Follow The Sharrow To My Heart: An Urbanist Valentine’s Day

A dear friend reminded me that, yes, I had indeed shared with her my 2014 vintage Handbuilt article about celebrating Valentine’s Day with building science— multiple times. Okay, look– I was really proud of that. But it may well be time to reboot this with some more recent content.

“Share My Mode, Baby”

The transportation conversation involves a lot of talk about “mode share,” which refers to the percentage of trips taken by this or that type of transportation. A particularly romantic urbanist Valentine’s Day activity would involve a tandem bicycle. This would technically be the same mode of transportation. One thing’s for certain– it doesn’t involve a car.

“Just Like Parking Priced At Market Rates, I’ve Always Got A Space For You”

Yeah, so, this one is a bit wordy, I admit. Not exactly certain to woo the ladies. Or gentlemen, or nonbinary urbanists. But it’s a reference to the idea that there’s no such thing as free parking. This means that if you are parking anywhere for free, it’s being subsidized by someone else, whether that’s a developer, a government, or a combination of the two. Pricing, according to the increasingly dominant paradigm of best practices, should be determined by whatever the market will bear. Appropriately-priced parking also means you should always be able to find a spot! So sayeth St. Donald of Shoup, the Patron Saint of Parking.

Free parking is an disincentive to alternative transportation, like walking, biking, transit, or a combination of the three. Going from free to 25 cents an hour is certain to provide even a tiny disincentive to driving. If the parking spaces are still full? Increase the prices. Parking represents the largest single land use in the United States after cropland and grazing land. It’s a great starting point for making cities better, more equitable, greener places.

“Your Absence is the Missing Middle of My Heart”

The missing middle is a common topic in planning these days. It’s housing, not románce, but it’s an important thing to think about. Basically, after 2008, construction on new housing simply stopped in most markets. Tightening on lending meant that it was much harder to get affordable capital– or, indeed, any capital- to build smaller projects. Thus we have a housing bubble plus massively inflated prices now, because of disruptions from COVID-19 across from a decade plus of unmet demand for new construction– at least something a bit bigger than single-family. A six-family apartment building? Missing middle! A four-over-one, boxy building that looks like every other new construction apartment building on the block? Not missing middle.

“I’ve Always Got A Last Mile Solution To Get To You”

The “last mile” refers to the pesky problem in which a large number of people have to figure out how to get to or from, say, a bus stop, to their homes (or places of employment, education, worship, fun, etc.). If you imagine a tree, the trunk isn’t the problem. It’s the tiny sub-branches of the smaller branches that are the problem. And by “problem” we don’t mean “thing to be disregarded,” we mean that “we have to figure out a way to connect with the leaves at the end of those branches.”

“You Give Me A Density Bonus”

You know what? You can just, uh, enjoy that one without further explanation. There were also a few discarded ones involving Robert Moses references. But learn more about density bonuses and how they can be used for, well, many things!

Show A Building Some Love This Valentine’s Day

Appropriate urbanist Valentine’s Day activities include taking a romantic walk through a densely populated neighborhood or historic district, supporting a local, small business, or riding a bike along some protected bike lanes. If you’re in Metro Detroit, a romantic activity to do with your partner is calling up the city of Auburn Hills, Michigan, which, be it said, is neither auburn nor hills, to tell them that they shouldn’t opt out of SMART (transit) service.

Oh, another good activity for Valentine’s Day? Apparently me celebrating the fifth anniversary of having met my now-fiancée on a not-at-all-date. It’s truly wild how that works.

A WMATA SmarTrip card.

Nat M. Zorach

Nat M. Zorach, AICP, MBA, is a city planner and energy professional based in Detroit, where he writes about infrastructure, sustainability, tech, and more. A native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he attended Grinnell College in Iowa, the Kogod School of Business at American University, the POCACITO transatlantic program, the SISE program at the University of Illinois Chicago, and he is also a StartingBloc Social Innovation Fellow. He enjoys long walks through historic, disinvested Rust Belt neighborhoods at sunset. (Nat's views and opinions are his own and do not represent those of his employer).

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