March 22, 2007

YOU CALL THEM PRISONS, WE CALL THEM NEIGHBORHOODS:

Planners go 'round and around over cul-de-sacs: Once a homeowner's dream, the dead-end street is falling out of favor everywhere -- except Southern California (Dawn Bonker, March 22, 2007, LA Times)

CITY planners shun them. New urbanists hate them. Boulder, Colo., all but banned them.

Cul-de-sacs -- those once-beloved icons of the suburban good life -- have become something of a demonized concept. The growing consensus among urban planners is that these lollipop-shaped streets hurt communities by chopping up neighborhoods, isolating children, intensifying traffic woes and discouraging walking.

Then why are so many still being built here?

Leave it to Southern California to defy the new convention. While cities across the country return to streets laid out on a traditional grid system, cul-de-sacs are springing up from Calabasas to Chula Vista. Yes, homeowners often fall in love with the quiet courts and initial sense of built-in neighborliness. But, experts say, just wait.

"The problem with the cul-de-sac is not the cul-de-sac itself," says Jeff Speck, director of design at the National Endowment for the Arts and coauthor of "Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream." Over time, he says, "very few streets carry most of the traffic and therefore must be exceedingly wide, creating an environment that is generally unwalkable."

People inclined to leave their cul-de-sac usually face the equivalent of neighborhood highways -- a pedestrian nightmare of high-speed arterial streets that are unsafe for children and no fun for anyone, Speck says. Dead-end streets that start out as a playground for youngsters, he says, turn into a prison when children get older.

"Age 3 through 8, it's great. Beyond there, you're a captive," says Speck, who along with his "Suburban Nation" coauthors coined the term "cul-de-sac kid" to describe children isolated by geography.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 22, 2007 1:29 PM
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