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The Happy City and our $20 Trillion Opportunity

happycity-coverOne of the joys and frustrations of being an engineer who is also a hopeless dreamer, is that you can see the beauty of what the world could be, while also feeling the burden of every single thing that is in the way of achieving that beauty.

Envisioning this potential (and sometimes even having the opportunity to design some of it) is one of the greatest joys of being alive. But slamming up against the stubborn wall of society’s inertia, all day, every day, can lead to some displays of choice language.

If only we could grasp onto even a tiny fraction of the improvements that are hanging right in front of our faces, our society could bypass decades or centuries of pain, and billions of people could lead happier lives, starting this afternoon.

We can illustrate this problem perfectly with an example from right here in my home town. Take a look at this Google Maps satellite image of where Colorado Highway 287, (also known as Main Street) crosses over the St. Vrain Creek:

main-bridge

Colorado Highway 287 makes a lame leap across the creek.

It’s pretty boring, right? And that is exactly my point. It’s a boring, utilitarian bridge, in a blighted, shitty area of town dominated by parking lots, used car dealerships, traffic, and noise. When you drive along that part of 287, you don’t even notice you are crossing a bridge. It’s just part of the wide, flat road. And besides, you’re busy navigating the ugly, stressful terrain of dense traffic – passing through in a rush to get to somewhere nicer.

Now, I happen to bike right under this bridge quite often, because Longmont’s excellent St. Vrain Greenway path allows you whiz along through the whole town, bypassing all the trouble that the car drivers have to deal with above. Down on the bike path it’s just you, recharging your soul and your muscles, passing a few other cyclists and watching the crystal clear water as it flows over oval multicolored granite rocks, maybe a few ducks and geese building nests along the water’s edge.

In 2013, that Main Street bridge was partially destroyed, along with quite a few other things in town, by an enormous flood. So they decided to rebuild it. And I decided to follow along with the project, because hey, I’m an engineer.

What I learned is that building even the smallest, least noteworthy road bridge is a spectacular project. The engineering calculations alone cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The machinery involved would fill a football field, and the quantity of soil, steel, and concrete you need to move around is difficult to even comprehend. They have been working on this one insignificant bridge for over three years now, and I’m still waiting for the bike path to re-open.

Here's a peek under the bridge. Although you rarely look at this stuff, you definitely pay for it. Just post and beam like this consumes between 500,000 and 1 million pounds of concrete.

Here’s a peek under the bridge. Although you rarely look at this stuff, you definitely pay for it. Just that one post-and-beam support consumes between 500,000 and 1 million pounds of concrete – releasing equivalent pollution to about 150,000 miles of driving. I would need a bigger tape measure to estimate the whole bridge, but it would be many, many times more than this. Even a small bridge is a huge thing.

The total cost was estimated at 5.6 million dollars, which puts it roughly on par with, say, this 10-bathroom waterfront megamansion compound currently for sale in Florida:

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And if you want a bigger bridge, like the flyovers with cloverleafs that get built every time two highways happen to interconnect, you can spend 100 times more.

How many megamansions will this cost us?

How many megamansions will this cost us?

Do you see the problem here?

This is exactly the same stuff I talk about in personal finance, except applied on a bigger scale.

The average American gets the most expensive car he can afford, and drives it as much as he can – for virtually 100% of trips out of the house. And yet he has a net worth of nearly zero, and subpar physical health, for most of his life.

The average American city builds the largest roads and parking lots it can possibly fund, maximizing the amount of available space for vehicles, in a noble attempt to reduce traffic and serve its citizens. But the result is that cities become nothing but wide, well-engineered, fast, deadly expanses of concrete. These are terrifying places for walkers and cyclists, which builds still more demand for more cars and more roads.

Let’s be clear here: I’m a capitalist, lifelong student of economics, pro-growth techno-utopian, and basically the opposite of a luddite. Efficient transportation is a huge wealth-builder for society, so we will always need bridges and fast roads. But these valuable resources will always be very expensive, so it makes sense not to waste them.

A transport truck full of factory components or food brings great wealth to Longmont when it crosses that bridge over the creek. The problem is the 400 single-occupant personal cars and trucks cramming up the rest of that road, full of people who are only driving because they don’t realize there is a better way.

Since even the most mundane bridge costs as much as a Mega Mansion, we are effectively building millions of mega-mansions mostly to to facilitate our clunky personal transport machines that are about 95% inefficient. And the whole reason we “need” cars in the first place is because we spread everything out by making our roads so big! It’s a circular problem.

Collectively, we spend almost half of our tax dollars on paving over our living spaces, or dealing with the consequences of the lifestyle created by that pavement.

The solution in both cases is so obvious, and yet almost nobody ever talks about it. In fact, many of us are still working to perpetuate and accelerate this stupidity.

Right now, as you read this, millions of people are passionately shopping around for new, better cars, and hundreds of American cities are planning enormous expansions of their road systems – new bridges, wider lanes, bigger parking structures. Politicians whine about our “crumbling infrastructure” and vow to rebuild it with emergency packages of deficit spending. Because we obviously need to build even more of it, even faster.

To Want Something Better, You Must Understand  the Core of Our Problem

Space for cars, or for people? Two ways to use a chunk of city land. (image credit: the happy city book)

Space for cars, or for people? Two ways to use a chunk of city land. (image credit: happy city)

When you’re born into a system, you come to think of it as normal. This was even true for me, growing up in an industrialized area and lusting after nice cars and motorcycles as I passed through my teens, feeling the frustration of heavy traffic jams and the joy of the open road.

But the quest for optimization led me naturally to bicycle transportation and minimizing car commutes, which led me to the study of urban planning, and the forehead-slapping realization that we’re doing everything wrong.

What it didn’t tell me, is how we got to this bizarre place. I mean, here are all of these relatively smart, wealthy people in this incredibly rich country, but our behavior is demonstrably self-defeating. What led us to this point, and how do we fix it?

Recently, I had the joy of reading a book about exactly this subject, from an author who has put much more thought and work into fixing it than I have. To put it moderately, it blew my mind.

Happy City, by Charles Montgomery, pretends to be a book about how cities are laid out, but you very quickly realize that it’s much more – a brilliant and thoughtful book about Everything that Matters – human happiness in the past, present, and future, and just how incredibly powerful our immediate environment is, in dictating this most important thing.

As you read through the book, which I have now done twice over the past six months (something I never do), you realize that city design strongly influences everything about our lives – our health, wealth, social networks, longevity, satisfaction and our tendency towards trust or violence which in turn even dictates how we will vote*.

And yet, for over 50 years we have been designing our cities in almost the most stupid, expensive, ineffective way possible. For example, did you realize that the following stuff is studied and well-documented around the world:

  • Building in the modern North American way (wide roads, big parking lots, wide lawns and plenty of space for every car) is the most expensive way that any group of humans have ever lived. We consume more concrete, water, pipes, wire, sidewalks, sign posts, landscaping, and fuel for this privilege.
  • But we don’t get any value for these dollars: we spend more time and money getting around than ever before, which leaves us with a chronic shortage of time to enjoy any potential benefits of dispersed living.
  • People who live in suburbs are much less trusting of other people than people who live in walkable neighborhoods where housing is mixed with shops, services, and places to work. This is because they have far fewer relationships with people who live nearby. And yet the overwhelming message of happiness research is that relationships with other people have the biggest influence on our happiness.
  • if 10 percent more people thought they had someone to count on in life, it would have a greater effect on national life satisfaction than giving everyone a 50 percent raise.

So we are getting a poor value for our money.

But how can it be a poor value if this is what people chose for themselves? It’s the free market at work, right?

Wrong.

This is the city Houten, just South of Utrecht and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. You can't get around the city by car, because the roads don't connect in the middle. You'd have to drive out to the ring road to get across town. As a result, 66% of in-town trips are by bike. Also, a central train station whisks you to other cities if desired.

This is the city of Houten, just South of Utrecht and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. You can’t get around the city by car, because the roads don’t connect in the middle. A car would have to to drive out to the ring road, and then back in the other side. As a result, 66% of in-town trips are by bike or on foot. Also, a central train station whisks you to other cities if desired. One of my life goals is that we – quite literally you and me – build a city like this here in the USA.

The book goes on to explain the history of suburbia, which I had never quite learned before:

  • Originally, we had big dense cities, small towns, and agricultural areas. The small towns were where people tended to be happiest.
  • Cities expanded to meet the desires of the workers: being close to work, but also having clean air and privacy like their small town counterparts. Housing was built at the edges in “street car neighborhoods” If you have ever walked around residential San Francisco, this is the basic feel.
  • When cars joined the picture, a consortium of GM, Firestone, Phillips Oil, Shell Oil, and Standard Oil bought up street car companies and shut them down. They also lobbied the government heavily and formed “Motorist Associations” to advocate for the rights of drivers – making driving more convenient and thus boosting driving demand for their products.
  • Cars were originally thought of as dangerous intruders in the city. If a driver killed a pedestrian with his car, it was a crime.
    The motorist associations pushed to change this balance: they sought to convince people that the problem of safety involved making sure people did not get in the way of cars.
    They invented the crime of “Jaywalking”, which is crossing a street somewhere other than a controlled crossing area.
    They pushed in the current legal arrangement, where if you kill a person with your car, it’s probably just a traffic violation. In some cases, it won’t be your fault at all as long as you were obeying the rules of the road.
  • Motorist associations also continually push for car-friendly policies like highway expansion, fighting against traffic tickets and speed traps, and even write articles like “Elon’s Carbon Con“, completely misunderstanding (or deliberately misrepresenting?) the entire life purpose of one of my favorite humans.

That last bullet point strays into politics, because you get into a battle of freedom versus regulation. I personally feel that if in doubt, you should err on the side of freedom. And in this regard, the book brought up its most stunning point:

  • Our current city planning method is not the result of free market forces at all. It’s actually an incredibly strict book of regulations which separates functions – residential, commercial, and industrial. It also defines setbacks, lot sizes, intersections, and parking requirements. It is all standardized in a group of standard, downloadable regulations that most cities purchase from Municode, while the road design comes from the Federal Highway Association’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUCTD).
  • This is a self-replicating zombie of a system: every new town simply downloads and implements the existing book of rules without thinking about it, because “This is how things work in America”
  • But that original book of rules was built from an almost comical chain of events. The oil companies and motorist associations. Special interests and racism, like a regulation in Modesto, CA which banned clothes washing facilites from the main street, which happened to be run by Chinese people. The desire of rich people to keep away poor people (which is easy to do legally if you just ban duplexes and apartment buildings, or specify a minimum lot size as many suburbs do.
  • Highway subsidies, like the way we build roads with public money, lower the perceived cost of building a dispersed city. Mortgage subsidies from the federal housing association that made it easier to buy new houses than to restore or rebuild existing more central buildings.

This sounds pretty grim, but I look at it with optimism: if we have built this relatively wealthy society even with the boat anchor of horrible living design hanging around our necks, imagine how much wealthier we will become if we shed that useless burden for the next stage of our journey?

In fact, some people are already working on the project. A group called Strong Towns, run by a fiscal conservative engineer named Chuck Marohn, teaches cities about the folly of car-based expansion. From his career as a city planner, he has learned that the honeymoon of developer dollars and easy borrowing quickly fades to become a hangover of massive maintenance costs and low tax revenue. A densely packed city puts a lot of people, business, and money close together. With a dispersed city you get lots of maintenance costs but very few businesses per square mile.

A movement called “New Urbanism” started up in 1993 to bring back some aspects of people-friendly design. There are now neighborhoods popping up with these better design principles in every major city. In Mableton, Georgia they are actually reclaiming big parking lots to build useful islands of denser development, as shown in the earlier picture.

But it has been a long battle, because in order to make a place that is pleasant for people, you literally need to change or disobey the existing suburban building codes.

Here in Longmont, there is a street called “100 Year Party Court” and another called “Tenacity”, named by some frustrated New Urban developers who were dumbfounded by how ridiculous the existing road regulations were: “Why are they forcing to waste space for THIS MUCH PARKING on the streetside – what are they expecting, some sort of 100-year-party?”

Thus, it is time to stop the madness and start rebuilding our ridiculous infrastructure in a smarter way.

The increase to our personal wealth may be larger than any other possible change we can make. We have about 9 million lane-miles of roads in the US, and over 5,000 notable bridges. It costs about $1 million per mile to make a single lane of road, which means we have at least $9 trillion of roads and $100 billion of bridges, before we even get into 500 million parking spaces, which cost about $4,000 each! 

By Mustachian standards, at least 90% – Ninety Percent – of this pavement is wasted. It’s just there to support the other sprawl, and because we have trained our citizens refuse to walk or ride a bike, even for short distances.

How To Fix It

The good news is that this can be fixed. The reason people keep perpetuating the pointless car model is that they are unaware there is any other option.

If you live in Orlando and want to go out for dinner, you see only a choice of driving, or a long, noisy walk alongside a six-lane road on a narrow grass shoulder. I was there last month and did the walk, noting that they had not even bothered with sidewalks. I could see how Orlandans would assume that cars are superior to walking, if this were their frame of reference.

Now that you know there is a better way, there are practical steps you can take as a citizen:

  • Stop supporting car sprawl with your money. If a potential house, job, or store is in an area that doesn’t support bikes or walking, simply don’t sign the contract.
    After all, would you buy a house in an area that was impossible to reach by road? Probably not, and in fact areas like this are generally called “Wilderness”  because so many people insist on roads.
    Reverse your priorities and insist on living somewhere designed for Humans. There are now thousands of places like this. It’s worth the small effort to find one.
  • If you’re starting or expanding your own company, do it in a walkable area. If the majority of your employees will have no choice but to drive to work, that’s a bad place to start a business.
  • Start voting against any road expansions in your region. Somewhat counter-intuitively, road expansions never alleviate traffic jams – they only make them worse.
    The only solution to traffic is to get people out of their cars. Luckily, this solution also costs less and builds the wealth of your local economy rather than draining it.  Road expansion is to a city like candy and cookies are to your body. It has also been described as “trying to cure obesity by loosening your belt”
  • Channel that money you would have spent on roads – 100% of it – into bike paths, road diets, parks, central city redevelopment and “upzoning”.
  • Fight the “Not in My Back Yard” tendencies of most people, who object to new buildings or higher-density living near where they live. What these people are probably afraid of is not the presence of more people, but the car traffic they would bring. So, support more density, but only if it discourages cars.
  • Push for the removal of minimum parking requirements for new construction. Every time somebody wants to create a new building or business, our traditional building code system forces them to waste a bunch of money and precious land on parking spaces, which sit empty most of the time.
    It makes much more sense to use that extra land for more businesses and housing, eliminating the vast distances that encourage people to drive in the first place. Car parking would be a niche market, built by private companies and charged out at market rates.
  • And of course, just start walking and biking wherever you can. In a dense city, and even in US-style suburban sprawl, a bike will get you there faster than a car most of the time. Sure, there are a few spots that are truly unsafe for bikes, but even right now, with today’s infrastructure, we could eliminate at least 75% of town and city traffic overnight.
    For example, here in Longmont, biking is safe and efficient to 100% of possible destinations, at least 350 days of the year. But bikes represent less than 0.5% of the traffic I see on the roads.
    Every time you drive within a town, you destroy a bit of the feeling of community. Every single time you walk, you build the community, and advertise the idea of walking to every person who sees you.

As I learned from this book, urban planning is far from just a geeky niche topic – it’s really the foundation of most of our wealth and personal happiness.

We can improve everything about our lives, if we all understand a bit about how to arrange our living spaces. So I’ll see you out there this afternoon, as we start making some arrangements.

 

* (people who have weak bonds with their immediate neighbors will trust them less – and will also disproportionately vote for things like nationalist, anti-trade, anti-immigration policies and be worried about terrorism – sound familiar?)

Here’s a cool passage on this subject from the book:

“Imagine that you dropped your wallet somewhere on your street. What are the chances you would get it back if a neighbor found it? A stranger? A police officer? Your answer to that simple question is a proxy for a whole list of metrics related to the quality of your relationship with family, friends, neighbors, and the society around you. In fact, ask enough people the wallet question, and you can predict the happiness of cities.”

  • David Zetland February 12, 2017, 4:04 am

    BRAVO!

    I’m a migrant from San Francisco to Amsterdam for exactly these reasons (a second try in Vancouver failed for all the car traffic), and my girlfriend runs a touring/educational company called Sustainable Amsterdam (here’s her Jacksonville (!) TEDx on transforming cities: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yoAD_P0-z0A

    We just watched “Human Scale,” which is famous for the line “Cities are for people, not cars” here: https://vimeo.com/162029805

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  • Julia February 12, 2017, 4:38 am

    Great article, I am so excited to find that for once after reading one of your articles that refers to a book, a quick search of my local library catalogue shows they actually hold this book! Going to borrow it tomorrow and then start researching/dreaming about moving to such a place in Aus, maybe our town planning rules aren’t as prohibitive…

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  • Tony February 12, 2017, 6:03 am

    Great read, I am 34 and currently in my first year of FIRE with a wife and 3 kids living in Malaga, Spain for the winter enjoying most of what you have written aboat above. My wife wants to move here for how happy all these benifits make her and the kids. I would rather build this Happy City in the US like you too (somehow). I am ALL IN to join you in making it a realization. We lived in Silicon Valley and are taking a year to find the ideal place to live and raise our kids (yes, will will be checking out Longmont this may). I’m buying that book today. Cheers my brothas from otha mothas. I love this community of badasses

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  • Renard February 12, 2017, 6:26 am

    If you want to read a historical book that noted firsthand the urbanization and mechanization as it was happening take a look at “The Air-Conditioned Nightmare”, by Henry Miller. Painfully, it offers a view of of the US through the eyes of an ex-patriot who returned to tour and observe ‘his native land’ after 10 years abroad. Returning for this odyssey in the late 1930s he is not impressed. The combination of airconditioning and the automobile have taken us to the way we live today. Would love to hear from someone else that read this book……left me sad and dismayed, but inspired to help make a change.

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  • Hannah February 12, 2017, 6:49 am

    Great article, thanks for the read. Here in London UK, we have a housing crisis with not enough houses being built. To help with this without the associated congestion, most new built houses and apartment blocks are car free developments. No garages, no permanent parking permits, and you can only get a limited number of guest permits per year from the council. The government subsidises the built of housing and the councils have noticed that they can’t have the associated congestions so have set these restrictions.

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  • Htown Harry February 12, 2017, 6:56 am

    This sentence seems a bit over the top, MMM. What’s the basis?

    “Collectively, we spend almost half of our tax dollars on paving over our living spaces, or dealing with the consequences of the lifestyle created by that pavement.”

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  • Patrick February 12, 2017, 7:48 am

    Urbanism is such an wonderful topic. You might be interested in Jakriborg, Sweden, a new traditional development, or Mississauga, where they plopped density onto a suburban grid, https://granolashotgun.com/category/mississauga/
    Also of interest is affordable housing in Japan, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGbC5j4pG9w , my personal gripe is why we can’t have more spaces in the US like Washington Square Park, concrete square parks in the city instead of the unused baseball fields that we usually build. There are endlessly interesting topics

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  • Charlotte February 12, 2017, 7:55 am

    Food for thought, thank you.
    This is an interesting perspective too:
    https://www.ted.com/talks/chris_downey_design_with_the_blind_in_mind#t-684219

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  • TwoRoads February 12, 2017, 8:17 am

    I agree with much of what Pete is saying here. As a civil engineer, I would make a few clarifications on highway standards: 1. The MUTCD (Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices) is published by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) with input from State and local agencies and the public. But it only covers traffic control devices–signs, pavement markings, signals, etc. It ensures, for example, that all jurisdictions use a red octagon for a STOP sign. 2) design standards are much different. FHWA has some rules that cover the National Highway System. But the NHS only consists of Interstates and other major highways (https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/planning/national_highway_system/). But even on these major highways, good design can prevail. FHWA requires that AASHTO’s “A Policy on Geometric Design of Highway and Streets” be used for design standards on the NHS. But this guidebook provides highway designers with wide ranges of values to choose from. And even when something outside these ranges makes more sense, there is a design exception process. So, Federal regs are not forcing poor design. Pete is correct that the problem is really all of us and our propensity to drive anywhere. And folks that believe we need a better system for bikes and peds need to make sure they are heard. If transportation agencies only hear from people complaining about traffic congestion, that also contributes to this unbalance. Engineers can optimize anything. But we need constructive public participation, as Pete is suggesting here, to make sure we optimizing correctly and achieving a better balance.

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  • Dave February 12, 2017, 9:30 am

    A very interesting and thought provoking article. Since my son and his husband live in NYC and we live out in the “wilderness” of Durango, CO we have had many a conversation about the pros/cons of the big city vs the tiny city. I have an observation and a question for the MMM tribe.

    First my observation, the folks in Durango tend to be a very happy crowd. You walk down the street and are almost always greeted with smiles, “hi there”, and politeness. After living and traveling all over the world for several years the genuine friendliness and sense of community was one of the things that drew us here to Durango (that and it can’t get much more beautiful than the Rockies). However as a consultant that has lived in large cities (NYC/Philly/Boston) and still has to travel to large cities my personal observation is that people in dense cities are MISERABLE! They rarely smile or greet you, and often seem afraid for their lives. As far as more happiness because of the connections, both my business acquaintances and my family that live in big cities seem far more insular than we do in a small town. I found that to be VERY true when I lived in big cities. I always went out of my way to make friends, meet neighbors, etc., and was constantly surprised how many people had never done more than say hi to their neighbor at the apartment mailboxes. Even though I live on 35 acres now I know all my neighbors, we regularly help each other out and have get togethers, we see each other frequently as we walk/bike our little dirt roads (no 100 year party parking here), stopping to greet each other and chat. We SMILE and enjoy life instead of running around with our heads down hoping to never make eye contact with everyone. Almost all of my neighbors are from some big city life and NONE would ever trade what we have here for the city ever again. I’m also not sure that Longmont is really a reasonable comparison for big city living, to me it’s much more like a suburb than a dense population center.

    Now my question, I keep hearing about how much more efficient city living is than country living. I get the facts of sharing resources and the ability to distribute cost, etc. However, every time I go to a big city I see such enormous WASTE, lights on everywhere, heat/ac running constantly, roads being repaired/constructed endlessly, etc., etc. Are we really saving money when all of this energy has to run 24/7 to supply the populous? Out here the roads aren’t lit, people turn down the heat at night, the restaurants and bars don’t stay open all night, etc., etc. On top of that I’ve never seen a study that took into account the enormous capital cost to operate/maintain/replace/upgrade all this infrastructure. Sure it is spread across millions of people but it is also having the living hell beat out of it every day because no one seems to really care about it or have personal accountability. On top of all that what about the crazy crime rates, the costs to police that population and manage the judicial and prison systems, the huge bureaucratic overhead of city governments, etc. So does anyone know of a study that accounts for all the true costs of urban living vs small town/country living? The ones I’ve read all are clearly slanted toward trying to justify urban living vs really analyzing the full cost of such lifestyles.

    Keep up the great work MMM, I like how you keep us thinking! Oh, one other thing, as an avid motorcyclist maybe you could throw in some kudos for those that “ride” to their destinations in motorized contraptions that are much more efficient than the 4-wheel type. I lived in CA for a while too, I was always amazed that CA wasn’t pushing for more motorcycles/scooters at least – why are there so many cars when you have perfect motorcycle weather 95% of the time. And with the advent of electric motorcycle/scooters we should really start nudging people that way! At least if they won’t get off their backsides to ride a bicycle we could see some energy savings and reduction in congestion!

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  • Rebekah February 12, 2017, 10:01 am

    I discovered your blog right after buying our first home in Suburbia, 15 miles up a crowded freeway from my husband’s office. (I stay home with our 3 homeschooled kids). Our home was lovely but bigger than we needed (2100 sq feet with 2 living rooms and 2 eating areas), but my husband’s commute was sucking up 2 – 2 1/2 hours of his day, every day. The closest business was 2.5 miles away. I would periodically read your True Cost of Commuting post for inspiration and to remind myself that having bought that home didn’t have to be permanent. 2 years later, last fall, we sold that home and found a smaller, but definitely big enough (1600 sq ft) home only 3/4 of a mile from his office! He now walks to work every day, which gives him a nice 30-40 minutes of daily exercise and still an extra hour or two with me and the kids. Thanks to our increasingly mustachian ways, we were able to afford this move to the city (Bellevue, WA), having averaged a 40% savings rate during our 2 years in Suburbia. Other perks: we can walk to 2 libraries, a grocery store, the farmer’s market, a post office, and a hugely diverse array of ethnic restaurants and grocery shops within 20 minutes. Next step: to sell one of our cars on Craigslist! Thank you, Mr Money Mustache, for what you do here. You have truly inspired us to change our lives for the better!

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  • Classical_Liberal February 12, 2017, 10:35 am

    Great article! I particularly liked the end quotes regarding community building. My largest disappointment with suburbia (there are many) is the relatively small amount of social interactions between neighborss. This lends to an incredible amount of waste in nonshared resources (does everyone on the block need their own lawnmower?!). Also, what a waste of social capital! Index funds aren’t the only things that pay dividends, knowing and having real relationships with local business owners and neighbors is a huge time and money saver.

    Quick, but true, story…

    About eight years ago, I left my brand new smart phone (yes, punch me now) at the neighborhood post office. By the time I realized it, I was at work and stuck there for the day. About an hour later I disappointedly answered my work phone. A friend of mine named Alex call me at work and said he had my phone. “How?” I asked. He recalled how a homeless gentleman had called him, asking if he knew whose phone this was. Evidently the gentleman had found the phone and started calling in the “A’s of my contact list until someone answered. Alex then promptly met this man at the postoffice, gave him a small reward ($5 as I recall) and had called to let me know I could get my phone from him whenever I wanted. This experience change my attitude significantly going forward, I feared people in my community less. For every horror story you read in the news, there are likely dozens of instances where taking the nonfinancial risks of building social capital pays off bigtime. Not to mention the positive psychological impacts of having friends.

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    • Ms Blaise February 12, 2017, 3:24 pm

      A great example. I too am confident about the wallet test in my suburb. In fact someone chased me the other day to ask if a wallet they had found was mine ( it wasn’t). Here in Wellington, NZ I live in a green leafy suburb with a world first , predator free bird sanctuary in an urban area (check out Zealandia if you are interested) and lovely neighbours. I walk to supermarket, specialist shops, green grocer, library, gym, hairdresser, garage ( for servicing our one 20 year old Nissan station wagon), my daughter’s non for profit childcare – 2 days a week at $26 per day!, and great cafes, deli and a very good bookshop. Eventually our kids will be able to walk to school too. In the other direction my partner can walk to his office down town in 35 minutes. He goes in 3 days a week and works from home two days. I work from home mostly, but go into meetings 1 morning a week and either walk, or pay $3.50 one way for a bus fare. We have lived in the middle of the city in a high density area and loved in. We had great access to parks, the beach, communal garden etc. But we also love our ‘burb. I note though that I have just voted for higher density housing and development in our suburb – but that some of my older neighbours didn’t like the idea.

      you might be interested that our city has just announced a resilience plan (for if a big earthquakes strikes) and it is focused on relationships, locally grown food supplies, water tanks etc. We had a quake in November, and the local shops have all doubled their turnover since then as so many people have switched to working more from home while city buildings are being strengthened or fixed. Interesting.

      Reply
      • Ms Blaise February 12, 2017, 3:28 pm

        Oh and one more thing: my neighbours and I always mow each others grass verges ( the council strip at the front). Who ever is out there and gets organised just keeps going. It’s so nice to have someone do it.

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        • Classical_Liberal February 12, 2017, 4:59 pm

          I’d move next to you if NZ had easier immigration policies! :)

          Reply
          • Ms blaise February 19, 2017, 2:59 am

            Oh dear! Sorry about that! I don’t think they are that tough are they? I have a few American friends who live here and we are pretty multicultural. In fact our media reports that our PM offered to take 150 refugees from Australa last week but was turned down again ;)

            Reply
            • Classical_Liberal February 26, 2017, 6:48 am

              Immigrate to Australia and then come to you as a refugee? I’ve done crazier things!

              Reply
  • bastringue February 12, 2017, 11:13 am

    Good text, thanks!

    You should also read “The geography of nowhere” by Kunstler, as well. Pretty much THE reference on the subject.

    BTW, how do you blend your stoic philosophy with the quest for change? Wouldn’t a stoic simply try to adapt to the world at hand and find happiness from inside of him?

    Reply
    • MKE February 15, 2017, 7:40 am

      Stoics were civically active. Marcus Aurelius was an emperor! They don’t just give up and sit around being happy.

      Reply
  • Jen February 12, 2017, 11:37 am

    I live in surburia on the Eastside of Seattle. Sometimes, I walk with my back pack to the grocery (2 miles round trip). This past summer, I picked up two steaks, veges and a bottle of wine. On my way home, I ran into a couple (neighbor) out walking. We exchanged pleasantries. They asked “Why the backpack” and I answered “I walked to the grocery to get my dinner – it’s a great night for a BBQ”. They looked at me quizzically. Last week we just got hit with 14 inches of snow which of course halted almost all modes of transportation. I put on my boots and started walking amazed at how many people were doing the same. One of my neighbors stopped me and said “I have met more people today with this snowstorm than I ever have before”, in which I replied, “it’s too bad it takes a snowstorm to meet your neighbors huh?”

    One human trying to change more humans one day and experience at a time.

    Reply
  • Gentleman of Leisure February 12, 2017, 11:54 am

    I must be your only reader among members of my public library b/c I just checked and the book is still available. Happily I’ll begin reading it sometime within the next week. Thanks for the recommendation!

    Reply
  • Sophia February 12, 2017, 12:35 pm

    Great post, it reminds me of an Atlantic video I watched recently: https://www.theatlantic.com/video/index/512744/how-will-growing-cities-adjust-to-the-population-boom

    The main jist of the video is using technology and planning to build smarter cities for the future. It touches on a lot of the same ideas of this post (having more transportation options, highways causing more traffic, etc).

    Reply
  • Mateo February 12, 2017, 12:55 pm

    Really great article – agree with your analysis complete.

    I just wanted to note that your first two suggested steps are indeed happening – and happening to a degree that has caused enormous problems for many cities across the US. Whether consciously or not, people are opting in large numbers to live in walkable-urban areas. In previous decades, many cities had walkable urban places that had fallen out of favor, and were affordable. But now – even the sketchiest neighborhood can flip seemingly overnight to become another hot discovered neighborhood. People are voting with their feet and wallets – but because these places are so very rare, relative to what we’ve built in the last 60 years, these walkable urban areas ave becoming enclaves for the rich and the lucky. They’re also becoming mono-culture as we sort into classes.

    Now, this is not to say people shouldn’t heed your advice. Yes, we should be doing what we can to live and build businesses in these kinds of communities – but we flat out need more of them or we’re going to lose part of the essential diversity that makes them work.

    Some of this will happen with time – in land use demand tends to be instant, supply lags. Certainly markets are smart enough to know people’s preference and seek ways to accommodate them. But there’s simply no way to ramp up quickly enough to keep place with this tidal.

    There’s no way about this: We need more walkable urban areas – a LOT of it. Fighting this are the high-way industrial complex is working double time to extend sprawl in all directions and the NIMBYs opposed to change in the areas that could transition to be more walkable urban. Hyper control over local land use regulations has become such a stranglehold in most places that we end up forcing sprawl and gentrification simultaneously.

    Reply
  • JP February 12, 2017, 1:56 pm

    Hi MMM,

    Long time reader here, I live in Utrecht, the Netherlands. It’s great to bike and walk here even in a bigger city than Houten. We (as almost everyone we know here) never go to the city center by car – takes more time and parking is expensive everywhere. Biking is supported with bike lanes everywhere.

    Let me know when you’re in the area (NL or Germany for that matter).

    Great post! Great blog!
    Groeten!

    Reply
  • Jon February 12, 2017, 2:12 pm

    Wonderful post. The most convincing evidence that anyone needs for the benefits of living in walkable communities is just to live in one. Travel to areas where walking with a purpose is common. Visit New York, Amsterdam, Barcelona and do your best to approximate living there. You’ll find a more natural and healthy lifestyle than the car dependent one to which we’re accustomed.

    My hope is that with all of the college students studying abroad they will keep the love of walking cities in mind when they are on boards and planning committees in anytown USA.

    Reply
  • Kevin February 12, 2017, 3:23 pm

    Man – was this ever a great post to come across my inbox today. As someone that’s been in the battlefield for the last couple of decades, let me agree whole-heartedly: it’s tough work, it’s very frustrating, and often I people do look at me like I’m from Mars. One other thing – planners and designers working in the field desperately need vocal political support from people like yourself and those that read this site. In most places across the country, the common complaints are traffic and parking. For those of us that propose solutions that we *know* will work, and are patterned after walkable places, we consistently lose to people that only hear from those that want faster roads and more parking. Politicians and government officials really do respond to constituent input (sometimes too much!) and so people really need to speak up. Otherwise, we just keep getting what we’ve been getting.

    It’s funny – I wrote a book a few years ago called “Why I Walk” that covers so much of what you wrote in this one post. But I think you did it more succinctly and more effectively. Damn! Now I have to go back and write something else.

    Reply
  • Dougie944 February 12, 2017, 4:32 pm

    I would immediately invest in building a city designed by Pete. Let me know when and where this is going to happen.

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  • Wen February 12, 2017, 5:32 pm

    I’m an architect. Looking at the comments it seems like we could easily put together a pretty strong team of designers, planners, and engineers. There are definitely great examples of New Towns that emphasize walkable communities where residents are encouraged to interact with their neighbors. One of my favorites is Greenbelt, MD. It was built during the 1930s as one of three planned communities commissioned through the New Deal. The entire town was designed to be walkable. Even though it was constructed in a suburban area outside of DC, the houses are all modest townhomes that are connected by pleasant pedestrian paths that lead you to the town center where stores and services are located. Its by no means perfect, but at least it proves that there are alternatives to car-centric sprawl.

    Another great book that is somewhat related to this topic is Discovering the Vernacular Landscape by John Brinckerhoff Jackson. It is a bit more philosophical than most urban planning books, but nonetheless presents a very interesting case for why towns look the way they do, and why we prefer detached single family housing over urban living.

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  • Chris B February 12, 2017, 8:39 pm

    One obstacle is that homeowners don’t have knowledge of where we will work in the future. If you’re buying, in most places you lose money if you move in less than 5-7 years. But nowadays even professional knowledge workers change jobs every 3-4. You might buy a house 1 mile away from job #1, but then when they lay you off, job #2 is 10 or 15 miles away. How do you design a car-less lifestyle around such geographic volatility, other than by renting month to month?

    In the long run, I have high hopes this will become a moot point. Driving an expensive commute to an expensive office to sit in a chair and do knowledge work that you could have done from home is the epitome of waste, and businesses will figure out a way to eliminate this waste. After all, they eventually pay for it in terms of real estate and salaries. We already have online meetings, cloud apps, and remote desktops. How much longer can it really be until we realize the office itself is redundant for many workers? How many cars does that take off the road? 25%? 40%?

    Then it becomes an open question of where people will live. Will we repurpose the abandoned office buildings? Or will people build SFH’s in the middle of corn fields? My bet is on further sprawl, unless the costs of things like roads and power lines and telecom change to be somehow based on the distance of the infrastructure that is maintained.

    Reply
  • John Alderete February 12, 2017, 8:55 pm

    The post made me think of The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup of UCLA. Lots of data there to be devoured.

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  • Bellatrix21 February 12, 2017, 9:15 pm

    Love the concepts here. I’m fortunate to live only a few blocks from a vibrant downtown in a small city. I do think your generalization related to neighborly bonds doesn’t hold true, judging by the most recent presidential election. Most of the very small towns and rural America, where people tend to have strong, often lifelong bonds with their neighbors, voted red. More densly populated areas tended to vote blue. Your quote: “(people who have weak bonds with their immediate neighbors will trust them less – and will also disproportionately vote for things like nationalist, anti-trade, anti-immigration policies and be worried about terrorism – sound familiar?)” Obviously there are many more factors at play here!

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache February 13, 2017, 1:59 pm

      I think the largest collection of Trump voters was the big suburbs, wasn’t it?

      On the maps, you see lots of red from rural areas, but these are pretty sparsely populated. But your point about, say, a small town in Iowa might be correct – I would have to dig into that more on the map.

      Reply
  • Allison February 12, 2017, 9:18 pm

    I’d love to hear what you think small real estate investors can do to encourage this kind of development? Buying up crap real estate in walkable areas and attracting higher income renters? Installing good safe bike parking for our tenants? Other ideas from anyone out there?

    Reply
  • ShaunK February 12, 2017, 10:10 pm

    A related topic is what is often called the Traditional City. Much like many older cities in Europe. Here are a couple articles that talk about it:

    http://www.andrewalexanderprice.com/blog20131204.php#.WKE-6fkrI2w

    http://www.andrewalexanderprice.com/blog20130330.php#.WKE-6_krI2w

    Reply
  • Page February 12, 2017, 11:02 pm

    A recurring problem with New Urbanism is that we as Americans already have so much poorly designed built environment, oriented towards cars and car culture. While there are some elegant models of human scaled towns out there, to start over and rebuild the suburbs from the ground up is economically unfeasible. I highly recommend Dolores Hayden’s Redesigning the American Dream, which looks at the affects on gender roles that the suburbs that have had, particularly in isolating women. She proposes a creating public shared spaces by combining the backyards of suburban developments where the work of the house, laundry, cooking, child care, etc can be done as shared work and eliminate the need for duplicate appliances in everyone’s houses. Its a fantastic read and this article reminded me of it. The current design of our cities and suburbs with massive streets and parking lots is not only a waste of space and resources, but also created a culture of isolationism and more sharply designated gender roles. Thanks for bringing this to light MMM!

    Reply
  • bobobo1618 February 13, 2017, 12:39 am

    Just wanted to point out that the soviets did some really good city planning much more recently. One half of my family lives in the small (160k people) Russian city of Yessentuki. It was really interesting to look at and I appreciated the way it was designed. Have a look: http://www.openstreetmap.org/search?query=Yessentuki#map=14/44.0411/42.8679. Since a lot of it is in Russian, I’ll explain a bit.

    There’s a hub at the center of the city, mainly around a rather large park. This area has things like the larger shopping centers, restaurants, cinemas and other such things. It’s where you generally “go out”. Outside that, there’s lots of residential areas but unlike the way I feel American cities are structured, you don’t have to go to the center, at all. Unless you want to, mostly for entertainment. There are (relatively) small schools, kindergartens and supermarkets spread all over the city, within walking distance of pretty much anywhere, even for children and the elderly.

    They also have a nice transport system. Instead of large, slow and infrequent infrequent trains and buses, they have small but fast and numerous minibuses. These, combined with the proximity of everything, means it’s very easy to get around, there’s nearly no reason at all you’d need a car and the roads are generally uncluttered. This transport system is also how it differs from most European cities I think. I’ve only really seen full size buses used in most cities of this size and I find they really don’t work because of how slow and infrequent they are.

    Just thought I’d point it out since it’s more modern than a lot of the other stuff you see and a little different.

    Reply
  • Szabolcs Alb February 13, 2017, 1:34 am

    You should really read Bill Mollison’s permaculture design manual. Or anything from him. That would open your world even more. Keep up with the good work!

    Peace

    Reply
  • Ruben February 13, 2017, 2:01 am

    You have some good points but I don’t agree with getting rid of the parking spots, and some traffic lanes. I live in Utrecht, the big city above Houten you mentioned, and it’s awful to find parking anywhere. Yes, the inner city is great for biking and walking and that’s the good part. But it sure would have been nice to have some free (underground) parking garages and not ones that you have to pay 25 euros a day or 5 euros an hour for. I also lived in the US for a few years and it was such a delight for me to see Wal-Mart parking lots with so much space! We don’t really have those anywhere and if we have something close to that, you have to pay, a lot.

    Also being stuck in traffic jams is bad. I am probably stuck every day for at least 15 minutes, from the 35 minutes it would take without traffic. Yes, that is what you get when you have 2-lane freeways, and 1 or 2 lane roads in the city. Often during rush-hour, I get stuck there too. That’s a lot of wasted hours that could have been usefully spent. So, yes, a parking lot for 1000 cars might be too much, but if 100 people park there on average at any given moment then please don’t cut the whole parking lot and think that people will walk or ride their bike. That’s an illusion and will create a very frustrated population. Ask some Dutch people how it is…

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache February 13, 2017, 1:56 pm

      Dude, you are missing the entire point: you are experiencing these parking and traffic problems because you are traveling in a GAS-POWERED RACING WHEELCHAIR!! Get out of that ridiculous contraption and stop wrecking the city, and you’ll have a whole different and more positive experience.

      In order to solve the problem with cars, the experience MUST become unbearable for car drivers. No. Cars. In. Cities.

      Reply
  • Evan February 13, 2017, 4:46 am

    Nice post! Too few people realize the awful effect that most planning departments and zoning codes have had on our cities and towns, from facilitating outright racism to making it dangerous to walk (instead of drive) places. You might find this website interesting: http://marketurbanism.com/

    Reply
  • Scott February 13, 2017, 6:14 am

    While I’m not a planner, I would imagine that metropolitan Detroit is a textbook example of how not to develop a region. Up until the 1950s, most people lived in Detroit. I believed the population peaked at about 1.6 million in the early to mid 1950s. But then the highways started to be built. The mostly farming communities surrounding Detroit began growing as the highways were completed.

    Now, there is essentially no gaps between Detroit and the state capital, Lansing, about 70 miles; or between Detroit and Ann Arbor, about 40 miles. I grew up in Plymouth, a western suburb between Detroit and Ann Arbor. Up until I was in my mid 20s (I’m 51 now), once you got out of Plymouth there wasn’t much until you hit Ann Arbor. Now, expansive sub-divisions-islands have filled in and all of the farms have disappeared.

    Meanwhile, Detroit died as the suburbs flourished. Now, the “inner ring” suburbs, the ones bordering Detroit, are dying because people are moving even further out and commuting even more.

    I couldn’t agree more with this post. We should be looking to Europe for inspiration.

    Reply
  • Joe Gonzalez February 13, 2017, 6:45 am

    Phenomenal post. I’m slowly but surely becoming a mustachian. Please keep the great posts coming. How I wish I would have done this year ago when I first started working. I would definitely be retired by now, have even better health & done more in my life. Alas I can’t change the past but definitely the future! Great post!

    Reply
  • Ryan D February 13, 2017, 7:26 am

    Just wanted to say this book is on Hoopla (free if you have a library card) I’m starting it right now.

    Reply
  • Cody W February 13, 2017, 7:51 am

    Hello, I’ve always loved reading you blog, and this particular post has struck such a cord with me that I felt it necessary to post.

    The thing the made me want to write you is your visit to Orlando. I’ve lived here all my life (27yrs), and was curious where you visited that allowed you to walk to? I feel Orlando is an incredibly unsafe city (I believe ranked first for most dangerous place for pedestrians). It wasn’t until a recent trip to Boston that I realized how badly I want to live in a city where I could bike everywhere and/or have GOOD public transportation for the places I can’t. I hate driving, I hate the traffic it creates and the wasted space as mentioned in your post.

    So my question is, what can I as an Orlandan do to start making a change towards a better city. How do I get the city to build more bike paths? Every time I read your blog about biking from destination to destination I become dishearten because I just don’t feel that is possible where I live (a problem created by the very reasons you talk about in this blog post). Is my only course of action to pick up and move to another state the actually got it right from the get go?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache February 13, 2017, 1:52 pm

      The location I stayed (a Ramada hotel just North of the airport), didn’t “Allow” me to walk around, but I just forced it. You can always walk anywhere, because humans have a wider range of terrain options than cars – you just might have to cross some parking lots, hop fences, traverse alleys, engage in mild bits of urban parkour, etc.

      To solve your own problem, you can simply get a bike and start riding. There is always a way – review Google Maps. And make sure your home, work, grocery store, etc., are all within the same area.

      Advocate, vote, and advertise biking by doing it yourself. If you get frustrated and want to jump a few decades into the future, move to a bike-friendly city. I hear Gainesville is actually pretty good, just a short distance from Orlando.

      Reply
  • Matt February 13, 2017, 8:44 am

    Just returned from second trip to Denmark. Was struck by the location of the the rail relative to the heart of the cities. I live in Massachusetts and was use to having to have a settled mode of transport if traveling rail outside of Boston. I was able to visit multiple cities in DK without ever even thinking of another mode of transportation other than walking. Everything was right there once off the train. Bicycles were abundant even in winter and the cities were flooded with them. Outside of Boston the train depots in minor metropolitan areas in MA are basically isolated to the point at which traveling anywhere meaningful from them requires a major secondary mode of transportation (car, bus or bike).

    Definitely enjoyed that aspect of the country.

    Reply
  • Steven February 13, 2017, 9:04 am

    MMM,

    Come build your Happy City in Detroit! Lots of young, forward thinking entrepreneurs, tons of literally free space, and more Engineers than you can shake a fist at.

    Detroit is a perfect example of the story outlined in your article (and Charles Montgomery’s book). We had cable cars, bike friendly streets, and even home/street EV charging in 1914! (https://goo.gl/wrp5CJ) what happened? Auto makers, motorists, and policies happened. With all this space and no money, its a prefect spot for an experiment!

    Did you know Detroit land area is roughly the same size as San Francisco, Boston, and Manhattan, combined? 142 sq mi!

    1915 Detroit City Street https://goo.gl/zdIktX

    Reply
  • Hulu February 13, 2017, 9:19 am

    Munson City is a blog written by a creative city planner that puts walkscores on top of density and cost maps to identify what you’re looking for.

    Like cell phones leaping the need for millions of miles of phone lines it’s important to consider that we’re really constantly planning for the city of 10 years from now.

    Speaking of anti-fragility, creating a virtual job or financial independence allows for life/geo flexibility.

    Air quality is SEVERELY underated.

    Let’s talk a 1℅er into developing our town. The only question is existing or new town with a train to a large enough city? Check your cars at the edge of our city!

    Reply
  • Dave February 13, 2017, 9:20 am

    I attended a conference many years ago as a newly minted environmental scientist. I was amazed at the point one of the speakers made as I had never heard it expressed this way before:
    “We’ve been building habitat for cars for years now”…..

    Reply
  • Catherine Johnson February 13, 2017, 9:26 am

    Thank you for writing this post, MMM. You told the story well of how we got into this mess. I love how you calculated the price tag of one tiny molecule of infrastructure . I also love the amazing comments – where people are struggling for solutions. It sounds like many readers don’t know what a walkable city looks and feels like inside the US, outside of a few very expensive cities. Take a trip to any American small city or town built before 1900 -most in the eastern US – where people walked or took streetcars everywhere, where there is variety of types of places to live, and therefore, a variety of density, and mixing uses (shops and houses close by) made it possible to meet daily needs by foot. These places were developed efficiently and economically, and were scaled to the human.

    One of the reasons we have streets so poorly designed (too wide) is that the decisions about streets have been ALLOWED to be made SOLELY by traffic engineers, when in fact, streets are not merely routes for travel but the framework for commerce, development and our social lives. How a road is designed can determine whether a community is created at all, what economic development can form, and how well people identify with a place. But here in the US, traffic engineers are the only decision-makers in the process and, left to their own devices, make vehicular speed and volume their priorities, instead of looking at the whole picture -the human ecosystem with myriad needs beyond vehicular movement. Most of this process takes place in an office away from the public, so people (the public the road will serve) aren’t asked to weigh in at the beginning of the study when ideas can be incorporated but rather, only at the very end, as it is about to be awarded to a contractor to build it. Sadly, engineers are never educated in taking in ideas from non-engineers, and so when the one public hearing takes place, they either stand silent or speak only to deflect ideas and evaluations, so as to rationalize their proposed design. And so we get the the too-big road, and no one walks there. It is an unending cycle.

    There are glimmers of hope, though. Many of us in the Congress for New Urbanism say if the phenomenal revolution now underway in food production, awareness, and growing support for local vs long-distance food can happen, we see a similar track for rebuilding traditional towns with a mix of uses, a walkable street networks, and variety of housing and building types. People are starved for places that nourish their souls, and support connections to other people. We are re-discovering the tools and techniques that made these great earlier places – re-writing the zoning rules is an important step, but also the public demanding more comfortable streets has to be part of the process.

    Catherine Johnson, Architect & Town Planner
    Middletown, CT

    Note: The Congress for New Urbanism meets in Seattle this May 3-4-5-6 for anyone interested in attending.

    Reply
  • Shannon February 13, 2017, 9:57 am

    It’s amazing that in my town, which is a suburb of Minneapolis, when they redid a street to be narrower, with better turn lanes, sidewalks AND in-street bike paths…The amount of complaints I heard! “They made the street narrower! Why do they hate cars so much? Traffic is only going to increase now! I NEVER see bikes on the path! What a worthless money suck!” Etc, etc.

    It’s weird too, because I’ve biked over there many times since it opened in October 2016, I’ve seen other bikers, and fewer cars.

    Folks around here are so used to their cars having control of the roads, they get irate about bicyclists and pedestrians. Every time there’s a tiny amount of roadway taken away to put in safer areas for walkers and bikers, people flip their lids. I love living in an area where I can. Bike to several cities with relative ease!

    Reply
  • Kirstin February 13, 2017, 9:59 am

    The other thing you didn’t mention — unless I missed it — is that even IF you could build “enough” lanes, there is not enough money to pay for the maintenance. Many counties in the United States are starting to revert to gravel roads because of this: https://capitalnewsservice.wordpress.com/2011/03/18/road-crunching-trumps-repaving-in-more-counties/

    Reply
  • Steven February 13, 2017, 11:03 am

    Thought I would share that Mackinac Island, in Michigan does not allow cars, here’s a brief history, I’m sure there are more articles on the topic as well. http://www.mackinac.com/about/history/no-cars

    Reply
  • wishicouldsurf February 13, 2017, 11:07 am

    This was a dense article, MMM, chock full of good information and really got my head spinning. It made me think back to a recent business trip to Austin, TX, where I decided I wasn’t going to rent a car, I stayed close to where my meetings were located (within a mile) and also where an old friend happened to live, thinking I could walk everywhere. I looked at the map before doing all these things even and despite my best intentions, there was barely anywhere I could walk…. It was super unsafe and frustrating. On the bright side, I did get to experiment with Austin’s non-Uber and Lyft on demand taxi services and my kind friend wanted to hang out so she decided to drive me a few places and not having a rental car was actually a much better way to travel even though I couldn’t walk to as many places as I liked. It made me have a greater appreciation for my walkable, though not expertly designed old neighborhood here in San Diego. What other recommendations do you have for us to influence our city planners and council people, etc.? I have joined San Diego Bicycle Coalition recently as I felt like that was a natural first step. I’m hopeful that the current northern trolley route being built which runs by my neighborhood will encourage more people to take public transportation, though many folks were against it due to the NIMBY mindset. These same folks are against a couple of trailer parks being plowed under to make room for some higher end apartment buildings. I squint my eyes and cock my head and feel that their arguments are short sighted since we are ideally located for young professionals who either work downtown or slightly north to live but fear of traffic and fear of change is strong.

    Reply
  • Legal Eagle February 13, 2017, 11:44 am

    I’m glad you found Chuck’s website, Strong Towns. I’ve been following it for years and it has really opened my eyes to planning and associated issues. I was actually pulling up the website as I was reading the article to send to you as a reference. You beat me to it! Keep up the great blog, it’s making a difference!

    Reply
  • SJ February 13, 2017, 11:51 am

    Thank you for writing this MMM. I happen to live in a New Urbanism community called Issaquah Highlands just outside of Seattle. Construction and development began in the mid 1990’s, only a few years after the 1992 Earth Summit that sparked the change away from suburban sprawl. I would say that its success is a mixed bag at best. The recession hit right at a key moment in my community’s development.. a local major high tech corporation sold their piece of the property to home developers and our mixed used shopping center got nixed, eventually replaced with the most car-centric retail-only shopping center one could ever imagined. The other component, probably more disappointing, is that the turnover of residents have brought in mostly people who know little or care little, for the original tenets of New Urbanism. It’s to the point where residents are constantly complaining about how the roads aren’t wide enough (that was by design of course), not enough space between neighbors (that was by design of course), and it’s generally “too crowded” (that was by design of course). The community organizers try to educate local real estate agents, host orientation sessions every quarter and every so often publish articles on New Urbanism/smart growth concepts to (re)educated our community and reaffirm our values.. but people don’t care… they bought here because it’s reasonably close to work and because we’ve got excellent schools… they still drive their minivans and their luxury sedans… it’s like the cliche “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”. Just like that… but at the same time it does work for those who seek it out. We’re saving 70-80% of our take home income (so not including a 401k contributions) and we’re down to one Ford Fiesta. My husband takes the bus to work (his employer pays for a bus pass) and I bought an electric bike (after reading your articles!) for my job as a pet nanny in the neighborhood. Our transportation costs is probably $1500 (gas, insurance, registration). We are a family of four (10 and 13 year old boys). I really wish everyone around me would value the potential of efficiency as much as I do.

    Reply
  • Echo February 13, 2017, 11:54 am

    The more I read you MMM the more I am surprised you have not launched some wild scheme to start your own town. By some point the income streams you produce should be able to support some inventive infrastructure projects out in the back woods of CO somewhere? You can teach the world a new way of sustainability, and build your respite from Western Civilization all at once!

    Reply
  • Kelsey February 13, 2017, 12:42 pm

    Curious if you’ve heard of the Agritopia development in Gilbert, AZ?

    Like others, at the beginning of your article, I thought you were building us up to reveal your new community plans, and I instantly thought of Agritopia. After completing the article, I see that your main concern is getting (mostly) rid of the driving in communities, so Agritopia doesn’t match up completely with your vision.

    But it is very neighbor-oriented- i.e., every house has a front porch, and the backyards are small with low fences to encourage interaction over the fence and at the neighborhood parks. There are community gardens, and they even have a senior assisted living complex for truly multi-generational/family living.

    I first heard about the development because of their amazing restaurant (they also have a coffee/cupcake shop) that utilizes fresh food grown right outside in the community farm. And of course, they have the obligatory farmers market with food trucks.

    Like you, the developer is an engineer who had a vision of community, and he brought his vision to life!

    It is such an interesting and amazing community. I haven’t been there in a couple of years, but the last I heard he (Joe, the developer) was planning a new high density apartment style building to be lived in on top of small, independent businesses. Unfortunately, he was receiving push back….even from those in Agritopia….about the “kind of people” the apartments would bring.

    It would be such a great idea to marry your bike community vision with Joe’s established plans. If you two could get together and start something new, I’d be one of the first to line up!

    Reply
  • Stat-happy February 13, 2017, 1:15 pm

    I’d like to point out that you don’t know which direction the causal relationship goes on suburbanites not trusting their neighbors. Does suburban-ism = artificially lowering your trust (which you seem to assert)? Or does me not trusting my neighbor mean that I’m more likely to remove myself to the suburbs where I can happily ignore my neighbors, not trust them? Or perhaps, do they merely correlate (perhaps not significantly)?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache February 13, 2017, 1:42 pm

      The book addresses this somewhat – the basic idea is that frequent unplanned social interactions (i.e. “I bumped into Lisa in the park today”) is what builds a community, and thus builds trust. Car-based neighborhoods tend to prevent this, because they discourage local walking.

      Reply
      • Lavagirl February 14, 2017, 9:48 am

        As an introvert, the idea of “frequent unplanned social interaction” makes me want to hide under a rock

        Reply
        • phred February 24, 2017, 12:53 pm

          only if it lasts longer than a minute or two?

          Reply

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