Hazel Borys wrote a great article on getting small as a way for cities to bump up their thriving. I've taken the quotes she has of some thoughtful city builders below. The whole article is worth reading. Thanks to Urban Health Prof (Jim Dunn) for tweeting the article.
Finding the economic edges of smart city building:
"It's hard rations, and it's tough times with most all city budgets. Any infrastructure has to guarantee a return on investment. Convention center expansions, ballparks, grade separated streets, and wide streets never yield the expected returns. Cities that continue down those paths will exacerbate their fiscal conditions. Neighborhood streets, complete streets, walkable neighborhoods have major returns."
"Local governments—because they don't have as much flexibility as state and federal governments—have to be more disciplined. A street with healthy retail and housing is worth more to the tax base—whether property tax, sales tax, or income tax. Giant roads and shopping centers are losing strategies. Infrastructure must add value, and the time for experimentation is over."
—Former Milwaukee Mayor and CNU President John Norquist
Harnessing a DIY attitude to foster city building:
"Shrinking city budgets have obvious implications for infrastructure. We've had warnings from professional engineer associations that the water systems of American cities are dangerously old and in need of replacement. Which applies to our entire infrastructure, except for recent light rail lines. We've elaborated a road and street system that is so enormous—and we've done it incrementally over 90 years—that we will have a very tough time keeping it up, as we become a less affluent nation. Without necessary funds for repair, we're going to keep on deferring maintenance, even though the results are obvious roadway, water, power and infrastructure problems."
"Larger picture is that our cities have become over-scaled to the resource realities of the future: oil, coal, electricity, natural gas, but also the fiscal realities. The bottom line is that all cities will find themselves contracting. City planning may become less institutionalized, with more self-organizing, emergent task forces. It is becoming self-evident that we have to plan in a certain way, to build more densely, compactly, and flexibly. I have this fantasy that all of the great underemployed planners out there at the moment will become their own developers, doing great incremental infill, sprawl repair, and redevelopment."
—James Howard Kunstler
When our antiquated laws hamper us in building something better—time for change:
Most of our current laws make the economic losers—from the city's perspective—easy to build, while mixed-use walkable neighborhoods are generally illegal. Particularly at a time when incremental, small-scale infill is more supportable than vast greenfields, tools like form-based codes and zoning reform allow flexibility in a changing marketplace, along with the walkable environments that people value and that generate the most optimal tax base.