Is city-making a science?

New Urban Network The longest pieces in The New York Times Magazine are often the most illuminating. That was certainly true in the Dec. 19 issue — the magazine’s tenth annual presentation of “The Year in Ideas.” In a fascinating article, Jonah Lehrer wrote about Geoffrey West, formerly a physicist at Stanford University Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory, who in 2002 began turning his scientific mind to questions about cities. What makes a city grow and thrive? Why do megalopolises arise? Why do some cities decline? West felt that in light of the galloping urbanization occurring throughout the world ...
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Access vs. mobility: Happy people or happy cars?

Levin Nock, New Urban Network When the federal transportation bill is renewed, many of the new transportation projects will be evaluated in terms of performance metrics for mobility and congestion, such as “hours of delay per 1000 vehicle miles traveled (VMT).” In other words, a “superior” design enables vehicles to travel many miles with few delays. Most of our highways are designed with this objective. This design metric suggests that the purpose of transportation/urban planning is to keep vehicles moving quickly and freely. The reason to do that is sometimes unclear — perhaps cars are happier when they’re moving? If ...
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Why design guidelines, on their own, don’t work

Kaizer Rangwala, New Urban Network While lifting federal funding restrictions on stem cell research President Obama said, "we will develop strict guidelines, which we will rigorously enforce, because we cannot ever tolerate misuse or abuse." Notwithstanding the political rhetoric, are standards different than strict guidelines? Can guidelines be rigorously enforced? In common usage, the terms “guidelines” and “standards” are frequently used interchangeably. However, within the development regulatory framework, a guideline is a helpful suggestion — you don’t have to follow it, but it is recommended. On the other hand, standards are legal and mandatory requirements. Design Guidelines Guidelines are explanatory ...
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More bicycling means safer streets

Robert Steuteville, New Urban Network In July we published an article on a surprising trend in New York City — as bicycle use skyrockets, bicycle accidents are dropping. When many bicyclists are on the road, cycling safety improves substantially. This observation is consistent with data from other countries. Cycling is far safer in countries where bicycles are used more often — such as the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark (see graph at bottom right). Now comes data from Portland, Oregon, that suggests encouraging bicycle use leads to greater traffic safety in general. Check out the attached graphs. The one at top ...
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