Re: SOC: Urban Sprawl

From: Brian Atkins (
Date: Sun Jun 04 2000 - 15:23:59 MDT wrote:
> I wonder what developments extropians would support as an alternative to
> central planning to address this issue. These are some I see:
> <> Natural "Edge City Densification". Here in Houston, we're seeing a
> pattern of commercial real estate development at the nodes of the main
> highway system on the outskirts of town. Houston is perhaps the most natural
> "Car Town" on the planet, since its growth is not constrained by geography
> (except on the southeast side where the port makes a narrow radial entry into
> the otherwise nearly perfect concentric-ring development pattern of the 20th
> Century city fed by radial freeway arteries and concentric ring roads).
> Major groups of 5-25-story office buildings are being built at the
> intersection of the radial and ring freeways, "seeding" development of a more
> complete urban landscape at multiple locations as far out as 15-20 miles from
> the city center. These new nodes of conurbation seem to be acting as
> "magnets", offsetting the otherwise steady centrifugal force of freeway-fed
> growth. With no zoning laws (we've defeated them in three successive
> plebiscites), this development in Houston is certainly not the result of
> central planning.

As a resident of Atlanta I would say we are ahead of the curve here..
the city has been sprawling out for many years now, and the the inter-
sections of the major roads were overdeveloped and clogged with cars
several years ago. Now you have people and the burbs spreading even
farther out, with commutes of over an hour, and talk of building a
second ring road farther out.

What you have then is a lot of people now moving back into the center
of the city to try to escape the hellish commutes. Great for me since
I own some lofts in midtown :-) But as for the traffic and pollution,
the larger the sprawl, the worse it gets.

Somewhat interesting is that at least one large local company (Bellsouth)
has decided to build all its new buildings very near to mass transit
stations rather than the freeways. The hope is to get more employees
using that and cut down on car trips.

> <> Telecommuting. Talked about as a tonic to commuter gridlock for a
> decade, we OUGHT to be seeing an effect right about now as more and more
> people have sufficient bandwidth in their homes to work from there. I know
> that I have developed a pattern of working from home a few days a month and I
> seem to be encountering more anecdotal evidence of this trend as time goes
> on. But people still like the sociability of an office environment (I know I
> do). I'd look for the development of generic "Edge City Workspaces" for
> semi-telecommuting, where people with disparate professions could share an
> office space and some of the overhead of equipment and facilities (like
> high-end videoconferencing) near their suburban homes.

Actually this would be somewhat depersonalizing I think.. I have heard about
companies (and even countries in general) where it isn't permitted to
really personalize your workspace. If you had to use some generic space
that might be a downside.

As for telecommuting from home, the bandwidth and more importantly the
software to allow for people to work together in a simulated virtual
space isn't there. Even if it was, would working from home be so great
if you still had to get prepped and dressed up in order to do video
conferencing and other interactive things with clients or coworkers?

> <> Electric/Hybrid Cars. Long an electro-skeptic, I'm seeing electrics and
> especially hybrids coming closer and closer to competitiveness. Especially
> with smarter and smarter power-management systems and lighter and lighter
> materials, I'd look for the significant impact of electro-hybrids on urban
> hydrocarbon pollution within the next ten years.

Yep this will certainly help out with the pollution (although a similiar
size chunk of our pollution comes from electrical power plants). But not
with the traffic and sprawl :-)

> <> Smart Cars. Although Gore supports "smart highways", I think anyone with
> much sense knows that this is a stalking horse for a major tax-and-spend orgy
> for the central planners. It's not hard to imagine Gore's kind getting us
> committed to a huge "National Smart Highway Initiative" that would be
> obsolete before it's even begun. However, a packet-switched system where
> most of the smarts are in the cars DOES seem to offer promise for some relief
> from freeway congestion without losing the merits of individual choice in
> mobility that Americans clearly prize very highly. I'd be curious to get
> some pointers from anyone who is following this line of development closely
> so we could make some intelligent guesses about how it might become a
> significant trend and how soon it might offer some relief to the weary
> commuter.

It requires a large amount of computing power and software to make a car
smart enough to drive itself to a destination. In fact I would say it
is still an unsolved problem. However if it could be fully developed
then it could work since the software probably wouldn't cost that much
per vehicle, and computing prices continue to drop. In the meantime a
simpler system of magnets in roads and a little smarts in cars allowing
them to track it would be nice... I would love to be able to get onto
a clogged highway and then turn the car into "auto" mode until I got
to my exit.

> I'm sure there are other trends and developments I'm overlooking. Comments?

I think you can also look at delivery systems like Webvan, Kozmo, Amazon
that are cutting down on the trips people have to make. I know that as a
dweller in a clogged city I am glad to have these services.

Parts of Atlanta are also developing private shuttle systems. For instance
in the very busy Buckhead area here (shopping and business center) they
are planning to have one in place early next year to help people get
around during the day without using their car. And we need it- we already
have a lunch rush hour.

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