Better Land Use: Prioritize people over cars

The foundation of urban planning is zoning and land use.

Urban planners spend a lot of time looking at how cities use land.

In America, over 50% of land in cities is devoted to parking lots, highways, roads, garages, and other car-centric uses.

Step outside and look at your city. We can objectively see that America has built cities for cars, not people. The design of our city is fundamentally oriented towards cars.

Nowhere else in the world is like that. I’ve been to Europe, East Asia, Middle-East, Latin America, and they largely orient their cities around pedestrians and mass transit. Because they don’t have car-dependent societies, they have much more land to do other things. They devote much more space to parks, public squares, gardens, museums, and other places for human enjoyment.

In other countries, the spaces humans occupy and the spaces cars occupy are often separated. If you have kids and/or dogs, you worry about them getting run over by cars. The #1 cause of death in children is car accidents. Fact.

I’m advocating something simple and not controversial: Let’s give more land to humans and devote less land to cars.

We need an actual policy that converts land from something car-centric to something human-centric. If we wanted to do that, what would that look like?

San Diego did this in Little Italy at the Piazza della Famiglia. They took a segment of a street and said “Let’s make this a public space for people to eat, gather, relax, and have fun.”

I want to do lots more of this in different ways. The technical term for this type of thing is Street Vacations. It’s a stupid name.

“A street vacation is a type of easement in which a government transfers the right-of-way of a public street, highway or alley to a private property owner. City laws may require public benefits and other types of compensation in exchange for the approval of a street vacation.”

Here’s a few ideas off the top of my head:

Barking Lots: What if we converted under-utilized streets into dog parks or fenced off areas where you don’t have to worry about your children and pets getting run over by cars. Not radical.

Urban Gardening: What if we took excess roads and parking in neighborhoods and converted it to urban gardens where people can grow fruits + vegetables.

Parklets: What if we converted parking spaces into public seating spaces? Click for examples.

We should not be devoting over 50% of our land to cars. That’s a moral abomination. Even reducing that to 40% would open up so many more possibilities for human enjoyment.

If you see a gigantic parking lot made of cement, ask yourself:

“What’s a more productive way to use this land?”

I want to create a policy for that type of land conversion.

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