Placemaking In The Post-Petroleum World
By EV World
Hyattsville, Maryland sits just outside the District of Columbia, northeast of the U.S. Capitol. It's West Hyattsville Metro Station sits on the system's Green Line. The area surrounding the station is the focus of an ambitious urban renewal effort, the centerpiece of which is the West Hyattsville Transit Oriented Development project, which may become a model for "placemaking" in a post-petroleum world.
Paul Morris is the managing principal of Parsons Brinckerhoff's PB Placemaking business unit whose mission is to assist community's in better land use planning and urban development in combination with its traditional transportation design skills to "make communities that not only are of lasting value, but are better places to live, work and play," according to the company web site.
It's their work on the West Hyattsville TOD that led to an invitation from the U.S. chapter of Association for the Study of Peak Oil to talk about the role smart community planning can play in reducing both automobile use and petroleum consumption.
Morris began his address with a bemusing twist on the old saw about the government man from Washington who's here to "help you". Instead, given the morass that seems to characterize politics and spending inside the Beltway, he said that since moving from Portland, Oregon, which has one of the most progressive and farsighted transit development systems in the nation, he is telling government policymakers in the nation's capital that he's here to help them.
He noted that he's spent the last 20 years of a 25-year career working with various state energy offices trying to figure out how to make municipal planners and developers to understand the energy impact of their decisions and projects. The common ground that everyone understood is what he called the "BTU burn", the amount of energy consumed to accomplish a task, be it the location of one's home or the placement of a transit system.
He told the audience of some 500 energy industry experts, government policy makers, environmentalists and the media that peak oil is going to be one of those consciousness-raising events that is likely to lead to transformation shifts in society.
"It may well be the one that changes our culture in this century," he said.
"We are connecting the dots, both to the geopolitical and climatic events and the size of our energy bill and how much we're paying at the pump. This is no longer an abstract concept, and so the reality is that we get a chance -- though we'll not know for how long -- to actually influence some of the policy debate that we'll be talking about this afternoon [in a follow up panel discussion that EV World will feature in the near future]."
He made it clear that he isn't staking out a position on the timing of peak oil nor how government should respond.
"My focus is on land use and transportation as if peak oil mattered as a policy option at the local level… It doesn't matter whether we've already reached peak oil or it's going to be here in five, ten, or even twenty years from now. The point is, it's either happened or is approaching, so we'd better get smart about planning for the future where oil doesn't have to play the starring role."
Morris defined "smart growth" -- a term not universally appreciated by all planners and developers -- as "land use and transportation planning that is used as community building, economic efficiency and environmental sustainability as an alternative to sprawl that has dominated our landscape for more than fifty years.
"When I speak about sprawl, I am referring to the low-density, single-use development that has spread out across every region of our country… and, unfortunately, throughout the globe. And though it offered the prospect of escape from the ills of urban life to a better quality of life, it has, in fact, become its own problem. It consumes natural resources at an extraordinary pace. It displaces economic and social and academic capital, encourages the development of isolated commercial real estate; eventually sprawling abandoned gray fields…when communities [that] support the transfer decide to transfer their wealth to the next tier of urban development.
"The most significant aspect of sprawl in the context of our discussion today is that it confines mobility and obligates us to automobile use. The further we migrate from urban [and even village] centers…the more we have to drive.
"Sprawl... is land use planning as if peak oil didn't matter. It wasn't by accident that we go here," Morris stated.
Besides the climatic, economic and political consequences of our overly oil-dependent lifestyle, are the health impacts, Morris pointed out. He cited two 2003 studies which linked suburban sprawl to obesity and hypertension. He also noted that the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and the drop in the incident of asthma attacks in the city when commuters were asked to leave their cars at home and telecommute, use transit or limit the number and duration of trips.
Morris took the rest of his presentation to discuss the concept of "placemaking" where land use and transportation planning converge in the development of livable, walk-able communities. One such example is the West Hyattsville TOD illustrated above and in the planning map below.
This is an important, uplifting and positive talk and we strongly recommend that you listen to it in its entirety because Morris discusses many of the tools available to communities that can help them not just reduce their energy consumption, but actually improve the quality of life for their citizens, while reducing automobile use. You can download the 11.38 MB file to your computer hard drive for playback on your favorite MP3 device or you can use the Flash-based MP3 player below the illustration of the Maryland project.
EV World expresses its thanks to ASPO USA, Steve Andrews and Randy Udall for granting us permission to attend and record this historic event. The next conference will be held in Boston, Massachusetts in 2006.