Saturday, November 25, 2006

Lost in Place

One thing I abhor about coming home is change. The Harford County of my youth is gone.

In my youth there were cows in downtown Bel Air. That field is now a Chili's, Taco Bell and strip mall. And for Bel Air today that's an old development.

There are whole communities built and inhabited between my visits.

Just recently it started creeping toward my parent's house. Mini-mansions are popping up like dandelions. My favorite gravel roads are paved, woods flattened and creeks culvertized. It depresses me.

When will we find a way to develop in synergy with the land? Ian McHarg did a fairly good job directing growth in Baltimore County. Suburban expansion was restricted to clusters around urban cores which encouraged mixed use (with limited success). The rural areas however became outlets for the rich and gentrified estates quickly replaced family farms.

We need smarter people working on building livable communities. Without strong leadership from Planning Boards we'll get the same cookie cutter subdivisions and strip malls. Anymore I'm not certain if I'm in Peoria, Columbus or Abingdon. Everywhere I find the same characterless boxes.

I'm convinced it can be done well. I've seen it.

The answers lie in mixed use development of urban cores, strong value placed on rural agricultural production and high speed efficient mixed-mode transportation networks.

Of course none of this will happen until we break off our love affair with the automobile. When will that happen? When gasoline and highways charge their true cost. Federal underwriting of the two results in the Mickey Mouse development we currently endure:

  • Subdivisions without sidewalks, or worse yet sidewalks that lead nowhere.
  • Box stores standing like islands in a sea of asphalt
  • Stop lights every 100 yards on multilane "highways"
  • Neighborhoods where garages are all that address the street, and all neighbors know of their neighbors are the makes and model of their automobile.

We know good design when we see it. In fact, we flock to communities built on a human scale. Heard of Disneyland? Not only is Main Street follow a nostalgic archetype, it's built at 7/8th scale. A human dimension.