Small City Urbanism

I sometimes get the sense that people think the urbanist agenda is all about trying to turn the entire United States into Manhattan, or else that there's no appreciation of the fact that there's a middle ground between never driving a car and driving many dozens of miles every day. But a place like Morgantown -- a small city with a cute historic downtown adjacent to a college campus -- is a great example of the applications of urbanist thinking to other kinds of places.

Basically, out here most grownup people are going to rely on cars for a lot of things. But still, the downtown area is very walkable. And it includes some apartment buildings with ground floor retail. So maybe we could turn some of the existing open-air parking facilities into additional apartment buildings with ground floor retail. That would mean more people would live downtown and at least some of their excursions would take place on foot. And then parking downtown would be somewhat costlier, so some proportion of trips that initiate close to downtown might become bike rides or long walks or car pool ventures rather than one person in a car.

Meanwhile, the Waterfront Place Hotel is a bit outside downtown, but it's very much within walking distance. Except the hotel's entrance has been constructed in a highly anti-urbanist manner that both obscures the fact that it's actually close to downtown and also makes it inconvenient to walk for non-distance reasons. Ideally, the whole project would have been undertaken with a different mentality, but something as simple as building a sidewalk that alongside the hotel's driveway would go a long way to improving things.

At any rate, to make a long story short, America is full of small cities that won't -- and shouldn't -- ever transform into giant metropolises where everyone gets around on subways. But these are the kind of places where better planning and land use policies would help the cities in question maximize their assets and increase the sustainability of the enterprise without radically altering the character of the place or the lifestyle of the people who live there. Small town America, after all, long predates the era of universal car ownership.

Photo by Flickr user Timmenzies used under a Creative Commons license