Saturday, December 13, 2008

David Brooks--don't use the stimulus to encourage sprawl

David Brooks has a column in the New York Times warning about the "new" Obama stimulus funds being used to further the "old" transportation modes, rather than developing new ways of transportation to help the new suburban centers that are developing and the urban centers that are being revitalized.

He speaks of the recent population dispersal, where "Forty-three million people moved every year, and basically they moved outward — from inner-ring suburbs to far-flung exurbs on the metro fringe."

He says that these people now realize they want closer community and social contacts, leading to a new trend: "Meeting places are popping up across the suburban landscape. There are restaurant and entertainment zones, mixed-use streetscape malls, suburban theater districts, farmers’ markets and concert halls. In addition, downtown areas in places like Charlotte and Dallas are reviving . . .

"If, indeed, we are going to have a once-in-a-half-century infrastructure investment, it would be great if the program would build on today’s emerging patterns. It would be great if Obama’s spending would actually encourage the clustering and leave a legacy that would be visible and beloved 50 years from now."

"To take advantage of the growing desire for community, the Obama plan would have to do two things. First, it would have to create new transportation patterns. . . Second, the Obama stimulus plan could help localities create suburban town squares."

"But alas, there’s no evidence so far that the Obama infrastructure plan is attached to any larger social vision. In fact, there is a real danger that the plan will retard innovation and entrench the past. . . . The quickest thing to do is simply throw money at things that already exist."

"Before the recession hit, we were enjoying a period of urban and suburban innovation. We could have been on the verge of a transportation revolution. It looks as if the Obama infrastructure plan may freeze that change, not fuel it."

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