Kaid Benfield Archive


David Brooks in the NY Times, on message re smart growth and stimulus

Kaid Benfield

Posted December 9, 2008 at 6:22PM

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Noted columnist and TV political analyst David Brooks has an excellent op-ed in today's New York Times observing that the American social and economic culture has shifted from sprawl to smart growth and that it is time for the political culture to catch up.  He is particularly concerned, as are many of us, that the quick-fix economic responses being bandied about in the context of the federal political transition may be inconsistent with the need to grow more smartly:

"The 1980s and 1990s made up the era of the great dispersal. Forty-three million people moved every year, and basically they moved outward - from inner-ring suburbs to far-flung exurbs on the metro fringe. For example, the population of metropolitan Pittsburgh declined by 8 percent in those years, but the developed land area of the Pittsburgh area sprawled outward by 43 percent.

 a cafe in DC (by: M.V. Jantzen, creative commons license)"If you asked people in that age of go-go suburbia what they wanted in their new housing developments, they often said they wanted a golf course. But the culture has changed. If you ask people today what they want, they're more likely to say coffee shops, hiking trails and community centers . . .

"Meeting places are popping up across the suburban landscape.  There are restaurant and entertainment zones, mixed-use streetscape malls, suburban theater districts, farmers' markets and concert halls. In addition, downtown areas in places like Charlotte and Dallas are reviving as many people move back into the city in search of human contact. Joel Kotkin, the author of 'The New Geography,' calls this clustering phenomenon the New Localism . . .

suburban transit in Dallas (by: wisefly, creative commons license)"To take advantage of the growing desire for community, the Obama [infrastructure] plan would have to do two things. First, it would have to create new transportation patterns. The old metro design was based on a hub-and-spoke system - a series of highways that converged on an urban core. But in an age of multiple downtown nodes and complicated travel routes, it's better to have a complex web of roads and rail systems.

 "Second, the Obama stimulus plan could help localities create suburban town squares. Many communities are trying to build focal points. The stimulus plan could build charter schools, pre-K centers, national service centers and other such programs around new civic hubs . . .

town square in Fair Oaks, CA (by: Jo Guldi, creative commons license)"But alas, there's no evidence so far that the Obama infrastructure plan is attached to any larger social vision. In fact, there is a real danger that the plan will retard innovation and entrench the past . . ."

This is highly recommended reading for all who are thinking about cities, suburbs, and transportation.  Go here for the full piece.

Also today, The Washington Post has an excellent editorial urging that any near-term federal support for infrastructure reject no-strings-attached approaches and target investments that support transit and smart growth.  It's a great day for opinion, at least.