Can Urbanist Islands Make a Difference Where Sprawl Reigns?

The product of a single developer, San Jose's Santana Row is a pocket of urbanism in a sea of sprawl. But can it influence development patterns beyond its bounds, and should it?

October 13, 2017, 10:00 AM PDT

By Philip Rojc @PhilipRojc


Santana Row

Pedestrians stroll along Santana Row | Eric Fredericks / Flickr

For the Congress for the New Urbanism's Public Square, Robert Steuteville discusses the merits of intentionally "urbanist" developments like San Jose's retail-oriented Santana Row. "Santana Row is better than the usual Silicon Valley sprawl, but does it represent real progress—or is it merely dressing up a mess of disconnected development?"

Steuteville notes that in Silicon Valley, "The tech industry did not create sprawl. It accelerated sprawl by creating hundreds of thousands of high-paying jobs that kicked housing demand into overdrive. But [sprawl] was formed by, among other factors, government-adopted zoning codes and publicly built road systems that funnel traffic from housing and shopping pods onto large, wide thoroughfares."

The article covers how Santana Row interacts with neighboring arterials and whether a centrally-planned development can truly influence the surrounding sprawl.

Steuteville argues that developers alone cannot reshape urban environments. "The reality is that new urbanists have made far less impact on transportation engineering than they would like. [...] Expecting a developer to solve a thoroughfare or context problem that exists at a far larger scale than the development site is unrealistic."

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