By Tyler Falk
Posting in Cities
Disney World and state fairs are walkable paradises, and people love them. So why aren't more of our cities and towns modeled after the aspects that make them great?
Today, the Midwest isn't exactly a posterchild for smart growth (there are plenty of exceptions of course). Through the years the car has eroded the walkable main streets that made up our small towns and cities and caused growth to happen away from town and city centers.
My hometown of Champaign, Ill. is a great example of that. In the early 1900s people traveled by foot, trolley and bike, not unlike other Midwest towns at the time. (See this great photo from the time period.) But ever since housing development have caused the city to expand away from its urban core.
Did this shift in Midwestern cities and towns happen because people in the Midwest don't enjoy living in places where they have the ability to walk, bike, or ride transit to the places they frequent the most? Over on the Shareable blog, Jay Walljasper doesn't think so. Why? Well, have you been to a state fair in the Midwest?
Millions of people in farm states pay an admission to amble through car-free districts animated by cafes, beer gardens, music performances and the enduringly interesting parade of people passing by. Locally grown food is all around, some so fresh that it is still on the hoof.
This is no chi chi idea of a pedestrian district imported from Germany or Italy. It’s a homegrown model for how to improve safety, health and pleasantness in the places we call home.
Skeptical? Well, I was just there a few weeks ago in Minnesota, and through the years have delighted in the lively streetlife of similar spots in Iowa, Indiana, and Illinois.
I’m talking about State Fairs. But the concept works equally well with County Fairs and Renaissance Faires. These rustic American traditions approximate the experience of Old World pedestrian zones.
And these are not the only places people eagerly gather en masse to enjoy life without the hassle or harm of traffic.
An example on a more national level (since sprawl doesn't just happened in the Midwest, of course) is the pedestrian paradise Disney World. It's not modeled after a strip mall but a main street that used to be the norm in our cities and towns. Main Street USA is an icon of Disney World, and people flock to it. Is it a coincidence that the "happiest place on Earth" also doesn't have cars?
So if people enjoy these places why don't we model our cities and towns after the aspects that makes these places great: the chance to see your friends and meet people, the excitement of lingering around a place and exploring, and being entertained. It can't just be the elephant ears.
Sep 22, 2011
Portland Oregon is working hard to be recognized as one of the nation's most liveable cities based on a number of factors that include the idea of a walkable urban environment. Not quite there yet, since the auto still travels the central city core, but biking, walking, trolleys, buses and light rail have a major role to play in moving people from place to place inside a rather compact and dense mixed use area of the downtown section of Portland. The infrastructure is in place to gradually phase out the use of cars in downtown Portland and it is just a matter of time and political will to make it happen. The biggest stumbling block is the ability to provide support services on a daily basis that involves such things as delivery trucks. In the case of Disney, much of that infrastructure is hidden underground, having been designed that way from the start. Not an option for most cities including Portland. But there are some great minds available to work out the kinks for such matters. One of many nice things about Portland, is the involvement in the decision making process by the local citizen community. It sometimes takes a long while to reach consensus, but once it happens, the results can be most rewarding. There is a large contingent of people who are working toward the day when downtown Portland has the look and feel of the type of mainstreet America that resembles Disney World or the nearby town of Celebration, which was specifically designed by the Disney organization to provide a real world blueprint for a walkable and sustainable city. So if you are looking for that walkable urban environment, come visit our city and check out the Portland culture and lifestyle. Many who visit, often come back to stay.
People who lived in cities used to walk around because they had no other option. A few rode horses or had bicycles, but most walked. When the trolleys came along, people used them because they were more convenient than walking. When the automobile became affordable, they naturally migrated to that mode of transportation. In those days, most people lived in the country or in small towns. Those who lived on farms rarely needed to travel to the nearest small town, and when they did they rode a horse or drove a horse-pulled wagon. One thing the automobile did was to encourage businesses to move to the cities. It seemed more efficient for them to be located there, so cities began to grow, and people who formerly lived in small towns now had to move to (or near) the large cities simply to find employment. City density may be fine for the work environment, but not so much for most individuals, so they moved toward, but not into, the cities. This suburban sprawl is the result of people who, in earlier times, would have lived and worked in small towns, now living closer to the population centers. Suburban lots are smaller (and thus the population is denser) than small town lots. Sprawl really is the result of increased density, not the result of people trying to get more space. Having said that, I really would like to try living in a downtown area, but all of the math that's supposed to prove to me that I'd actually save money isn't convincing, because I would not actually be able to afford the price of the high-rise apartment, and the monthly maintenance fees are more than my current house note. What I miss from living in a small town is the ability I had as a kid to ride a bicycle anywhere I wanted to go. My children were not able to do that in our suburban town, and were stuck in their own subdivision.
Sure, County and State Fairs, Disney World, and the like, are great places to visit, but would you really want to _live_ there? There's a reason people go home afterwards.