9.12.15

THE CASE FOR EMERGENCE.

The Minnesota Post interviews Charles Marohn of Strong Towns, on the decline and fall of the technocratic vision, as manifested in the postwar suburbs.
[T]he nation’s 70-year experiment with suburban development is a failure — because it is economically unsustainable. That is, the lack of density does not produce tax revenue necessary to cover current services, let alone the long-term costs of maintaining and replacing those services. And because suburbs were built as fully developed places, they don’t have the flexibility to adapt, to become more dense in response to fiscal realities.
Ordinarily, dear reader, one might associate "sustainability" and criticism of suburbs with the vision of another type of technocratic vision.  But what is the postwar suburb if not the quintessence of technocracy, with rigid land use planning, including "planned use developments" and rigid zoning, with the residential neighborhoods strictly segregated from the shopping areas and the office parks, and rigid design specifications, including large (and generally lightly used) parking lots surrounding the free-standing retail buildings and the office parks.  No emergent system would look like that.

And those rigid specifications suggest that high-capacity roads be provided to speed shoppers and office workers to and from those houses on the culs-de-sac and in and out of the parking lots.  (Until the maltimed traffic lights that somehow never got their own specifications snarl everything.)  Thus those high-traffic roads have an aggravating mix of through and local traffic, but it's all apparently part of the technocratic vision.
Engineers create stroads, he said, by following the manuals that say safety comes from wider lanes with rights of way cleared of trees and other obstacles. Such designs are forgiving to drivers, but they also send drivers a message that they can — and should — go fast. Cities, therefore, need to transform their stroads either into a road or a street, Marohn preaches: slowing speeds, prioritizing pedestrian, bike and transit uses over cars as well as intensifying adjacent land use.

“When we bring the lanes in, when we constrict, when we keep the trees, we signal to drivers that there’s a cost to pay if you go too fast,” Marohn said. As a result, they slow down.

Marohn admits that while engineers know how to build good and effective roads, there is less known about creating great streets. “Building a productive place, building a truly great street is more an art than a science,” he said. “We build them slowly and collectively over time.”
Without any notion of "collective." Emergence is like that.

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