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Walkable Communities -- Isn't that what we had before the invention of the wheel?

Date: 2/14/2014

Posted: February 14, 2014

Or was it the invention of the internal combustion engine that sent this development pattern into hibernation? In a few days, Penn State Extension’s Land Use Decision-Making Education Team will kick off the first session of the Winter/Spring 2014 educational webinar series -- Transit-Oriented & Walkable Communities. The concept presented in this session is not a new idea.
In many communities, walking/biking trails are being envisioned as a new community development strategy.  See http://vimeo.com/83038414.

In many communities, walking/biking trails are being envisioned as a new community development strategy. See http://vimeo.com/83038414.

In fact, the compactly-designed, walkable, mixed-use, “smart growth” communities of the 1800’s that we in Western Pennsylvania now call “patch towns” were easier to create back in those days than they are now in many parts of the country. 

It was probably simple economics that made these (company town) communities happen.  “Compact development” was more efficient and economical for the industries of that day to create, and the surrounding farm and forest lands (with the then prevalent agricultural economy, and the industry-supporting natural resources to be extracted from those lands) were too valuable to waste!

As late as the 1950’s, we also had trolleys running all over the landscape, servicing the patch towns, and enabling lots of Transit-Oriented Development in those formerly walkable communities. I think it’s terribly sad that we lost so much multi-modal transportation capacity when those trolley and rail lines were abandoned.  Too bad all leaders of that day didn’t have the foresight to at least mothball or land bank these corridors for future public re-use.  Many communities that did are now turning the former rail lines into new hiking and biking trails! 

And to get to these trails, they are looking at creating complete street walk-ability in adjacent neighborhoods.

Did your community ever have a trolley?  Does it still exist today?  Why or why not?  How are your communities’ former trolley and rail corridors now used in your community?  Is it easy for you to walk to places to work, shop, or recreate?  If not, could it be?  What would it take?

Euclidean Zoning also made Smart Growth development patterns illegal in many townships of our region after the 50’s, and even made the existing "Smart Growth" difficult or illegal to maintain in some of our boroughs and cities that adopted suburb-mimicking, low population density codes.  Leadership in these communities thought that adopting these codes was what they needed to do to stay competitive.  In the process, what they actually did was facilitate the exodus of needed populations near their commercial business district cores and their industrial districts. 

Read More -- http://extension.psu.edu/community/ecd/news/2014/walkable-communities-isnt-that-what-we-had-before-the-invention-of-the-wheel



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