Wednesday, March 18, 2009

One Dozen Per Million

Chris Leinberger has been hoofing it around the country pushing his idea of walkable urbanism and regionally significant walkable urban places*. Just today he got articles in Sacramento and Raleigh NC on his ideas. In Raleigh, they are thinking that if plans are followed through, it will be the end of sprawl. The skeptic in me says highly unlikely.

But i'm intrigued with how he came to the idea that every million people in population needs at least half a dozen regionally significant walkable urban places*

Leinberger said his study of metropolitan Washington, D.C., and Atlanta suggests that a city should have no more than a half-dozen walkable urban places per million people. Some of these will be downtown, some in inner-ring neighborhoods, and some in the suburbs, But what they have in common is their location at rail-transit stops, not on highways.

By his math, Raleigh should attempt to create two or three such places, in addition to downtown, by 2030, when the comprehensive plan anticipates the city will be home to 600,000 people.

These places should be on the rail or a streetcar corridor, which, he said, are permanent and attract investors, developers and upscale buyers. "I have never seen a dollar of real estate investment generated by a bus stop," Leinberger said.

If this is based off of DC, we need to start building a lot more monocentric rapid transit in our regions. This creates the ability to connect places that have different niches for the needs of the population. Not every walkable district is going to have everything you need, so they need to be connected with accessible transit. In Sacramento, there's more than enough room to build these significant places, but they need more transit.

According to Brookings Institution research, there should be eight to 12 regionally significant, walkable urban, transit-oriented places in the region. Today there are only three: downtown, midtown and Old Sacramento. The opportunity for locating and building five to nine additional walkable urban, transit-oriented places and building far more development in the existing three would be worth billions of dollars and would represent a more sustainable way of living.

*I wish he would define this more precisely.


Cavan said...

Chris Leinburger uses our region as an example of the minimum number of walkable urban places that a region can support. It is hardly the end of the story.

As for monocentric vs. polycentric Metros, our Metro is actually both. It has a monocentric center with long polycentric arms off the trunk lines. Admittedly, the system was designed in the 1960's with suburban to downtown commuting in mind. It just so happened that the core L'Enfant city (the original city designed by L'Enfant in 1791) is inherently very walkable and had offices all over the place, even in the 1960's and '70s. In the core city, there are Metro stations all over the place, roughly one every three blocks or so. It functions as an urban subway in the inner suburbs and city.

Also, you'll notice that there are stops all along those long arms out to the suburbs. That's a ripe condition to create a walkable urban corridor like Arlington has on the Orange Line from Rosslyn to Ballston. Montgomery County has aleady completed TOD in Bethesda and Rockville on the western Red Line and is now planning around White Flint and Twinbrook.

Basically, the inner suburban places are able to create new walkable urban places using the arms of the Metro (R-B corridor) or revitalize legacy, previously decling walkable urban places like in Silver Spring and Hyattsville. Both are original streetcar suburbs that were in decline because they didn't happen to be in the Favored Quarter during the suburban flight.

Inside the District of Columbia, those arms have been very useful, too. Logan Circle, Shaw, U St. NW and Columbia Heights on the Green Line were largely divested, economically depressed places before the Metro. Now they're very much in-demand.

If I were to build a new Metro in another city from scratch, especially one of the southern or plains cities that don't really have dense inner streetcar suburbs, I would focus on a more monocentric system. All those cities have lots of empty land within their municipal boundaries. However, east coast cities that date back to colonial times and were already sprouting streetcar suburbs before World War II are a different beast. In our region, those streetcar suburbs have been connected to the city by the Metro. Since their form is the same as neighborhoods that are on the other side of the city line, they began to operate as they did when they were first built, as an extension of the city, and not as they did during the suburbanization era as a declining place.

While it can be argued that a polycentric system encourages sprawl, that is not so much the case in the Washington region. Those long arms mostly end at the Beltway. In terms of suburban sprawl, that's just the tip of the iceberg. Those arms represent the end of the region in the middle of the 1960's. By the time any of those arms were completed (the first ones being the eastern Orange in 1978, western Red Line in 1984 and the western Orange Line in 1986) the suburban sprawl had already advanced dozens of miles beyond the end of the arms. In our specific case, those long arms actually provide for more density, bringing transit to a purely car-dependent place.

Like I said, if you were starting from scratch, a monocentric system is the way to go. Our Metro was planned and built during the transit-hostile second half of the 20th Century. Also, the politics of it are very different from other regions which all lie in the same state. In order for it to work and gain ridership, it needed to be a regional system. At the time, it would have ended up like MARTA in Atlanta and unable to gain popularity and TOD/revitalizion if wasn't a regional system. Consequently, every jurisdiction in the region needed to get its share of Metro service. As such, it has its imperfections. However, it has more right with it than wrong.

One final thing to remember is that we have our Metro in place of a comprehensive freeway system. If you look at it as a replacement for freeways that would have destroyed our region and turned into another Atlanta, it's the best Metro in the world.

Cavan said...

as to define what Leinburger describes as a walkable urban place...

He means something like an urban neighborhood or a suburban town. A "place" has its own feeling or is recognized by the region as its own place.

Patrick said...

Can I get a better definition of "monocentric" and "polycentric," please? I didn't like Layman's.

Here is how the words make sense to me: Polycentric = "many centers;" Monocentric = "one center."

So a monocentric metro has one center, typically follows a hub and spoke pattern, and generally only brings commuters downtown. Consider Atlanta's MARTA. If you want to go from Buckhead to Decatur, you have to go downtown first.

A polycentric metro has many crossings of lines. Consider London, NYC, and to a lesser extent, DC (especially with the orange and purple lines). So, with the purple line, I can go from Bethesda to Silver Spring without going all the way downtown. Silver Spring has become an additonal center, and is more likely to become a WUP.

I'm confused by what Cavan calls "long polycentric arms." An arm is not a center, by definition, so how are these polycentric?

And why do people keep saying a polycentric metro promotes sprawl? A park and ride lot is not a center, especially if it's on one of the long arms. A monocentric system promotes sprawl because it encourages people to drive to a park and ride and then commute downtown. A polycentric system creates WUPs all over the city, so it converts sprawl to good urban form. So a monocentric system promotes sprawl more than a polycentric system.

Am I using these terms incorrectly?

Richard Layman said...

P -- you're not looking at the right scale. Polycentric vs. monocentric is defined at the scale of the region. The transit system in the DC region is designed to be polycentric. It's just a happy accident for DC that it works monocentrically at the core.

But yes, if you look at the center city as a whole, there is the center and then peripheral locations (you can also look at the work of the global underdevelopment scholars and think of the concept of the center and the periphery).

The center is monocentric and then places out of the core (Tenleytown, Takoma Park, Brookland, Deanwood, Congress Heights, etc.) are peripheral or "polycentric" locations.

But really, the scale you should be looking at is for the region. The distances are so small between most locations in DC that they are roughly immaterial. The issue in terms of lagging revitalization for DC neighborhoods has to do more with population density and household incomes, not so much the distance from the core.

I hate to admit that while I have Options of Urbanism I haven't finished it. But the point that L makes wrt the number of fully "complete" walkable places that a region can support being limited makes sense.

You need a lot of population to be able to support local retail and frequent transit and entertainment options. Places like Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights have it (even if they don't have the right HH income in all places). Most other places in the city do not, even Capitol Hill. Too bad we don't have more large apartment buildings spread about the city...

FYI, you might also be interested in concepts from economic geography and location theory. Granted, I kinda roll all this up as backstory when I write, and I couldn't claim that the way I use concepts is how the original authors may have intended.

Faith said...

The Triangle region, of which Raleigh is a part, already has 1 million people so it actually would need more walkable places. Right now there are 3-4 very small walkable places: downtowns of Chapel Hill/Carborro, Durham and Raleigh and the Glenwood District in Raleigh, which is adjacent to downtown. These three points are 20-30 miles apart, accessible only by car and are virtual islands in a see of suburban sprawl.

It will take a very long time just to connect the three existing centers via rail. The end of sprawl in Raleigh... I don't think they will be able to rebuild the majority of the region in my lifetime.

Cavan said...

I would also like to add that Leinburger talks about regional serving walkable urban places. In other words, places that are attractions for an entire region. For example, Silver Spring has enough unique attractions in its theaters and entertainment to attract D.C. and Virginia residents. Same with DuPont Circle.

On the other hand, Cleveland Park, while being a truly walkable urban place, is not regional serving. It's local serving. That does not mean that it is less efficient on energy consumption. That just means that it doesn't have regional attractions.

In his book, and in this discussion, Leinburger talks about supporting regional-serving walkable urbanism. There is far more capacity to support local-serving walkable urban places.

Morgan Wick said...

So I sometimes hear that a transit network should be built to focus all job creation on downtown, but also that you need to have a network to get from place to place? What's the balance?

ChiefJoJo said...

I attended the lecture & live in Raleigh. Faith is correct. We have a very long way to go here in the Triangle. ~1.6M, but only about 3 walkable urban places, with the potential for more (North Hills is not really there). While his numbers may not be exact (ratio of WUPs/pop & 50% market for WUPs) for each region, the argument is one of the better market-based arguments I have heard. Too bad he was speaking to the choir. If we only got the flat earth crowd in there to listen, he might have made a bigger dent.