chapter  5
7 Pages

A new model for neighborhood change in shrinking cities

Associated with each ecozone of the transect are maximum density levels and associated urban design and landscape elements. T2 has homes on large lots with narrow winding roads and scenic vistas, while T3 allows for limited multi-family housing, woodlands, and arterial roads. T4 and T5 allow for increasing levels of housing density and higher capacity roadways, along with mixes of uses (particularly retail and office uses). As presented in the Duany and Talen (2002) article, T2 has a low housing density (to be determined by local boards), while T3 has a maximum housing density of six units per acre, T4 allows for up to 12 units per acre, and T5 allows for up to 24. The New Urbanist’s greatest innovation with the transect is their insistence that each ecozone is special-no one better than the others. The key, they argue, is to preserve and protect their cohesiveness as distinct ecozones. This argument was accepted broadly during the recent period of economic growth and prosperity. Cities across the U.S. and abroad have explored incorporating the transect model and its associated zoning apparatus into their own regulatory systems.1 Miami, Florida, has advanced this agenda quickly and as of this writing appears close to being the first major U.S. city to formally adopt form-based zoning. The transect model teaches us that growth does not have to be a bad thing for communities and neighborhoods if it is planned for and managed such that each ecozone is preserved. For this book, the central hypothesis is that decline does not have to be a bad thing for communities and neighborhoods if it is planned for and managed. The transect model offers a useful starting point for examining that very question in the context of the Sunbelt. To begin, I ask: can the transect model work in reverse? As currently constructed: no. However, a Reverse Transect Model provides a possible path forward to address some of the inconsistencies and contradictions of smart growth and sustainable development introduced earlier in this chapter. It allows for a conception of development that advances a neighborhood both forward and backward along a path of change, without placing greater value on growth or decline. Figure 5.2 depicts a reformulated Transect Model. Reading Figure 5.1, the logical path of development reads left to right, from rural, undisturbed landscapes, to suburbs, to central city. To read the Reverse Transect requires a different set of assumptions whereby a neighborhood can either develop (or advance itself) by either growing or declining in housing density. Here we assume that a neighborhood begins at T5 with 15 housing units per acre. In the diagram presented in Figure 5.2, I worked with two research assistants to sketch out an actual urban neighborhood in Somerville, Massachusetts with 15 units per acre.2 If the neighborhood loses 20 percent of its housing units due to depopulation, it will have just 12 units per acre and will appear now in the T4 ecozone. Normally, such a loss would be viewed as tragic but the transect concept teaches us that neighborhood change does not have to be a bad thing. From the New Urbanists, we learn that T4 is no better or worse than T5, simply different. From the New Urbanists, we learn that a variety of urban design and landscape architecture techniques can be useful to retrofit a neighborhood to install or redesign elements within the ecozone to protect and preserve its integrity.3