The question has become a well-worn one in urban planning circles. Ditto for the answers commonly proffered: zoning laws need to be more accommodating, planners and developers need to be more sensitive to the needs of citizens, and a number of others. The first answer is true enough: we're never going to attain walkability as long as zoning codes require segregated uses, large lots, and other pedestrian-hostile features.
|Credit: Philip Kamrass, Times Union|
A formalized planning and development process can give us mixed uses, but it can't give us the kind of neighborhoods we most need. It can give us contrived architecture, chain stores, and predictability, but it can't give us authenticity. Nor is it likely to impart local economic benefit. Formal development rarely generates wealth for the people already living in a neighborhood; instead, it tends to replace them with a different group of people who gained their wealth elsewhere. The residents remaining from the old days of the neighborhood may appreciate the convenience of having a new chain store nearby, but that store sends wealth out of the community every day.
What will it take for more mixed-use, economically and culturally viable neighborhoods to be built? Less zoning, fewer developers, and more mom and pop.