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
In thousands of planning and zoning laws across the nation, official announcements are required to be published in the local newspaper of "general circulation." In an era of newspaper decline and expanding diversity of media, are these laws becoming obsolete? Furthermore, should we be concerned with newspapers at all if a newer, more universally accessible medium is available: the Internet?
A variety of announcements are legally required to be published in a local periodical of "general circulation," sometimes in addition to being published in an official government gazette. The practice entered the planning world through the U.S. Department of Commerce's highly influential standard zoning and planning enabling acts.
Often times I’m struck by the advances we’ve made in mapping, modeling and depicting our cities. What was once the purview of mapmakers, surveyors or architects is now a democratized, engaging process that brings unexpected results. And the more advanced the technology, the more transparent our cities seem to become.
After the dramatic collapse of the Minneapolis freeway bridge last week, the collective hand-wringing began. The bridge was known to be faulty, but had not been replaced. Our entire public transit system is underfunded, we were told.
In addition to transportation infrastructure, those concerned with urban issues have a litany of complaints about American cities. Our transit systems are not adequately linked to zoning laws. Our high parking requirements doom alternative modes of transit and drive up development costs. Our policies encourage uncontrolled sprawl, which seemingly nobody likes. Planners' recommendations are too often overruled by ill-informed and politicized zoning boards. Our buildings aren't energy efficient. City mayors and councils play politics with projects painstakingly approved through highly democratic review processes. And nobody's happy when local activists hold undue power over individual projects.
The solutions we are given are almost as varied as the problems. More centralized planning is often called for, or perhaps more regional planning. However, this seems highly difficult and unlikely in most places where land use is regulated by many small municipalities. Some suggest the solution is more public input on infrastructure and private projects to enhance their quality, while others think we need less input to speed them along and reduce the costs incurred by delays. Some are convinced elaborate flexible or form-based zoning holds the key to better cities, although implementation seems frustratingly difficult. Some cynics conclude that perhaps it is American cultural biases that produce our flawed cities: maybe Americans just like it this way, living with decaying infrastructure, long commutes, but low taxes.
The motley list of solutions almost never includes the one thing that actually has overcome the myriad of obstacles to good city building before: a broad-based and robust conversation to create solutions, money, and political support.