It’s Jane Jacobs week here at The Bellows, folks, so please bear with me while I explore some urban design concepts.
Exhibit. Raleigh developers are trying to get the city to relax open space requirements, and the city’s planning commission is all no, open spaces are the something lifeblood of the something.
Jane Jacobs has very clear and, I think, important insights into the history of and problem with focusing on the creation of large and frequent open spaces in cities. She has lots of interesting things to say about open space, but her ideas boil down to questions of function. What, exactly, is the open space doing? With great frequency, the answer is nothing, leaving a void in the urban fabric that attracts unsavory elements and does nothing to boost the commerce or desirability of the city. This should not be unfamiliar to the city of Raleigh. Many of its open spaces downtown are used primarily or exclusively by the homeless. Replacing those sad squares with a block of dense housing and shopping would add considerably to the viability and vibrancy of the neighborhood. People assume that greenery is attractive. There’s nothing attractive about a block of utter deadness.
There are other considerations, as well.Â An insistence onÂ open space makes a city far less green, in that reduced density implies greater travel times and reduced walkability. It also increases the size of the metropolis, reducing the acreage of actual, unspoiled land around the periphery. North Raleigh sprawl eats away at acre after wooded acre, because the movement toward density has been slow and halting.
It’s pretty ridiculous that Raleigh is concerned about this at all, given how spread out the metro area is and how many acres of parkland the city has per capita (plenty). Old and stupid planning ideals die hard.