Principles for Livable Cities

In building AirGarage, we have come to understand that a generation of automobile-centric urban planning has created sprawling cities, optimized for cars, not people.

I wanted to share some principles of livable cities, which have been used in cities like San Francisco, Seattle, and New York and should continue to be fostered in order to create sustainable, equitable, and walkable cities.

Bus Rapid Transit

Subways are expensive and take years to construct. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) can be just as fast as underground rail and 1/5 the cost. BRT is a dedicated lane for busses, often painted or separated from the road with exclusive right-of-way. It makes sense that a bus of 100 people isn't stuck in traffic waiting for single-occupancy vehicles.

BRT creates a virtuous cycle, where faster commute times lead to increased ridership and more revenue from fares, leading to more investment in the service.

Bus Rapid Transit on Mission Street in San Francisco

Transit-Oriented Development

Housing, retail, and jobs near transit lines mean more mobility, more opportunity, and less dependence on car infrastructure like highways and parking.

Transit-oriented development is subsidizing development near transit and removing permitting bureaucracy and zoning restrictions to allow large vertical developments near light rail, BRT, and subway lines. It enables density, because wide roads and expansive parking lots that once pushed our cities apart are replaced with high occupancy transit. Transit-rich, walkable corridors are also more equitable, creating opportunity and expanding the accessible job market for those who can't afford to own a car.

Mixed Zoning

Mixed zoning is the idea that retail (dining, shopping, bars) should be allowed to exist in the same neighborhoods as residential and office space.

Historically, urban planners in American cities enforced single-use zoning, as shown in the picture below. Single-use zoning requires car ownership and long commutes, since people live in a different neighborhood than where they work, eat, and shop.

Livable cities should foster mixed zoning, which makes it possible for you to walk to a restaurant after work or live within walking distance of groceries and dining.

A failed zoning policy, separating points of interest and creating car dependence (Image credit: CityLab)

Remove parking minimums

When building a new development, developers have historically been required to build a certain number of parking spaces. For example, a hotel or apartment developer might have to build 1 parking space per room, or 1 space per 200 square feet.

Parking minimums had good intentions - they were created with the thinking that plentiful parking will reduce congestion and circling the block. As urban planning professor and parking expert Donald Shoup argues in his book The High Cost of Free Parking, parking minimums backfired by encouraging driving over transit use, creating urban sprawl, and pushing apart our cities by separating points of interest with freeways and parking lots,, further reinforcing the need to drive everywhere, thus increasing congestion.

More coming soon. Let me know on twitter (@scottfits) if I missed anything.