Reston Spring

Reston Spring
Reston Spring

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Are we creating family-friendly cities? If not, shouldn't we be? Kaid Benfield, NRDC Switchboard, January 15, 2014

Benfield, a leading national smart growth advocate, points out the fact that we may be overlooking kids in our headlong rush to create new urban environments.
. . . real estate analysts believe that, while there will be a continuing demand for homes with larger suburban lots, that portion of future demand can be met by current supply.  The growth in the housing market will be for small-lot and multifamily housing, for which there is now a shortage compared to future demand projections. 
So far, so good.  But is there a fly in the ointment?  The portion of families with kids may be smaller than in the past, but it is not insignificant.  In our rush to promote higher-density urbanism, are we inadvertently creating child-free zones that are inhospitable to families with kids?  And, if so, are we diminishing part of the cultural diversity that makes great cities? . . .

What happens when these 20- to 35-year-olds outgrow their one-bedroom condos?  Is it good for the city to lose them to the suburbs? 
In his article, Aaron (Renn, Urbanophile blogger)  takes the question a step further.  What if the overwhelming majority of kids left in the city are from families who have no choices about where to live, and are dependent on government subsidy for their well-being? . . .
“If we expect cities to be part of the answer to the problem of climate change, the financial unsustainability of sprawl, or anything else, then it has to be a place where children can be raised to thrive in the world . . . This doesn’t mean necessarily junking the urbanist agenda, but it does mean building a bigger tent and not overly obsessing the needs of niche market segments.”
. . . some answers lie in the character of the built environment, too.  Should we diversify our urban housing stock to include larger as well as smaller homes, to include playgrounds as well as trendy espresso bars?  What about more kid-friendly restaurants?
We definitely should include more parks and other green space concurrent with dense development; while highly urban districts are unlikely to include large private yards, we should take advantage of vacant lots and other opportunities to integrate more shared green space into dense residential neighborhoods.  This brings benefits in addition to accommodating families, such as absorption of stormwater and reducing the impact of urban heat islands.  As I implied in my last post, I think smart growth and urbanist advocates sometimes underestimate the power of nature to soothe some of the harder edges of city living. 
These things would be a start.
Click here for the rest of Benfield's post and a link to Aaron Renn's article.

Benfield's post highlights the two key points RCA and Reston 2020 have been making for months about the draft plan for Reston's urban areas--where we will add about 40,000 people in the next two decades, market conditions permitting:
  • We need to set a minimum 20% requirement for open space.  The task force and Planning Commission have made this a "goal" rather than a requirement, meaning it is unlikely to be achieve ever.
  • We need at least 12 athletic fields in Reston's urban areas.  The Parks Authority and Planning Commission believe that three are enough for the 4,000-8,000 kids (not to mention adult athletes) development of the Dulles Corridor would generate.   RestonNow had a good article on this disappointing matter a couple of days ago. 
If the current draft plan is approved by the Board of Supervisors, Reston's urban areas will likely develop into a Crystal City-like area of high-rises devoid of humanity.  

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