There has been quite a discussion going on recently about “Livability”, the term the US DOT is using to guide many of its initiatives and collaborations with other federal agencies. I got into that discussion over at The Transportationist, in response to a post about an article by Alan Pisarski who roundly criticizes livability and basically deems it undemocratic and not sufficiently market-driven. A little sample:
The problem here is a total disconnect between what people in a diverse democracy want, and what the central bureaucracy, and their academic allies, wish to impose. The livability agenda may be popular in the press and among pundits, but for most communities and people it’s neither popular nor remotely democratic.
While I don’t disagree with all his points, and I don’t disagree with Levinson’s point that livability needs to be better defined (with some quantitative performance measures, which I believe are in the works), I still think the article is full of holes. I was all in a lather and ready to write a long rebuttal, but alas, I wasn’t quick enough. Robert Steuteville has gone and made most of my points over at New Urban Network.
Steuteville’s says that Pisarski’s over-simplification of livability is ridiculous (is there any shortage of lettuce in compact communities?) He also rightly points out that there is definitely a market for “livable” development (it may be the strongest real estate market right now) and highway-backers should be careful espousing anti-federal, anti-centralized planning mantras.
It’s ironic that Pisarski raises the specter of the 1950s in this piece. At the time, the federal government was imposing destruction on urban neighborhoods, often tearing them down wholesale. Big government was pouring billions into highways while neglecting or actively eliminating rail transit. (According to a report in the Free Congress Foundation, this lopsided subsidy had been going on for decades prior to the 1950s and amounted to billions annually.) Federal lending guidelines meant that financing went mostly to Leave-it-to-Beaver-type housing in the suburbs. Meanwhile, zoning and development codes and parking and street standards were adopted that made it illegal to build a downtown, a main street, or a walkable urban neighborhood virtually anywhere in America.
Go read both articles. The livability discussion (and it’s definition) are important, and its clear that this administration intends to use these principles to shape transportation (and housing, and environmental) policy.