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SHARED SPACE: CAN WE GO THERE?
Another way to reduce transportation is to make neighborhoods places where people want to congregate,” notes Ben HamiltonBaillie. One way to do that is with shared space—not skating rinks or parks paid for by homeowner associations—but private property—our own front yards, opened up to strolling neighbors.


It’s no surprise that Europe is out in front on this idea. Residents in the UK have had shared right of ways for centuries. The idea is to make people stay in their neighborhoods—rather that feeling, for example, that they have to drive somewhere else to have a picnic or go for a walk.


If that’s the pull side of the equation, the push side is converting public auto-oriented space back into public space. At this point, that’s an uphill struggle, but it does draw attention to the car-centric world most of us take for granted.


Students in New York City took over 50 parking places to draw attention to the idea of reclaiming public space from the car culture.


For most Americans, transportation is second only to shelter in terms of annual expenses (above), in large part because of the high costs of purchasing, maintaining, and insuring private automobiles (below). Source: Consumer Expenditure Survey (www.transact.org).


 


The Walking Poor
The advantages of denser living are not just environmental. The Wall Street Journal recently called the decade between 2000 and 2009, “The Lost Decade,” the “worst for American families in at least half a century,” with regard to income. Median family income fell by almost 5% (adjusted for inflation) over that time period.


As incomes shrink, the impact of higher transportation costs take an ever greater toll. And for many caught in the financial free fall, automobiles have become a costly luxury.


The American Public Transit Association just published a report suggesting that urban dwellers who use public transit—and don’t own automobiles—save an average of $9,242 annually—up $600 from just a year ago because of rising gas prices. In New York City, the savings is $13,765. By simply eliminating one car and using public transit, a family can reduce its annual CO2 footprint by 30%. But it’s not eco-altruism that’s behind most people’s embrace of trains and subways and buses. It’s economic necessity.


“Overall, the residential tide is moving from fringe suburbs to urbanizing suburban nodes,” the Urban Land Institute reports, “and 24-hour downtown cores appear to gain momentum for other economic reasons … Bigger houses cost more to maintain, car expenses increase, and time lost in traffic and commuting mount. As a result, apartment and townhouse living near stores and attractions gains favor with aging, downsizing baby boomer parents, and their children want “stimulating environments in more urban places.”


All indicators point to a rethinking of the suburban exodus. The Dept. of the Census reported in March that single family housing starts declined 20% from figures given in January. And those starts were already hovering around a half million homes—down 50% from the boom times of the 1990s. Is there any doubt that the age of the greenfield single-family home in the sleeper suburb is on the wane?

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