towny-feeling place just doesn’t have the same draw as places like Belmont, Sellwood, Clinton St., Alberta, or Multnomah Village. Those places grew there, have history, and a variety of housing stock, businesses and people who have grown, evolved, aged, and spawned children. They’re alive, and they don’t feel all plasticky, or packaged, or fake. Hawthorne reminds me of Royal Oak back in Michigan – trendy, hip, and full of itself. That’s not necessarily bad, but it’s not “cozy”, either. Same goes for “Trendy-third” and the rest of the alphabet district. Fun, interesting shopping, but not “lived in”.
Brad – we did have one nuclear-powered freighter, the NSS Savannah. It was built in the 1970s during the energy crisis and was completely unafordable, even with the higher oil prices of that day. Today we likely couldn’t build one, because powerplant-grade nuclear fuel is weapons-grade as well (usually), and the risk of piracy/terrorism is too much for most governments. Besides, mining and refining Uranium is very destructive to the environment, and most of the high-quality ore is long gone.
OTOH, we’ve got a lot of decommissioned warheads that could provide a fair chunk of fuel if the President were to authorize removing it from the strategic reserve and “repurposing it”.
One of the things I really like about Portland’s bike community is that we don’t just talk online – we go out and do things, and many of us have met many of the rest of us in person. It’s a true community, which is what I think Elly was getting at. It’s the communication, the slowing down, the getting out. Our society is all about efficiency and convenience, and I for one really cherish all the groups and individuals who value the quality of life over the efficiency of it.
Cozy. I like cozy. I think Hollywood is getting cozy too.
Could “cozy” be the new “hygge”?
Anyone read J.H. Crawford’s book, “Carfree Cities” or walked through the companion website Carfree.com.
It deals with transit issues from scratch rather than trying to retrofit an existing city. This can be a huge turn-off, but it does enable some really clear thinking about how proximity to the requirements of daily living and transit could be, or perhaps should be, arranged.
Crawford has lead workshops at several “Towards Carfree Cities” conferences (coming to Portland in Summer 2008 it looks like). The best part about these workshops is the approach to city planning it — moving from the developer-driven to citizen-driven.
Couple that with the concept of a beta-communities (as promoted by CoolTown Studios) and all you need is a group of people committed to the vision that are willing to learn to work with the city and developers.
Easier said than done. I know. But the path seems like it is there.
One failure that seems to arise in the beta-community model is its focus on the so-called “creative class.” Supposedly I fit into this group, but more often than not the creative class that materializes in the real world, like the Pearl, is highly young and irresponsible, more consumers than community citizens. And they generate a magnetic field of cash that drawns in high-cost housing, national retailers, and big box stores. The Pearl District seems more like Santa Monica, California grafted into downtown than a glorious New Urbanist success.
I am excited at the prospect of developing a carfree zone in part of Portland. Start with once a week, perhaps in SE where their seems to be a lot of cyclist residents. Maybe eventually a huge swath of nieghbors from the river east can go carfree everyday, reshape their transit around pedestrian destinations, draw in community services and necessities that they can walk/ride to.
Is there any organization in town with “proximty” as their core goal enabled by pedestrian and bicycle oriented transit?
In response to your last question, yes there are!
Shift is organizing the Towards Carfree Cities conference — the same sub-group that puts on Carfree Day, and is becoming more active in street closures around town, temporary and permanent.
Umbrella is a new organization that is being formed to provide guidance and nonprofit sponsorship to emerging groups that promote transportation and (especially) proximity.
The City Repair Project, longtime partner of Shift, focuses on turning streets from throughways into human-oriented spaces.
The Portland Streetcar group encourages streetcar development in Portland, which is key to creating nodes of destinations around transit stops — which also creates proximity and walkability.
By the way, someone told me the other day that “Access” is the American word for Proximity. Any thoughts on that?
I lived in the Portland area 25 years ago, but moved back to north Florida, and I left a piece of heart in your fair city.
I work as a city planner in the capital city of FL, and we\’re talking about all these things too, like living closer to work, the pitfalls of regional transportation networks, the exclusivity of New Urbanist developments, etc. Y\’all are great, but don\’t think you\’re that far ahead of us dumb southerners! 😉
I\’m all for living closer to work, but there are thousands upon thousands of suburbanites who are perfectly willing to drive long distances so that they can live in homogeneous, sprawling subdivisions full of people and houses that look exactly alike. Our comprehensive plan preaches infill, mixed use, bike/ped facilities, etc., but almost every attempt to do mixed use infill meets a wall of opposition, most of it built upon fear of the unknown. For all of our wealth, \”freedom,\” and rugged individualism, Americans on the whole are not happy campers, and they\’re scared of anything that they\’re not familiar with.
However, I believe that energy prices and the thirst of Gen X and their children for something more authentic and community-based will eventually force many to realize that our future lies in high-quality mixed use developments and redevelopment–and yes, even those snooty, expensive New Urbanists. (The reason NU developments are so expensive is that people are willing to pay for something special, which the suburbs are not.)
BTW, I and another of my planning department colleagues rode our bicycles to work today, and at least one other walked. So, we\’re trying hard to live what we preach!