Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The 'Devil is in the Distance': Urban planning in N.C.

Came across a blog post on Old Cities, Good Ideas from Howard Kelly Manorville from New York. Howard, a recent architecture grad, is "looking for ways to make the built world a better, healthier, more enjoyable place."

This particular post touches on, as an anecdote, the idea of "urban planning" in North Carolina.

Enjoy, and feel free to discuss.

I spent part of the work day yesterday riding to Home Depot with an extremely nice contractor named Jose. Jose is laying tile at the place where I work and he needed to go pick up some more materials, so my boss sent me with the credit card. Jose is a middle-age Dominican man who has been living in the U.S. for over 20 years - his English is very good, and his three children all know English better than they know Spanish.

We talked about a lot of different things during the fifteen minute ride to Home Depot, but one of the most surprising topics that came up was Jose's view on the urban planning in North Carolina. We were talking about how he spent 2008 in North Carolina doing work because there was not much work here on Long Island. He was going on about how much cheaper it is to rent and buy a house down South, but then he made a very astute observation:

"Everyone there [in North Carolina] tells you that where you have to go 'is close, it's very close'. But it's not close, they just mean that it takes a short time to get there. You always have to get on a highway and go 70 or 80 miles an hour to get to where you want to go. When I lived there it seemed like I spent $40 a day in gas for my work van because everything is so far apart. It's not like here."

Jose's comment is right on, and it reminded me once again that planning effects everyone, and that everyone actually grasps planning's effects on some level.

But Jose's observation also nails down a design flaw intrinsic to sprawl that has a cumulative effect on our lives: distance. When we design low-density, auto-oriented places with little regard for location efficiency, the distance a person must travel every day grows exponentially. Even if the time needed for travel stays the same (10 miles in Charlotte tends to take the same amount of time as 2 miles in Brooklyn), the mileage itself is the problem.


Nocturnal Queen said...

While I don't consider some of the places I go to to be "very close" (to me that means less than 15 minutes away), I rarely get on the highway to go anywhere.

M. Lail said...

You know, I had the same thought. I was talking with someone the other day who lives in Clayton, and I mentioned I live downtown. "Isn't the traffic bad?" she asked. "Um, no. In fact, I rarely experience traffic. And I rarely get on a highway." She, on the other hand, spends 45 mins. in traffic each way to go 20 miles.