New Urbanism- Professors with Big Ideas

A proposal to change the zoning and planning requirements for building a 107 single unit housing development, the Wildflower Creek thing, caught my eye.

The project has been rolling around since 2003. It’s an empty field near 52nd and E. Paris. There have been fitful  attempts to build since, all for naught. The experienced builder, VD Hoff has recently acquired the land after the bank foreclosed. He can’t make any money if he honors Kentwood’s building codes and so won’t build.

Two features in the planning commission’s minutes stood out.

The first concerns “large caliper trees” that will need to be preserved by building a retention wall. Sounds expensive, and VD Hoff plans a way around the wall. I’m a farm boy of sorts (the need to steer speeding tractors backward and weeding/picking strawberries drove me into medicine.) Trees are the enemy! No one  else on the city commission has apparently ever had to deal with these gigantic weeds. Instead we have seem to have elected pagans who have not yet shed their Teutonic worship of the oaks! If a homeowner wants trees, fine, he should plant what he wants, wait a few years and then deal with the consequences. But protecting trees on a plat as a matter of public policy?

The second is actually more serious. Apparently the city code adopted in 2006 specified that new houses be built closer to the road, that each have a front porch and that garages be placed behind the house requiring long driveways. Codes seemingly specify verticle windows.

You, of course, recognize the stinking footsteps of “New Urbanism”, aka “smart growth” and the”Cool Cities” of  the Granholm song and dance.

New Urbanism is the fad currently coming from the urban planning departments in universities. These are staffed by professors without real world experience, whose only qualifications seem to be an imagination akin to that of fashion designers of high end women’s evening dress (actresses wear them at awards dinners), an inablility to do math but able to create statistics with pseudoscientific self referential “surveys” and affable manners that mask  their bottomless shallowness. “We shape our cities and then our cities shape us.” They award each other advanced degrees, lobby for government jobs  and perpetrate their sanctimonious pieties among impressionable politicians.

City planning departments in universities share the same pedigree as the tribes that blessed zoning when Denver Mayor Stapleton first proposed it in 1926 and later that year came out as an agent of the Ku Klux Klan. During the 1930s and 40s, they arranged for private, money making street car companies to be regulated out of existence by city commissioners and replaced by buses made by General Motors-the class action law suit was finally settled about 20 years ago. In the 1940s and 50, they sponsored urban renewal which destroyed GR downtown and other established neighborhoods. Their cure for urban problems were “Housing Projects” in the 1950s. Since then, these schoolboys advocated putting extensions of the interstates into downtowns so that people could live in the suburbs, and “pedestrian malls” like our own Monroe Mall (and one in Kalamazoo) of unhappy memory. City planners today see all of these schemes as causing the contemporary malaise and certainly, do not wish to be reminded of their past. They make a living by railing against and correcting their previous mistakes.

And so we arrive at the latest ruction from urban planners which seems to revolve around a hatred of the automobile, and the fantasy that twenty-first century Americans want a return to the life styles of a hundred years ago, you know before TV, the internet, supermarkets, and office jobs. We should slow down, walk to work and shop, get to know our neighbor and “build community.” We must have an excellent public transit systems or use bikes, preserve farmland, be good environmentalists and save the world. Roads will be engineered (bump outs, narrowing, center green spaces) to slow traffic so discouraging car use and new construction allowed only along approved thoroughfares that will allow workers and students to commute using light rail and the like. We will be crowded together by living in housing built with small lot sizes, living in apartments and community housing (recent media push on co-housing.) Streets and car parking must be restricted. Public spaces will encourage us to venture into the commons, meeting our neighbors on porches and at community fairs. Housing developments wil be “mixed” with small stores and shops, office and factories, schools, parks and biking trails within walking distance We will be encouraged to bond in neighborhood restaurants and cafes with open air, sidewalk dining areas (in a Michigan snowstorm.)

Very romantic and many would love to live in this ideal community. Some think that this must be patterened on Europe, but none of my 20 cousins in Bavaria would live in such squalor.

Just think about it.

The New Urbanists want you to live in crowded conditions very much in public view. Everyone else will know your busines and any one of them will be able to criticize what he deems offensive.

Contagious diseases like tuberculosis and the Spanish flu (killed 500,000 Americans in 3 weeks) disappeared when folks moved to suburbs.

Public employees will run the transportation systems and if they choose to go on strike?

The neighborhood kids will now form communities, or will they join murderous gangs?

The noise from any party will murder sleep.

As in our city planning, garages will be behind the house and so the owner must shovel an extra 50 or 60 feet of driveway after every snowfall for the rest of his life, and where can he throw the slush if the driveway is next to his house?

Emergency vehicles will have problems navigating the narrow streets and any mugger can disappear in the multiple warrens created.

And if we habituated “restaurants and cafes” so as to meet neighbors, my family and I would miss our cooked evening meal together, soon be bankrupt and dissipated in alcohol.

I don’t think that Americans want to live in an environment that resembles a movie studio.

But, I am concerned only with our planning in Kentwood. VD Hoff, an experienced builder of private homes states that buyers will not pay for houses that the city demands that he build. Buyers want the garage at the front of the house and don’t see the need for a porch. They will not be forced into paying for ideology.

No one is making money as it now stands. And the Urbanist goal of “fill in” of empty lots is bypassed as new home owners buy or build in outlying rural areas.

One thought on “New Urbanism- Professors with Big Ideas

  1. Erwin Haas

    Update and correction on New Urbanism

    I enquired about the city planning commission’s remarks on Wildflower Creek building codes. The plans on this development had been submitted by another builder and it was these bizarre plans that had approved by the commission in 2006, that long forgotten era when almost any clutter on a field could be collaterized and flipped for obscene profits to someone even more gullible.
    Apparently, VD Hoff has used this application and now wants to amend it to make his buildings salable. The planning commission is going along, but I’m unclear about how much.
    The lot sizes will be very small, but investors will get what they pay for….
    The New Urbanism has not yet captured city hall and I apologize for my misunderstanding of the planning commission’s minutes.



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