Wednesday, August 24, 2005

retiring the car

While acquanting myself with using Technorati today, I managed to stumble across this post from a couple that is apparently getting ready to move to Bella Vista, Arkansas. They read this outstanding story in the Denver Post about transit-oriented development and started to think about the rising costs of fuel.

They're getting ready to retire to a place (Bella Vista) where it's absolutely impossible to walk anywhere. Bella Vista itself has a very limited supply of basic goods and services. There's a grocery store, a couple restaurants, cleaners, and some other basics. While there are some basic needs provided there, most people have to make a trip to Bentonville or Rogers to find what they need. Bella Vista was designed to be a massive retirement community with lakes, golf courses, tennis and other recreation options.

Here's a brief history. Now, Bella Vista has become more of a bedroom community to Bentonville, which is evidenced by the line of traffic coming down the highway out of Bella Vista each morning. (Although it's still filled with retirees.)

You can read their post here.

I read a very encouraging story in Newsweek sometime several months ago about the trend of more and more retirees moving into city cores and well-planned smaller to medium sized cities.

It's nice to see people thinking about the fact that all of our development patterns (among other things) are completely and utterly reliant on massive amounts of cheap land and cheap oil. Not only are they dependent on these factors, but they are unsustainable. The more we de-value the public realm (sidewalks, public parks, squares, greens) in favor of the private realm (giant neighborhoods of 4500 square foot houses, enormous fenced-in backyards), the more we impoverish ourselves.

When developers are selling privacy and exclusivity, every home, every structure, everything built is a degradation of the primary amenity they're selling. However, if what you're selling is community and a well-built public realm, then every addition can be an enhancement of that offering.

I'm not advocating an abandonment of the "single family home", or the automobile, but we've got to realize that the current patterns cannot sustain themselves. For a real wake-up call, be sure to look at Kunstler's website and read his new book about how the American economy and food system is so reliant on cheap oil that we're in for a big shock in the future.

Even Wal-Mart is taking notice of the effect high oil prices have on their transportation system. Strange that it would take a statement from Lee Scott and the Wal-Mart brass to point out the obvious: 99.9% of Wal-Mart's shoppers have to drive to their stores to shop because Wal-Mart refuses to build their stores any differently than a giant box surrounded by tons of parking, cut off from the rest of the cities they're in. (funny how they don't do this overseas where land and oil aren't as cheap)

And they build the stores in such a way that wastes space, encourages sprawl, and makes driving the only option for shopping. (Not to mention the fact that when you buy an imported t-shirt in an East Coast store from China, that shirt was transported across the US by a fleet of inefficient, diesel tractor trailers.

Well....I've changed topics too many times in the last few paragraphs so I think it's time to wrap it up.

I started with a retiring couple and I've ended with Wal-Mart. All roads lead to Bentonville, my friends.