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1002Re: new vs. old

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  • Karen Sandness
    Jul 5, 2000
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      Hello, everybody. I'm Karen Sandness, a free-lance Japanese-English
      translator, car-free in Portland, Oregon since 1993.

      > For most cities, parts of cities and suburbs developed since WWII (to
      > greater or lesser degrees, on both continents), however, the demands and
      > pressures of automobility have resulted in built environments that will be
      > very difficult to re-shape. Making them over into workable carfree cities
      > and neighborhoods will require what one designer friend refers to,
      > technically, as "scraping away all that crap, including many of the
      > streets." Transformation of these places will not, certainly, be
      > impossible, but it will be costly and painful, and the process will be
      > fraught with political peril.

      Despite Portland's reputation for new urbanism, we have our share of
      sloburbs, and I've often thought of what could be done with them. Here
      are a few interim steps:

      1) Levy a tax on surface parking spaces. This would inspire even the
      megastores to move their parking to underground garages or (as one of
      our urban megastores has done) to rooftops. People could still drive to
      the store, but the space no longer devoted to surface parking could be
      re-landscaped to contain housing (perhaps for elderly people who need
      convenient access to shopping) and green spaces.

      2) Require that each housing tract above a certain size have a little
      commercial district at its connection to the arterial street or highway.
      Each such district could contain a transit stop, a bike parking lot, a
      convenience store, a postal station with a coffee stand (the
      availability of coffee in my apartment's mail room has done wonders to
      increase the sense of community in a 12-story high rise), a dry
      cleaner's, and a day care center.

      3) Build bike paths connecting the more isolated housing developments
      with schools and recreation centers, so that kids can take themselves to
      school and after-school activities. That way, families won't feel forced
      to buy a car for everyone over the age of sixteen, and younger kids will
      have the kind of independence that I had growing up in a city until age 11.

      > As for the awful mess of sprawlburbia, spreading its ugly tentacles into
      > every nook and cranny of the countryside, its day will also come, indeed,
      > isn't so very far away.
      One of the local radio commentators here calls these areas "the slums of
      the future." Indeed, some of the older suburbs in my home city of
      Minneapolis are looking pretty slummy already.

      Japan was once a transit-lover's paradise, and in many ways, it still is
      (hot and cold running trains in all directions from the pre-dawn hours
      till midnight), but they're starting to build car-oriented developments.

      Yet even the most car-oriented developments seem to have access to
      transit facilities. In May, I visited an American friend who lives in a
      new suburb of Tokyo, and she said that many families owned cars, mostly
      to visit the newly trendy megastores that the U.S. has forced on Japan
      in the interests of "free trade." She and her husband do not own a car,
      however, and in the morning, I could see men in gray flannel suits
      riding bicycles to catch the train into the city.

      Meanwhile, the city of Tokyo proper is working on its 12th subway line
      and plotting routes for a 13th, because transit usage is up.

      The current mayor of Tokyo is xenophobic and racist, but I did have to
      admire one thing he said. A group of citizens came to him complaining
      that traffic congestion in the city made it difficult for them to drive
      where they wanted to drive. He told them to take the subway.

      Well, I could go on and on, but that's enough for now.

      Idea hoppingly yours,
      Karen Sandness
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