Single use, sprawl developments away from city centers are undermining efforts to increase bicycling in most cities around the world by increasing distances between common destinations. Land use policies have slowly changed over the years to allow, and sometimes even encourage, these harmful developments. During the industrial age, these policies were well intended to prevent housing from being placed near toxic industrial sites. Officials followed this concept to the extreme by separating each potential land use until zoning codes actually prevented developers from mixing uses. Advocates for smart growth and mixed use development call such policies “Crayola zoning” because, like I child’s box of crayons, each use is neatly separated into its own color on rigid zoning code maps.
Combine these policies with lower land prices away from city centers and it is no surprise that developers, with profit as their motivator, blanket vast squares of land with identical houses isolated from schools, shopping, jobs and other destinations. Farmland and ecologically important wildlands are needlessly destroyed by such developments. Home buyers see only the low price of these houses. When they finally realize the cost of having to drive to all of their destinations, they are stuck with the house. So, these houses continue to sell and developers continue to build them and officials continue to see this as the proper use of the land they govern. Such sprawl developments have been identified as one of the greatest contributors to climate change because they force driving and burning fossil fuels.
Fortunately many advocates and academics as well as progressive officials and developers are standing up against this trend, advocating for smart growth policies that prevent Crayola zoning and require dense, mixed-use developments. Take a look at the Building More Livable Communities of the Local Government Commission’s resource guide on smart growth zoning codes.
Many progressive cities in Europe are taking bold steps to reclaim space for people in their cities. In this report from the European Commission, Reclaiming City Streets for People, you will find details about these bolds steps through case studies and some of the exciting results including a phenomenon they dubbed “traffic evaporation” when they found that traffic congestion actually decreased rather than the predicted increase.
Progressive developers are now finding ways to bring in a profit through mixed use developments. See these case studies from the Urban Land Institute for a good overview.
Realtors are learning that smart growth development can bring in immediate profit. Visionaries in the field are also showing their peers that it is in their long-term interest to change development practices. Take a look at the smart growth program of the National Realtors Association for the U.S.
Some of the above sites include the bicycle and pedestrian perspective of the land use issue. For a direct look at this connection be sure to assess your own community with these excellent tools.