Monday, June 17, 2013

Plan B - TODs in Saint Paul

Simulation of Saint Paul's new Transit Oriented Development light rail

Few CPTED or community development types think about Global Warming or climate change when they do their craft. That is a mistake. Plan B tells us why.

Plan B is an axiom in environmental studies meaning we cannot afford to wait before airborne carbon - a greenhouse gas -  destroys our ability to sustain cities. Global Warming triggers food shortages, diminishing freshwater, extreme weather, and water and air pollution with all the associated illnesses like emphysema or cancer.

Crime matters little if we cannot eat, drink, breathe or walk without fear of some threat to our mortality from the environment. In fact, desperation for those things might trigger more crime (as we saw in New Orleans during Katrina).

Plan B suggests that doing nothing is suicide. Plan B recommends making changes to our urban growth and transportation habits like reducing car dependency. This means Smart Growth planning (after which Safe Growth is fashioned).

Introducing: Transit Oriented Development. TODs are one type of Smart Growth and they may be our future. They connect mixed use high density residential and commercial land uses and then cluster them within a half mile of a transit node, usually light rail. This encourages easy access to transit use at all times of day, high quality pedestrian connections, and amenities like local grocery stores. That reduces car dependency, increases walking, and builds social connections. At least that’s the theory.

The truth is that high urban densities, TODs and Smart Growth neither promotes nor prevents crime. The devil is in the details. Where do people walk and recreate? Do they have local opportunities to know each other as friendly neighbors? How does the design treat lighting and sightlines. And what about security and safety?

Unsafe or unsightly urban design will kill TODs - Photo Seth Budlick
We’re running a SafeGrowth program in Saint Paul, Minnesota (shown in the simulation video above). Participants are working on SafeGrowth plans on that city’s first TOD development, a light rail in a city that does not have one. Safety and security on and near that line will determine the economic success of the system. Success in safety will increase transit ridership, decrease car ridership, and provide one more tiny step to save the planet and our children. A win-win.

Not much pressure! Who said CPTED and SafeGrowth was simple?