Michael Lewyn's blog

Michael Lewyn is an assistant professor at Touro Law Center in Long Island.
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A Middle Ground In The Bag Wars

The San Jose City Council is considering a proposal to ban plastic bags and most paper bags in supermarkets, out of concerns about the greenhouse gases used to manufacture them and about the waste from discarded bags.  But this policy might create as many environmental problems as it solves. 

In a city without disposable bags, shoppers who seek to buy large amounts of groceries will have to drag around an army of nondisposable containers.  For drivers, this is not a big deal.  Susie SUV can always find  space for dozens of nondisposable bags in her truck.  And because Susie’s bags can stay in her truck forever, she will always be able to make impulse purchases without difficulty.

Stress and the city, part 2

Not long ago, I posted on what makes some cities more stressful than others. (See http://www.planetizen.com/node/40441 ). In that post, I remarked that the ideal objective indicia of stress (resident surveys on crime, illness, etc.) often do not exist for most cities.

What Makes A City Stressful?

Forbes just came up with another of its “Most X City” surveys. This week, it listed the most stressful cities (http://www.forbes.com/2009/08/20/stress-unemployment-homes-lifestyle-rea... ). Nearly all of Forbes’ criteria, however, are silly in one respect or another.

Legibility vs. efficiency

One reason why buses are less popular than trains is buses' lack of "legibility": the ability of an occasional passenger to figure out how to get somewhere by bus. While subway or light rail passengers can look at a system map (which is usually present on a station wall) and figure out that a train to destination X shall arrive at their station reasonably soon, bus passengers typically have to invest time in getting schedules, and then pray that the schedule has not changed.

New urbanists and old-fashioned Jews

A few years ago, someone asked me the following question (loosely paraphrased) on a listserv: “Since the most tradition-minded* religious Jews are required by Jewish law to walk to synagogue on Sabbaths and holy days (and thus presumably prize walkability) why aren’t they a major market for new urbanist developments?” At the time, I didn’t have a coherent answer. But now that I know more about both traditional Jews and new urbanism, I do.

Geography Still Matters

 

Some commentators think that Internet technology will liberate us from the constraints of place; for example, one amazon.com book review of Joel Kotkin’s The New Geography states “Because today's connected workers can live anywhere they want, they will live anywhere they want.”  Kotkin himself is a little more circumspect, but writes: “Telecommunication allows people who want privacy, low-density neighborhoods and good schools to live in small towns in a way never before possible.”(1)  There is a tiny amount of truth to this claim: the Internet does make it

A Fable About Sprawl

Once upon a time, there was a city called City. And everyone living in City voted in the same elections and paid taxes to the same government.

And then 5 percent of the people decided that they wanted to live in an new neighborhood that was opened up for development by the highways. And they called it Richburb, because they were, if not rich, at least a little richer than many of the people in the city (since even if there wasn’t zoning to keep the poor out, new housing usually costs more than old housing anyhow).

Urbanism, Suburbs and Families: They Can All Go Together

A few weeks ago, I read an online comment suggesting that unnamed "planners" displayed no interest in suburbia, single-family housing or family life, and instead are only interested in improving downtown neighborhoods for single people. If by "planners" the author of this comment meant new urbanists or critics of the sprawl status quo, this claim is simply incorrect.

Over the past month, I have visited half a dozen new urbanist developments in Dallas and Denver (1). All of these developments have a few things in common: all include both retail and residential uses, and all strive for walkability by providing sidewalks and narrow, gridded streets. But the developments differ in two other respects: geography and housing type.

Judaism and Urbanism

After visiting Denver for the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) conference, I began to meditate on the relationship between Judaism and urbanism, and on how few cities accommodate both. In particular, I was impressed by how well-populated downtown Denver was compared to the southern cities where I have spent the past three years (Jacksonville) and this summer (Little Rock) - but I stll couldn’t imagine myself living in downtown Denver all that comfortably.

How walkable is it?

 

Recently, an acquaintance asked me how to measure the walkability of a place he was visiting.  

I could have told him to just look at Walkscore (www.walkscore.com).  Walkscore assigns scores to places based on their proximity to a wide variety of destinations.  So if a place has a high walkscore AND a walkable street design (e.g. narrow streets, a grid system, etc.) it is probably pretty walkable.

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