Feet Follow Fabric (1999)

“Feet Follow Fabric: Travel-Reducing Development”
by Chris Bradshaw,
published in ORSA (Ottawa Royal Society of Architects) Quarterly,
Summer 1998

The official plan of the Region is moving toward provincial
approval.  It is a document of our times, marrying savings for
the future capital projects with the promise to reduce the
environmental “footprint” of the region.  “Grow in, not out,” the
strategy summaries, referring to the plan’s commitment to
accommodate another decade of population-jobs-housing growth
without an expansion of the urban boundary.

The compact region makes sense, but it is achievable?  Yes, but
it will take more effort than the planners have acknowledged.
Although I believe the steps will be commonplace in a couple
decades, there is great value to taking a leadership role; delays
will cost more in the long run.

There are three trends that must be reversed:

*    trip lengths and car-ownership   are both still growing;
*    retailing and government are still amalgamating outlets and
abandoning neighbourhood centres and main streets; and
*    citizens are pessimistic that safe and convivial civic
spaces are achievable.

The plan calls for not only increased densities, but “community
cores,” realizing that shifts in travel to the green alternatives
will require dispersal of services to within walking distance of
all residents; it is not enough to exhort people to drive their
cars less.

How will planners create the sea change to reverse the three
trends and avoid the costly road expansions to accommodate car
travel that has been growing about twice as fast as the
population for decades, with local trips more and more occurring
on regional roads.

I suggest that they way to do this is to change the basis of
zoning.  This will be hard since residents are just as supportive
of its approach as are planners and the institutions and
companies which deliver goods and services.

Zoning is based on the principle of compatibility: that land uses
that are different usually fight with each other and should be
segregated.  That is somewhat true, but different land uses also
provide complementarity. Although it is the job of planners to
deal with both, the infatuation with car-ownership has been used
to pretty much ignore the latter; walking propinquity has been
superseded by automobile propinquity, as if they are the same
thing.

But for the half of the population without continuous car access,
the PID-CIVs (poor, elderly, disabled, children, infirm, and
visitors), such a shift in propinquity is a serious problem.  The
shift has shown the blind side of the other half of the
population   the AAAs, the active, affluent adults   that does
the planning and spending.  The result is that our civic places,
including streets and parks, are dying and unsafe, and AAAs have
become chauffeurs and unwilling subsidizers of programs that
partially compensate the PED-CIVs for the loss of walking
propinquity.

Zoning does not consider the land use in the context of its scale
and the nature of the locale it will serve.  A dress store of 100
square meters will require the same amount of parking regardless
of its location.  Nearby residents in the latter area tend to
agree, since they are very touchy about “strangers” parking on
“their’ street, even if each parking spot induces increased
traffic, the bane of all neighbourhoods.

What I propose is a kind of neighbourhood-context zoning that
distinguishes between a business that is of a scale and nature to
meet the needs of customers living within walking distance
without attracting additional customers from further way, from
those that draw just a small percentage of its customers from
nearby.  It is does, it will be embraced by the community and
should be given much lower parking requirements, a major economic
advantage, along with reduced property taxes, since it will not
generate as much road use or air pollution as another kind of
store in that location.  This review will occur whenever the
store or office changes its function of operation significantly.
Also, non-conforming rights should fully legalized.  And finally,
renting parking on one’s premises will not be a zoning violation,
unless the parking spaces were not required as needed (maximum
parking requirement will be explored by the Region).  This allows
for parking spaces to serve several businesses that have
complementary time-demand curves (e.g., office workers during the
day; cinema patrons at night).

The effect of these changes will be that businesses will be
rewarded for meeting local needs.  In turn, they will save on not
only parking but expansive interiors, large outdoor signs, and
using more local advertising (community newspapers, bulletin
boards, and the old standby, “word-of-mouth).  The community
will, in return, have the services they need, without the car
traffic generated by themselves heading to other neighbourhoods
for items lacked locally, and those from other neighbourhoods
coming into theirs for items missing there.  This is a point
Australian writer, David Engwicht, made in Ottawa during his 1994
visit.

The name I have given this is simply: travel-reducing
development: TRD.

This is part of the framework that is being promoted by a new
non-profit initiative I have started with Andrew Love.
Initiatives for Neighbourhood Integrity
(inneigri@ties.ottawa.on.ca)   website by June) promotes ways to
increase the self-sufficiency and sense of responsibility of
neighbourhoods.  The first such initiative is the May 20th
workshop on Neighbourhood Governance at Ottawa University for
representatives of community associations and local business
groups.  Another will be a study of corner stores and
neighbourhood retailing trends to find ways to strengthen local
services.  And car-sharing will be explored as a way to reduce
car-use and ownership by making hourly car-rental available on a
club-coop bases from within 500 meters of all residents and
businesses (five clubs are now operating in Canada).

If neighbourhoods were assigned lower-tier planning powers and if
regional tax rates for each neighbourhood were set according to
each neighbourhood’s ability to achieve more self-sufficiency and
thus less reliance on regional services, TRD would probably
emerge naturally.  The 1995 RMOC “Community Vision” (subtitled,
appropriately, “A Region of Communities”) reflects the
population’s desire to find a way to make the city more local
(and “lo-cal”) and we would rediscover our walking-scale
“fabric.”  Maybe there needs to be a new slogan for planners and
architects: “Feet follow fabric.”

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