City Planning: Suburban Sprawl vs. Dense City

“Black Pigeon Speaks” has a nice video on it. 13min.

Added thoughts:

German peculiarities

I am living in a quarter million city, Braunschweig, with the typical height limit of 3 to 5 stories; the typical European city centre style you find in Berlin, Munich, Paris etc, with variations of course. This small city is very walkable or bikeable and has splendid bus and light rail systems.

I am commuting weekly to the outskirts of Munich. Now Germany does not have Urban Sprawl; rather, the suburbs are dense village centers reaching typically 3 stories height. Each of these villages typically grow to around 20,000 people. They are spaced apart 3 to 5 kilometers and usually are historic settlements; still with open fields or forests between them. Sprawl is prohibited by zoning laws.

If this were not so, even the less densely populated areas of Germany would look like the East coast Megaplex sprawl of the US and Germany would not have anything remotely resembling untouched nature (actually nothing IS untouched; it is all managed, but the forests look like forests – at least where the wind turbines have not destroyed them.) Average population density in Germany is that high; 250 people per square kilometer.

All in all, if you’re a bit lucky and decide to do so you can manage here without a car, using rail, metro rail systems, buses, light rails, bikes and your feet. For 10 months I’ve been doing just that, the situation currently allows it. Doesn’t mean I won’t ever get a car again but right now, I save quite a bit of money and get a little more exercise biking to work (about 2 miles one way).

Now what we don’t have is 10 acre lots, our lots are much much smaller; if we own a house at all. Would I like to own that? Well I wouldn’t have the time to care for it OR enjoy it much as I’m this computer nerd anyway. But, aren’t neighbours annoying when they’re living in the flat next to yours? Yes, when they foray into researching dance music of the 1990ies in the middle of the night. Which they do only once in a blue moon so I can live with that. Though, they’ve been quite as of lately, maybe they died. I don’t know.

A word of warning: Choose the quarter you live in wisely. Don’t ever live in a hip quarter. Too many such music researchers. You recognize such quarters by the proximity of a university and/or artists.

Future changes

The video says how the suburban sprawl becomes less attractive to the working class who start to prefer living like I do, without a car, shortening the commute time. But the economy of this move to the centres will change enormously once automatic cars are established! The entire industry is working on them. It will have more impact than the electric car. Uber is planning to build fleets of robot taxis – everyone else does as well.

This will remove the really BIG factor in commuting: the wasted time opportunity cost – making commuting by car even more attractive than public transportation.

While the video claims the move from the suburbs to the city centres will continue for decades, I hold that it will reverse immediately once the robot car is available.

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