Michael Lewyn's blog

Michael Lewyn is an assistant professor at Touro Law Center in Long Island.
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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.

Walkable vs. Unwalkable Airports

I’ve read some airport-related planning literature about the interiors of airports and about their public transit connections. (For a good example of the latter, see http://www.planetizen.com/node/34842 ) But one other difference between airports relates to their exteriors: the difference between walkable airports and not-so-walkable airports.

When Spillover Parking Isn't So Bad

One justification for municipal minimum parking requirements is the danger of “spillover parking”: the fear that if Big Brother does not force businesses to build huge parking lots, that business’s customers will “spill over” into neighboring businesses or residential neighborhoods, thus reducing the parking available to the latter group.  For example, if Wal-Mart doesn’t build a thousand parking spaces, maybe Wal-Mart’s customers will park at Mom’n’Pop Groceries down the street, thus reducing the parking available to Mom’n’Pop customers.

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