Pulitzer Prize Winning Author Hylton speaks on Traditional Neighborhood Development

Submitted by Sudhir Kade on Mon, 09/26/2005 - 19:16.

Thomas Hylton spoke before a packed house Wednesday afternoon at the Metropolitan on the top floor of the Huntington Building and delivered an excellent presentation on the importance of building cities that are pedestrian-friendly and feature mixed-use construction. This presentation resonated greatly with recent presentation on New Urbanism given by John Norquist, former Milwaukee mayor and author of the Wealth of Cities. Hylton began with a story from his younger days – living in a small Pennsylvania town where the most energy efficient school building in town (the only one in town without a parking lot) was leveled to construct –what else? – a parking lot!  Stories like this have been a commonly recurring story across the nation.

Hylton next spoke of Cleveland’s urban core and strong diversity in retail historically – architecture like the May Company building and Higbees –which, over the years, has become so monopolized and  homogenized. The city should feature diversity and mixed use that uplifts daily life – yet so many areas have degraded and shown evidence of suburban sprawl. Hylton illustrated the importance of pedestriancities by speaking of life in Reading, Pennsylvania – where everything a person needed was within a 20 minute walk. Then came the advent of the ‘great suburban experiment’ – and proliferation of automobile use that began to demand an infrastructure of strip malls, parking lots, and corporate centers. Cars, which, by the way are terribly inefficient at moving people. The result has been a shocking level of parking lot construction which has created 5-6 empty parking spaces for every car in America. Other downsides to automobile-dependency were cited as:

  1. the great amount of time wasted sitting in metal boxes
  2. a dangerous mode of travel, killing 3000 people a month since the times of FDR
  3. contributor to air pollution and global warming
  4. has served to isolate the poor and minorities
  5. has squandered valuable land through necessitated freeway and parking lot construction
  6. has contributed to a nationwide obesity epidemic

Advantages to a traditional neighborhood paradigm were raised at many junctures during the speech and question/answer session which followed - these can be summarized as follows:

  1. conservation and preservation of countryside and farmland
  2. suburban sprawl reversed or mitigated
  3. cultivating a more vibrant, interactive, and connected community
  4. supporting sustainability – mixed use construction, greener outcomes
  5. encouraging healthier and less polluting transportation
  6. facilitating reconstruction and renovation which:
    1. preserves historic architecture
    2. creates more 50-100 percent more jobs than new construction
    3. preserves virgin land and fills in the urban core

The bottom line, Hylton emphasized, is that sprawl is expensive, and we cannot afford it anymore – it has supported an unsustainable lifestyle and studies even show that though we are twice as wealthy now as opposed to 1950 – we aren’t as happy. Foreign cities like Bath, England and all cities in the Netherlands were cited as marvels of pedestrian and bike-friendly city planning. Every city of the Netherlands, for example, is constructed in such a manner that the countryside is easily accessible within a 20 minute bike ride and every city street in the country features bike lanes. The key success factor in preserving such charm and an active community? The shared commitment of a people to refuse destruction of the country to facilitate automobile use. It is such commitment that will be needed by Clevelanders to make a new traditional neighborhood vision that is conducive to bike and pedestrian travel a reality in Cleveland. Concluding his discourse, Hylton delivered a pointed message: in order to encourage kinship and caring in America, we need places to care about.  I agree with him wholeheartedly.

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