Wednesday, August 24, 2005

New Urbanism, same old habits?

Somewhere in this morning's edition your local newspaper there's probably a wire story about a report released by the Trust for America's Health. The report, "F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies Are Failing in America, 2005," does not contain good news. The Savannah Morning News published an Associated Press story localized by reporter Eric Curl. He talked with Regina A. Cochran, the American Diabetes Association's local marketing manager. Here's a snip from the story:
Cochran added that Savannah isn't very exercise friendly once you get out of the historic district, but that may be changing.

"Some of the newer subdivisions seem to be doing a wonderful job of incorporating sidewalks and bike trails."

And she's right. The new developments erupting on the west side of Chatham County and in Effingham County are sprinkled with a few selected ingredients from the New Urbanism cookbook, including sidewalks and even parks. But are the residents of these communities actually using them?

Andre Natta knows a lot about communities and how they work. In this blog entry, he describes his experiences on a recent visit to Mount Laurel, Alabama. I'll offer a taste, if you promise to read the whole thing on Andre's Blog:
Here's what I don't get: people move out here to this community, buy their new old house out in this ideal town layout, get into their cars and drive 30-50 minutes due to traffic congestion to their jobs in the big city, get in their cars again at the end of the day to come home while stopping at the big boxes for their needs and the grocery stores for pre-prepared meals and then pull into their garages and roll up the sidewalks in their ideal world to surf the Internet and take part in a virtual community while ignoring the beauty surrounding them. This effective takes away from the walkability factor that many of these communities are based upon.
Has Andre accurately described the habits of this community's residents? If so, I suspect similar behavior can be observed in the new Savannah-area developments that so excite Cochran. When the Armada docks in the carport and discharges its passengers and cargo directly into the Beazer, Centex or Genesis, what happens next? Do the passengers and pilot emerge later to use the parks, trails and sidewalks? Or do they remain inside until the Armada sails again the next morning?

Last night I ran some errands and ended up putting about 13 miles on the bicycle. This morning, the little bug in the corner of my television screen featured the number 73, which I presumed indicated the relative humidity. But it turns out 73 was the temperature at 7:30 a.m. (The relative humidity was 84 percent). I took advantage of the "cool" weather and became a bicycle commuter, something I hope to be more often when the temperatures cool off again. That should happen sometime in November.

I usually do most of my bicycling in the evening, so I noticed some differences on my morning commute. Most notably, the traffic is heavier. I think I spied what might have been another bicycle commuter. He was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, but his work clothes could have been in that messenger bag. Also, I saw a former mayor of Savannah walking into Pete's Sandwich shop for breakfast.


Jim said...

Around here, a lot of the newer developments have miles of useful bike paths. Aside from the occassional dog walker and a few kids, I usually don't see anybody out on them.

Nathan said...

Hey! Maybe you saw me! Yeah, I carry my work clothes in my Crumpler.

Oh, no wait - I wasn't in Savannah that day. Nevermind...