Steven Prince, on matching transportation infrastructure to land use

Steve Prince posted this comment on Minnpost:


Density in Edina, like the same current debate in Minneapolis, is about developer profitability, not affordable housing and not walkability.

Unless you are building on a vacant lot, “infill” development will always replace what is torn down with something more expensive. After all, the price of what you tore down has to be included in the new building. So let’s not pretend density will address affordable housing.

“Walkability” is a meaningless word in the debate about density and urban planning – it doesn’t get to the issue of auto ownership. Building more housing at 50th and France is the only Edina location I can imagine where someone could live and not own a car. But the transit connections stink; the new housing would be expensive at that location, so anyone who can afford to live there will own a car. Exactly like the expensive housing constructed in Uptown over the last decade – people like living in a “walkable” neighborhood and will pay for it, but they can afford a car so they own one. And in Uptown they probably need it unless they work downtown or at the U.

Unless you have the matching transportation infrastructure (which exists in only a very few neighborhood/nodes in the Cities), density will increase developer profits but only get you increased congestion, not reduced auto ownership. And please don’t argue that walking to the Starbucks matters, it doesn’t. Car storage (parking) and peak congestion are what matter. The first makes density in a car dominated metro area like ours a fiction and the latter makes livability worse, not better.

The article is an interesting echo of the debate in Minneapolis, where the “density” Cool Aid drinkers are certain increasing density will mean less cars, even though all experience tells us the opposite. Until you have a built environment AND transportation infrastructure that makes owning a car unnecessary, density is not going to magically transform our cities, only make them less livable.

If the metro area was serious about transformation we would identify a set of geographic nodes where walkable schools, grocery stores, medical clinics, and offices meant you could live without a car, and develop a transit system to connect these nodes with a frequency approaching that of the elevator.

Since our cities are not having that discussion it seems fair to conclude that discussion we are having is driven by developer profits.

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