2013: The year in urbanism

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It has become a passion, writing about urban design and planning, where I write my longest and most carefully considered posts. Here is a year end roundup of the issues covered.

Is the traditional downtown a thing of the past? Or is it due for a revival?

John Chuckman/CC BY 1.0

Lets get this over with quickly. This was a response to an article on the NRDC Switchboard, Kaid Benfield asks Is the 'traditional' downtown a thing of the past? Is that OK?

I differed with Kaid on this, giving my reasons for why I think the traditional downtown of the past has a great future. It really is a minor quibble, but Kaid was offended by my tweet where I said I thought he was wrong, for which I continue to profusely apologize.

More: Is the traditional downtown a thing of the past? Or is it due for a revival? And on the same subject, with Kaid: Are Main Streets a thing of the past, or are they just getting ready for their closeup?

Apple's new headquarters are a vision of the future, from 1939

© apple

My favourite image of Apple's headquarters, part of a tongue-in-cheek look at the new apple headquarters.

Our office of the future will be a secure, gated community. Our Audis will zip past automatic gates while guards look on from glass booths, keeping out the riff-raff and American-made cars.

More: Apple's new headquarters are a vision of the future, from 1939

More on Apple headquarters this year: 6 Ways the new Apple Headquarters will be green
Giant model of Apple's new headquarters unveiled
More detail and refinement of Apple's new headquarters
Our buildings, ourselves: The difference between Apple and Google, represented by their headquarters

Danish chalet garden communities show another model of living with a little bit less

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

You don't have to build up to get dense; I visit a cottage community in Copenhagen where the streets are paths and the lots are tiny with no backyards. It was wonderful.

More: Danish chalet garden communities show another model of living with a little bit less

How the self-driving car might make our cities better and greener

Tom Vanderbilt/via

The self-driving car changes everything, and will have huge planning and urban design implications. I wrote:

Henry Ford is purported to have said "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." The autonomous car is at that "faster horse" stage, where we think of it as being pretty much what we have now, driven by robots. I suspect it is going to be as different a mode of transportation from what we are driving now as the car is from the horse.

The autonomous car will likely be shared, smaller, lighter, slower, and there will likely be about a tenth as many of them. Urban planners and theorists have to start thinking about this or we will screw it up again.

More: How the self-driving car might make our cities better and greener
More on the subject this year: How self-driving cars might change our cities
How will the driverless car affect the design of our cities?

Yet another survey confirms: Young people want to be in town near transit, not in the suburbs

The #stclairdisaster / Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

The evidence that young people today are not interested in sprawl living keeps building.

Nobody can dispute that access to public transit and a short commute is a lot more important to first time buyers, generally younger people, than it is to the national average. Interestingly, the bigger the city and the worse the commute, (look at Toronto and Vancouver numbers) the more important it is.

More: Yet another survey confirms: Young people want to be in town near transit, not in the suburbs
In the great Cities vs Suburbs battle, companies and workers are voting with their feet and moving downtown
Study: 30-somethings giving up suburbia, want to live and work downtown
Or is it a mirage? Has the home-buyer really changed and become more urban, or is it the same as it ever was?

Can cities be too dense? Can condos be too tall? Are they built to last?

Glass condos under construction in Toronto/ Wikipedia/CC BY 2.0

Can we have too much of a good thing? A look at a three-part series by Antonia Zerbisias in the Toronto Star, where I was interviewed.

More: Can cities be too dense? Can condos be too tall? Are they built to last?

Small fridges make good cities, but American fridges just keep getting bigger

Old refrigerator ad/Promo image

Yes, the size of your fridge is an urban planning issue. It is a reflection of how your city is designed and how your neighbourhood functions. Whether you "respond to the marketplace, the baker, vegetable store and farmers market instead of the big weekly shop at the Walmart." In fact,

The size of our refrigerators, like the food we keep inside them, tells us something about our culture, our lifestyle and our values.

Small fridges make good cities, but American fridges just keep getting bigger

Update: Lessons from the Livermore Laboratory's energy use graph

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Department of Energy; click here for larger image/Public Domain

Because it is The Graph That Explains Everything, why planning around cars is so disastrous, what we have to do to solve our problems, why we have to end sprawl, why we have to "do everything possible to promote walking, bikes, electric bikes, mopeds, buses, light rail, subways, anything that moves more human and less iron."

More : Update: Lessons from the Livermore Laboratory's energy use graph

Streetcars save cities: A look at 100 years of a Toronto streetcar line

City of Toronto/Public Domain

On the 100th anniversary of the St. Clair streetcar, I did a slideshow at the Toronto Public Library showing how in 1913 and more recently, when the new dedicated streetcar line was installed, private investment followed infrastructure investment. It's happening right now.

Streetcars save cities: A look at 100 years of a Toronto streetcar line

Cities and baby boomers: Made for each other

© RIBA

This is such an important subject, and nobody cares. Yet. But so many of the trends we talk about on TreeHugger, from small space living to dematerialization, come into play. Perhaps my worst performing post of the year. Maybe it is the terrible title.

More: Cities and baby boomers: Made for each other

Is it really cheaper to live in the suburbs?

Vintage car ad/Promo image

The phrase "drive 'til you qualify" doesn't make as much sense when you really factor in the cost of the car. A look at the long term implications of driving, over 40 years.

More: Is it really cheaper to live in the suburbs?

Environmentalists and planners rejoice as Agenda 21 is implemented across North America!

© The Bike Show

Finally, my April Fools post that fooled a lot of people, about how the Agenda 21 plan for sustainable development will change the world.

More Environmentalists rejoice as Agenda 21 is implemented across North America!

Tags: roundups | Urban Planning