Saturday, June 16, 2007

Smart Growth and Living in the Suburbs

There is an interesting series of articles concerning smart growth in recent issues of the LA Weekly. This issue spotlights the neighborhoods where some of the most well known smart growth planners live. Not quite smart growth areas:

Do As We Say, Not As We Do
Smart growth’s biggest boosters still love suburban living

If any one principle provides the underpinning for smart growth, it’s density — putting multistory homes around rail stations, on bus corridors and at the heart of urbanized areas.So why are so many smart-growth advocates avoiding density in their own lives?

Take Henry Cisneros, a board member with Smart Growth America. The onetime head of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development came to Los Angeles a decade ago to work for the Spanish-language channel Univision — and immediately found a home in the plush, gated community of Bel Air Crest.

Cisneros, who now runs a company that builds entry-level housing, says that when his family moved, it was thinking heavily about crime — the 1997 North Hollywood bank shootout and the slaying of Ennis Cosby, the son of actor Bill Cosby. He also insists that he was not the driving force behind the decision on where to live.

“It’s the place my wife found,” he says. “We didn’t know the community very well. It’s what she chose, and given that I traveled a lot, and we did not know L.A., I felt it was the right thing to do by the family at the time.”

Cisneros now splits his time between L.A. and San Antonio, leaving his daughter and son-in-law as the main occupants.

Many other high-density housing advocates have also avoided the multistory lifestyle they say Los Angeles so desperately needs.

Take developer Nick Patsaouras, a onetime board member with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority who heads the firm Polis — Greek for “city.” Patsaouras, who designs apartment buildings around rail stations, lives in a single-family neighborhood in Tarzana and would need to walk one and four-fifths miles from his hillside home to find the nearest bus.

Then there’s Los Angeles Planning Commissioner Mike Woo, founder of the Smart Growth China Institute, which urges the largest nation in the world to embrace “sustainable transportation and urban planning alternatives instead of duplicating the mistakes of the developed world.”

Woo lives on a hillside in Silver Lake where every home is zoned R-1 — a planning designation meant to keep apartments and condos far away. “This is one of the best neighborhoods in L.A. — other than [its lack of] bus access,” he says.

Consider also Pasadena architect Stefanos Polyzoides, a guru of new urbanism, who has designed transit-oriented housing developments around the Metro Gold Line. Polyzoides lives in a leafy section of Pasadena less than a block from San Marino — which prohibits all construction of apartments. His street has not only restrictive single-family zoning but also signs that bar anyone from parking without a permit.

Polyzoides, who has not only a house but also an 83-year-old Caltech observatory on his land, gives a pithy explanation for his low-density lifestyle choice: “I can afford it,” he says. “And (b), I think I’m doing a tremendous favor to my city by adopting a historic building that I am taking care of.”

More on this story can be found here.

Another story in the series is titled:

Peddling Smart Growth
Call your project “smart” — even when it isn't — and get millions in public funds.

It, too, is a good read.

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