Monday, March 6th, 2010
When land-use pattern create too heavy of a load on the existing or planned road network the system is unable to cope with demand and function at an adequate speed, causing Traffic Congestion. This can be stressed by traffic control systems failing to direct traffic effectively or there are conflicts between actors using the roadway, as seen with transport trucks and daily commuters (Springer, 2010a). Congestion increases the cost of operating a vehicle and requisite fuel consumption; creates economic fallout from unreliable transportation; increases the odds of accidents and ultimately reduces the level of comfort, convenience and safety of everyone which leads to impairments in mental and physical health (Jackson, 2003).
Solutions to congestion are to discouraging personal transportation by imposing Peak-Hour Pricing through toll-roads and electronic monitoring – or by further extending infrastructure. Although expanding the road network initially seems a logical and simple solution, it leads to Triple Convergence – a realignment of commuters’ space, time and modes of transportation. People inherently travel the path of least resistance (Downs, 1992) and by elevating stress on congested highways, those commuters who previous choose alternate routes to avoid congestion to return to the new roadway (spatial convergence); those who shifted the time at which they travel tend to return to a schedule that is more convenient; and those who switch modes from private to public transportation return to their car for the comfort, convenience and control (Springer, 2010a). This, in turn, creates new stress on the road and more congestion.
The design of Transit-Oriented Developments focuses on the root of the problem by the creation of a densely-populated, mixed-use community surrounding a node of public transportation with a intimate pedestrian-focused grid pattern and encouraging the use of safer and cleaner private forms of transportation with bicycles lanes and parking (Renne, 2009). These developments are typically a kilometre in diameter, with stepped-back building mass from a central point containing shops, offices and social services. The approach also pushes back on the notion of personal isolation – a repercussion of a technologically-laden society – that deters people from connecting with their surroundings and neighbours (Springer, 2010a).
By removing the necessity for an automobile in everyday tasks, Location-Efficient Communities are created where previous expenditures reserved for the maintenance and operation of a vehicle – estimated at $8000 a year (CAA, 2007) – can be released and reinvested into the community. Some financial institutions and government agencies in North America are offering mortgages that reflect urban realities – elevating people with lower-incomes into homeownership (Cervero, 2007) or allowing others the option to purchase more adequate housing, increase spending on local services and entertainment or save for future education and personal training. This has a doubling effect on the economic conditions of the surround city as less tax revenue would be needed to construct and maintain roadways, increasing tax revenue from new spending and limits lost productivity from time delays and pollution-related illnesses while increasing overall satisfaction of the public.
Dominance of the Automobile
The automobile has dominated personal transportation since the advent of the Ford Model T in 1908. Through the 1920s, Henry Ford’s assembly line manufacturing allowed for efficient production of affordable vehicles while his business policies provided his employees with the ability to purchase one easily, generating his own local and controllable demand (Wells, 2007). The automobile remains the most sought after form of transit, private or public, because of the comfort, convenience and control it provides (Springer, 2010a) and is so attractive that Canadian spend on average 20% of their pre-tax income to possess these benefits – an amount second only to shelter and greater than food (Statistics Canada, 2008).
The post-war period of economic and population growth in the 1950s resulted in a large demand for new housing, mostly developed in cheap, low-density tracts of land on the outskirts of cities (Miller, 2006, p.105). The unchecked sprawl of development limited where new employment opportunities and public amenities were able to be established, many locating well outside of the encampment area of conventional private transportation (Bhat, Sen & Eluru, 2009). New financial clout from booming times saw people gravitate away from public transit – seen as inadequate and inconvenient and used only by the poor (Mensah, 1994) – towards the use of vehicles which were more comfortable, offered as a symbol of social class and provided control over the when and where of commuting (Wells, 2007).
With more than seventy percent of Canadian now using the automobile as primary means of transportation (Statistics Canada, 2001) and the sparse design of new suburban neighbourhoods being inefficient for the development of effective mass transit (Smith, 2006) governments focus infrastructure spending on roads and highways and provided subsidies to local communities to maintain them. Seen as an integral part of the Canadian economy, the auto industry enjoys capital subsidies and tax deductions with lax leasing regulations to encourage automobile manufacturing and market demand (Hanson, 1992). Along with businesses offering cars as perks to employment and the lack of immediate and noticeable externalities to car ownership – fiscal or environmental – demand for this mode of transportation continues to sustain.
Housing as a Product
Housing is a product of both private and public processes combining to create a good that is fixed, consumable and a measure of economic status and health (Springer, 2010b & 2010c). Driven by market forces, private industries supply the material and end-product while being overseen by public forces to guide development, location, use and expectations. In addition, public processes ensure that both the product and its end-user can both obtain and benefit from homeownership while providing alternatives for those who cannot (Rose, 1980).
A major mitigating factor to housing that is it is statically linked to its location. This location must offer not only intrinsic benefits such as geographic proximity communities, but tactile natural features, including sought-after views and nearby recreational amenities to provide value (Millward, 2006). Services must also be readily available to appease basic living conditions, such as running water, sewage, educational facilities, employment opportunities, easily adequate transportation, accessible goods and services and allotment for religious structures (Leo & Anderson, 2006). While the location may be static, its community can be dynamic, either growing with density through redevelopment or expansion, or shrinking with loss of industry or natural disaster. Since most housing is affixed to property, durability of the product must be guaranteed, not only to provide safe, sound and sanitary conditions but for continued appreciation of value. Regular maintenance allows a home to last 50 years on average with revitalization extending it indefinitely (Springer, 2010b). Using regulation to enforce a variable mix of units ensures that all members of society have their specific need for shelter met.
In Canada, housing is the single most expensive individual procurement (Statistics Canada, 2008), often amortized over a lifetime and heavily debt-financed (Harris, 2006). The location and durability of housing ensures that it is a viable asset to borrow against – crucial for consumers who now hold almost one trillion dollars in outstanding mortgage debt (Dunning, 2010). Forecasting demand and controlling supply allows for a market that not only provides the need for a rolling stock of shelter but ensures affordability at a level most middle-class families can readily afford – constituting a large and crucial section of our national economy (Knaap, 2003). Failing to develop and control the product from both public and private perspective leads to a market bubble and eventual collapse – where those in demand can no longer afford to retain their shelter and those in supply can no longer able to afford production – devastating the economy and creating a downward spiral effect on the community and existing equity (Hulchanski, 2006). There is no more pronounced example of this failure than the United States in past three years.
Sprawl – Housing and Transportation
A critical concern influencing housing is that we are publicly avid about what we should and aspire to have but privately demand satisfaction of our personal wants. We seek cheap housing with high return on our investment; we want this housing to be open and spacious while in a compact and lively urban setting; and we want ease of access to amenities and employment without the drawbacks and costs of installing a transportation infrastructure to ease congestion. Left unregulated, private developers are more than ready to meet our demands knowing full well that services and networks are of the public realm, instigating sprawl against our wishes to maintain picturesque rural landscapes (Poulton, 1995). Individual behaviour is always at odds with individual expectation and the optimum for the collective, requiring public oversight and regulation to provide a middle ground.
As redevelopment of former employment areas is complicated and time-consuming process and brown-lands require years to ensure contaminated soil has safely settled or been removed (O’Reilly & Brink, 2006), assembly-line production is the most cost-effective methodology of development, consisting of cookie-cutter houses on vast tracts land (Harris, 2004). In North America, flat and rolling Class A agricultural land that surrounds urban areas are prime for such economies of scale and are attractive to purchasers who see the city as too expensive, crowded or unsafe and to developers who require large, efficient margins on their investment. But, without proper planning of mixed-use zoning, new residents to these developments required an automobile to reach employment areas, attend school and obtain services and sundries (Bhat, Sen & Eluru, 2009). The transportation network between nodes needs to be built quickly to meet growing demand and with little capital finances provided from tax revenue of cheaper housing, paved roads are often seen as a cheap solution to expansion forcing retailers to build big-box stores surrounded with ample parking to attract customers (Jones & Hernadez, 2006).
Land-use planning can be used to break this chaos, by first creating and preparing these edge cities with a location for shops, offices, transportation and services with adequate and sufficient housing for the intended population. By limiting the outer extent of the city through urban growth boundaries – such as the greenbelt retention in Ontario – and ensuring concurrent growth strategies mixed with smart development, we can limit the effects of externalities such as pollution and congestion and encourage transit-oriented developments designed around alternative modes of private transportation. Deliberately influencing the style and mode of growth not only improves the quality of life citizens, but provides a secure and sound community insulated from future fiscal and infrastructure constraints now apparent in older suburban areas (Geller, 2003).
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