At Odds Over Livability

Photo: Project for Public Spaces
Livability is all the rage these days.  The US Department of Transportation, under the leadership of Secretary Ray LaHood, is pushing for greener, cleaner, more sustainable communities.  According to LaHood, livability means being able to take your kids to school, go to work, see a doctor, drop by the grocery or Post Office, go out to dinner and a movie, and play with your kids at the park – all without having to get in your car.  Now we know the part about the Post Office is a fleeting phenomenon, considering it’s on the verge of going broke, but it truly seems like a push towards walkable neighborhoods, transit oriented development, and bikable streets is indeed becoming more and more attractive to a greater number of people.
Yet, while many planners, environmentalists, developers, and constituents are on board, livability just doesn’t make sense for everyone.  Consultant Alan Pisarski thinks it dangerous for the government to spoon-feed the livability agenda to people.  Simply put: each person has their own definition of what is important to them.  In a recent article, he takes the position that while some might benefit and enjoy the convenience of walking to their local grocery store or doctor’s office, there are just as many who like getting into their car and driving.
Trying to coerce them to live the way government – particularly the upper bureaucracy – thinks they should live holds many perils. The American people have no obligation to live in ways that make it convenient for government to serve them. Government isn’t smart enough to know how people should live or to order their lives in more “convenient” arrangements.
As for the opposition, Robert Steuteville of  the New Urban Network took a page out of parking guru Don Shoup’s book by writing a lengthy response denouncing Pisarski’s article as a masterpiece of fear-mongering.  Steuteville is very critical of Pisarski, arguing that cities are rebounding with baby boomers and Millennials flocking to urban areas – trends, that were created by the current housing climate.
Public expenditures on infrastructure that support citizens who are flocking to mixed-use places and/or seek to address issues like global warming through better planning amount to tyranny, Pisarski argues. Now that US policy is taking small steps away from total favoritism for highways and automobile-oriented development, a nabob of the old regime complains that democracy is under attack.
I encourage you to read both articles.  Livability is a hot topic without question.  
How do you view the idea of livability? Do you support the initiative?  
Read On:
Livability means being poor and eating only one kind of lettuce
Livability and All That
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood talks about livable communities
Portland livability survey shows growing dissatisfaction with streets, congestion and neighborhood speeding
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