Photo Credit: [click here for source]

The following pictures show the transformation from late 1800’s to today of a 1/4 mile section (part of the Alameda de las Delicias) of  the 8 mile long Avenida Libertador General Bernardo O’Higgins in Santiago, Chile.  The Avenue dates back to the founding of Santiago in 1541 and was later named after the Liberator of Chile, Bernardo O’Higgins. It was and still is the ‘Main Street’ of Santiago. In the 1820’s a section of the Avenue (about 1 mile in length) received a major face lift. This section was called the Alameda de las Delicias. Translated means ‘The delightful Poplar Grove’.  It was called such because 4 rows of poplar trees brought from Mendoza, Argentina lined the edges of a grand pedestrian promenade. For much of the 19th century the Alameda de las Delicias was the place to see and to be seen for the Chilean Elite. 

Photo Credit: [click here for source]

Fast forward 100 years and we see that this section of the avenue is still full of life. The photo above from 1925 and the photo below from 1930 (click on the photo for a larger version) speak for themselves.  The public realm that encompasses everything between the faces of the buildings on either side of the avenue strikes the right balance in creating a great space. Let’s walk through it from the outside in. The buildings ranged from one to four stories high and lined up with one another which created for a pleasant pedestrian experience as one walked down the sidewalk. Each building had its own look and style. The first levels addressed the street with appropriately scaled, unique, and beautiful storefronts/office fronts.  One can only imagine that the upper floors were a mix of residences and offices.  The sidewalks along the buildings were wide allowing plenty of room for pedestrians as well as shops and cafes to spill out onto.

Parallel Parking was available on both sides of the 3 lane wide one way streets.  This parking helped to create a safety barrier between auto and pedestrian. The Iglesia de San Francisco (completed in 1613) created a terminated vista along one side of the avenue adding interest and highlighting this beautiful historic church (labeled as #1 on photos). On either side of the promenade we also see electric trolley lines adding to the variety of transportation available at that time.  The way the streets and trolleys are distributed across the public realm allows for a heavy flow of traffic without sacrificing the comfort and safety of the pedestrian.

And truly the highlight of this avenue is its wide promenade, still maintaining the 4 rows of poplars on either side as it did 100 years earlier. And spread throughout the promenade as a sign of civic pride are several national monuments/statues.

Click photo above for larger image –Photo Credit: [click here for source] 

Now fast forward 20 more years to 1950 and we see a major transformation.  One that accommodates for more auto traffic and parking and less for the pedestrian. The wide promenade with its 4 rows of poplars have disappeared and have been replaced with a much narrower green area which contains no sidewalks for pedestrians only crosswalks. The one way streets on either side have gone from 3 lanes with parallel parking on both sides to a 3-4 lanes with parallel parking on the building side only with additional perpendicular parking closer into the buildings.  The electric trolleys are gone  giving over to the more popular use of autos and buses.  And several of the older 2 to 4 story buildings are gone as well and replaced with much taller buildings.

Photo Credit: [click here for source]

Now lets fast forward to today. The green space in the center has been further narrowed as well as fenced in with low metal fencing in some places to keep pedestrians out. The traffic lanes have expanded to 5 lanes on each one way street. And all the parking along the streets has been eliminated as they are now accommodated within underground parking garages throughout the area. The metro de Santiago was started in the 1970’s with one of its first underground lines now traveling under the Alameda de las Delicias. 

By this time most of the original low-lying buildings featured in the 1925 photo have been replaced with taller/wider buildings. I’ve highlighted 2 of the buildings throughout these photos that have survived the wave of changes. They are (1) Iglesia de San Francisco mentioned earlier and (2) Casa Central de la Universidad de Chile built in 1872.  And although not as easily approachable by pedestrians the national monuments/statues have also survived the wave of changes.

Photo Credit: [click here for source]

But it’s not all bad news.  We have been looking at just the first quarter-mile of the Alameda de las Delicias.  Now let’s step back another 3 quarters of a mile and look at what is left today of the remaining Alameda. At the top of the photo you can see the 2 surviving buildings I’ve been pointing out on each photo and as we move down the photo you can see the promenade starts taking shape again, narrow at first then widens back out as you continue down the Alameda. 

Photo Credit: [click here for source]

I must end by reflecting back on the 1930’s photo of the Alameda. What an incredible photo! This is what many Main Streets today strive for in order to become a ‘Complete Street‘ once again.  All the elements were there. With some slight adjustments the same Avenue of the 1930’s could again be the place to be seen and to see today (see photo below).

Here are my thoughts on those adjustments. For sure today a lot more traffic needs to flow through this Avenue, not just by auto but also by bus, metro, bike, and pedestrian. So I would first remove the parallel parking along the promenade and convert that lane to a dedicated bus lane (A) which is in line with the rest of the city that has recently created dedicated bus lanes throughout. Next I would remove the electric trolley. It hurts to say that but I would only do that because there is a high capacity underground metro line (B) that serves that purpose. And in place of the trolley lines I would create dedicated bicycle lanes (C). I would connect these bicycle lanes to the ever growing bicycle lanes being created throughout the city as well as develop a much needed network of bike sharing stations.

Now let’s go back to the street edges. I would keep the parallel parking along the sidewalks. This would accomplish 3 things; keep cars from driving to fast, help the businesses along the avenue to attract more costumers, and it provides a safety barrier for pedestrians utilizing the sidewalks. The final thing I would do is to encourage the businesses and shops at the first level to once again engage the avenue by creating appropriately scaled, welcoming, and interesting storefronts to draw in and retain the people (D).

The story and history of the transformation of Santiago’s ‘Main Street’, once a celebrated place but now more of a transportation corridor, is a much too common theme for many of our ‘Main Streets’.  Let’s reverse the thinking before it’s too late and we lose the ability to salvage what remains of these once celebrated ‘Main Streets’ and start transforming them back into places we can again enjoy and be proud to call our ‘Main Street’.


U.S. Population declining in far Suburbs – growing in Urban Areas

A recent article from USA Today, America’s romance with Sprawl may be over, looks at the decline of population growth at the fringe suburbs and the increase of population growth within Urban areas. Here is an excerpt from the article:

•Central metro counties accounted for 94% of U.S. growth, compared with 85% just before the recession.

“This could be the end of the exurb as a place where people aspire to go when they’re starting their families,” says William Frey, demographer at the Brookings Institution. “So many people have been burned by this. … First-time home buyers, immigrants and minorities took a real big hit.”

During the ’70s gas shortage and the ’80s savings and loan industry crisis, some predicted the end of suburban sprawl. It didn’t happen then, but current trends could change the nation’s growth patterns permanently.

Aging Baby Boomers, who have begun to retire, and Millennials, who are mostly in their teens and 20s, are more inclined to live in urban areas, McIlwain says.

“I’m not sure we’re going to see outward sprawl even if the urge to sprawl continues,” he says. “Counties are getting to the point that they don’t have the money to maintain the roads, water, sewer. … This is a century of urbanization.”

This last statement that Counties don’t have enough money to maintain its sprawled out, aging infrastructure is becoming a growing problem, one that may not have an easy solution especially  for the outer fridge ‘exurb’  especially as federal public subsidies are pretty much dried up. To see how one organization is trying to solve this problem through a new (with bits of old) way of thinking see StrongTowns

Millennials (Generation Y) are losing interest in the car

In my previous post we looked back in time when cars where selling off the shelf. Everybody wanted a car and the built environment was heavily designed to meet the needs of the car lovers.  Sprawl was born and has taken over now for more then 60 years. Now let’s look at today.  The story is changing.

In a recent article the New York Times reports how GM is turning to MTV to help convince the youth that they want cars.  The article goes on to note in 2008, 46.3 percent of potential drivers 19 years old and younger had drivers’ licenses, compared with 64.4 percent in 1998, according to the Federal Highway Administration, and drivers ages 21 to 30 drove 12 percent fewer miles in 2009 than they did in 1995.

Jordan Weissmann of The Atlantic explains this phenomena further in his recent article ‘Why Don’t Young Americans buy cars’. Here is an excerpt:

Of course, Millennials are more likely than past generations to live in an urban community, and this may be part of what terrifies car markers. About 32 percent reside in cities, somewhat higher than the proportion of Generation X’ers or Baby Boomers who did when they were the same age, according to a 2009 Pew Research Center report. But as the Wall Street Journal reports, surveys have found that 88 percent want to live in an urban environment. When they’re forced to settle down in a suburb, they prefer communities like Bethesda, Maryland, or Arlington, Virginia, which feature plenty of walking distance restaurants, retail, and public transportation to nearby Washington, DC.

If the Millennials truly become the peripatetic generation, walking to the office, the bus stop, or the corner store, it could mean a longterm dent in car sales. It’s doubly problematic if they choose to raise children in the city. Growing up in the ‘burbs was part of the reason driving was so central to Baby Boomers’ lives. Car keys meant freedom. To city dwellers, they mean struggling to find an empty parking spot. 

Jordan Weissmann continues to elaborate on this subject in this video interview with RT

How does this influence the Built Environment

So let’s look at the numbers. Baby Boomers, the largest generation at that time (about 76 million) had a high demand for cars, which heavily influenced the built environment and so resulted Sprawl as we know it today. Now today the Millennials are the largest generation at about 80 million and they are looking for walkable urbanism. For sure there is a changing tide coming as it pertains to the built environment. The demand for walkable urbanism is showing itself.  And not just in this area but in many other areas as I will explore in greater detail in the upcoming Part 2.

Came across this great Ford Ad from the 50’s.  Watch and then read on…

Ok, now that you have watched let’s review. Below is an excerpt from the Ad:

‘… Like so many people these days we live in the suburbs and Dave needs the car everyday for business. When he was gone I was practically a prisoner in my own home.  I couldn’t get out to see my friends, couldn’t take part in the PTA activities, well I couldn’t even shop when I wanted to. I had to wait until Thursday night after Dave brought the car home. But that’s all changed now. Three weeks ago we bought another Ford: the new, low priced, Customline Victoria . . . It’s a whole new way of life! Now I’m free to go anywhere, do anything, see anybody anytime I want to. It’s just good common sense…’

Let’s take a look at the underlined areas:

Like so manywe live in the suburbsWhen he (Dave) was gone I was practically a prisoner in my own home’  – How ironic that Ford points out how isolating the suburbs are when they themselves were a big reason and proponent of the suburbs.

‘I couldn’t get out to see my friends, couldn’t take part in the PTA activities, well I couldn’t even shop when I wanted to.’  Great!  Here it is only the 1950’s and Ford has discovered & identified the major problems with living in sprawl!  Now the problem can be solved…time to bring back Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND)???????

Nope. So their solution of course is . . . But that’s all changed now. Three weeks ago we bought another Ford:…It’s a whole new way of life! Now I’m free…It’s just good common sense’

It’s taken 60 some years but thankfully just good common sense is returning with more sustainable, walkable, compact, diverse, transit oriented Neighborhoods, Towns, & Cities.

Let’s skip all the technical, historical, & philosophical jargon and get right to it with this simple, fun, catchy, & informative video from the perspective of a ‘Generation Y (Millennial)‘ student . . .

A question generated from my previous Post ‘Some thoughts on what it means to live in a New Urbanism Environment’  

As I have mentioned before I am currently living in Santiago, Chile and have found to date very few interested in the principles of New Urbanism.  And have been discouraged with all the development happening here not to see New Urbanism principles integrated but rather our USA type zoning and sprawl methods.

So I was encouraged to see in the TED video (by Hazel Borys) from my last post at 11:57 into the video a google map with a solo little yellow google map marker located in Chile marking one of the places around the world where form based codes are in the works.

Now my question is what city is this in Chile? The marker indicates a city in northern Chile.  This map appears to be part of the Code Study recently developed by Hazel Borys & Emily Talen.  To see if I could find out what city this was I went to the Code Study itself online.  But could not find it.  So I will now give a shot at sending an e-mail to both Hazel Borys & Emily Talen and see if I get a response . . .

Here is a recent TED talk by Hazel Borys, Principle, Managing Director of Placemakers. Hazel does a great job in a short period of time, 17 minutes, pointing out some of the important principles behind New Urbanism/Smart Growth.

Hazel touches on several important areas that would be good to understand in further detail.  Below I have listed out some of those areas with corresponding links for further understanding: