Would you enjoy walking or bicycling more often for errands, except there's too little time, and your car feels safer?
Do you drive your children to school and to appointments, because it’s not safe for them to walk or bike?
How many of your friends and family are affected by the rising wave of health concerns such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and depression?
Do you drive yourself, your child or your dog to a park for exercise, because your backyard is too small and the park is not within walking distance?
Imagine living in a neighborhood where everyone can safely walk, bike or wheelchair on paths through beautiful natural areas, as part of their daily routine. Residents of all ages can move easily throughout the entire neighborhood, without ever crossing the street! Safer, healthier, more beautiful neighborhoods like this already exist. Unless local regulations make it too difficult, neighborhoods like this could be built or rebuilt near you--as new subdivisions, or as retrofits in existing communities.
Are you a government official, activist or concerned citizen who would like to bring these benefits to your neighbors at minimal cost to taxpayers?
Are you a real estate developer who would like to reposition a distressed cul-de-sac subdivision into a premium green market?
If so, please contact us to explore ways that we could work together, or to share your thoughts about creating more places like this.
These benefits can be created through better neighborhood design in new or existing communities, based on the "Garden City" or "Garden Village" concept. While Ebeneezer Howard originated the idea a century ago, neighborhood design can provide solutions to many important issues today--from healthcare and energy costs to dwindling biodiversity--while simultaneously creating great places to live.
Cul-de-sac neighborhoods are controversial among urban planners, but they are popular among residents. Since many suburban lawns are too small for children's outdoor activities, and parks are far away, the streets become long, convenient playgrounds with occasional motorized traffic. However, in a cul-de-sac neighborhood without greenways, navigating the neighborhood by bus, bicycle or foot is difficult--so every errand requires a car and a driver. This is difficult for any residents who lack a car plus a driver’s license, especially youth and seniors.
Simple street grids with sidewalks, on small city blocks, were popular in the early 1900’s and have seen a renaissance in New Urban design. While this approach supports bus routes, bicycling, and walking better than most cul-de-sac designs, the streets are not safe for children to play in, because motorists take high-speed shortcuts through the residential streets. Most children need a chauffeur just to play soccer, baseball, football, or Frisbee(TM), and cyclists share the roadways with tons of rapidly moving metal. Pedestrians and cyclists cross street traffic at every street corner, which is dangerous for the young, elderly and differently abled.
It is expensive to reduce these dangers with measures such as speedbumps, curb extensions, wide bicycle lanes and well-designed pedestrian crossings. Even with these measures in place, many people still do not feel safe enough to run errands by walking or biking.
Unlike simple cul-de-sacs, Greenways Interlaced with Cul-de-Sacs (GIC, pronounced "Gee, I see!") support all modes of transportation well. The ring roads around each neighborhood provide alternative through-routes so that collector roads and arterials clear any congestion quickly. Unlike a simple street grid with sidewalks, GIC offers children a rich choice of safe, convenient and interesting playspaces. Conventional street grids and simple cul-de-sacs are inconvenient if not dangerous for seniors and youth. In contrast, GIC neighborhoods are safe, convenient and delightful. This may explain why they command premium prices, even though they do not cost more to build when supportive regulations are in place.
One GIC neighborhood might be as large as 70 acres in size, or smaller than 10 acres, or any size in between. The bird's eye view below shows the contiguous greenway network, shown in light green, throughout the entire neighborhood. Any resident can walk out of their home, shown in white, onto the greenway shown in light green, and follow the pathway shown in purple to the town center, or to anyone else’s home, without ever crossing any streets. To drive to their homes, residents drive around the ring road shown in brown, to the small residential roads shown in yellow, and up to the back of their house, with the garage. The front of each house faces out onto a small pocket park with 10 or 12 homes around it. When guests arrive by car, they park in a guest parking lot shown in gray, adjacent to the greenway, and then walk a few steps through the greenway, to the front door of the house they’re visiting. There’s a commercial district in orange with shops, offices and a restaurant or two, along the main arterial road shown in black. One central transit stop is shown in blue, for public buses, school buses and carpools. Anyone can walk there from home, in 5 or 6 minutes, without ever crossing the street.
A GIC neighborhood can easily meet Smart Growth density requirements. With 7 lots per gross acre, single family homes meet typical density requirements of 6 to 8 units per acre; a mixture of single family homes, multiplexes and Auxiliary Dwelling Units can increase the density to 12 units or more per gross acre. While this is easier to achieve with narrow 22 ft street widths, it is still possible with wider street widths of 26 ft or even 32 ft, if local regulations require wide streets. At these densities, each neighborhood of 500 residents occupies approximately 25 acres (roughly 1000 x 1000 ft; 300 x 300 meters) so that residents can walk from home to town center in 6 minutes or less.
The GIC design promotes safety, community, health and prosperity for all residents. Residents young and old enjoy safe, interesting, accessible outdoor spaces for recreation and for daily commuting to school and work. Stormwater is managed in inexpensive, aesthetically pleasing and environmentally beneficial ways, channeled along the contiguous greenways where residents can see and enjoy the water. The health of the local ecosystem is not abstract--it is obvious and palpable. Developers and homeowners enjoy premium appreciation and return on investment. The local government gets a lower crime rate, a higher tax base, maintenance-free public greenspace, and less pavement to maintain--all for free.
By now you may be wondering, “If Greenway Neighborhoods are so great, why aren’t more of them being built?” There are various reasons, from fire regulations requiring residential streets that are 40 feet (12 meters) wide, to negative perceptions of cul-de-sac developments among urban planners, to the idea that nature is “out there, in the wilderness” and not “right here, in the city”. If exceptions to local regulations are needed (for setbacks, clustered housing, narrow streets, surface stormwater, etc), then the development process can take too much time, and therefore not be feasible.
Greenway Neighborhoods work best within a larger context of regional transit. Many examples of successful GIC communities are well connected to excellent transit systems--either light rail, or bus, or bike paths. Without these connections, residents may be less likely to start each trip by walking or cycling within the neighborhood itself.
Besides local regulations and regional transit, we are not aware of concerns which cannot be successfully addressed by an individual developer. For instance, some of the potential challenges and solutions are shown in the table below.
Even in a retrofitted neighborhood, space for an orchard buffer can be created along the collector "ring roads" by removing on-street parking and sidewalks.
One perceived difficulty in developing Greenway Neighborhoods concerns the Home Owners’ Associations. In a typical subdivision in the USA, homeowners own their homes and land individually. If there is a Home Owners’ Association, it does not own any real estate; the local municipal government owns and maintains any common areas such as roads and neighborhood parks. On the other hand, in a Greenway Neighborhood, the Home Owners’ Association owns common property jointly in a condominium or cooperative legal structure. This increases the cost of liability insurance for developers and builders, and the legal complexity of the development process. Of course, this concern is less of a deterrent for a development that already includes condominiums, townhouses, or common areas. Also, a developer in Oregon who uses a condominium legal structure rather than a subdivision legal structure can reduce the total development time by as much as one year.
Here are some examples of actual communities where residents are already enjoying the many benefits described above.
To learn how we can help you create safer, healthier neighborhoods with higher property values, or to share your thoughts about creating more places like this, please contact us now.
For more details about the benefits and challenges of GIC neighborhoods, you can download a short presentation from the conference Rethinking Sustainable Construction 2006 in Sarasota, Florida, USA, 19-22 September 2006. For even more details, please download the text and figures of the accompanying conference paper.