Focal Development


A key feature of sprawl, is the lack of any focus — something which can facilitate social interaction, promoting community, and give a place a sense of identity.  So any alternative might be termed focal development.

The other key feature is that access to every workplace and amenity is predicated upon universal use of a private car.  So any alternative must allow for at least one other mode of transport.  You can retain the liberty to own and drive a car.  You just acquire the new liberty not to.

Three modes which served our ancestors, before the arrival of the car, were foot, bike, and rail.  A journey time consistent with both efficiency and our daily habits is around 20mins.  Your radii of activity will then be about 1km on foot, 6kms on a bike, and around 16kms using light rail (tram or streetcar).  It should be no surprise that these figures correspond with the typical scale of village (or neighbourhood), town (or suburb), and suburban commute.  Those patterns of land-use were created by these ways of getting around.  (And the railway station created an excellent focus.)

Logical structure of focal development

Logical structure of focal development

Our problem is that none of these modes are much help in getting around a continuum like sprawl.  Even a bus service, with its greater stopping frequency, is far from commercially viable.  When it is imperative to serve those denied a car, like children who need to get to and from school, a massive subsidy is necessary.  Sprawl imposes a tax burden, as well as increasing all transport and service costs.

The diagram opposite is not intended to indicate what focal development need look like.  It’s intended to convey the logical structure only.  For instance, it shows how simply putting road access on the outside of a neighbourhood avoids any conflict with walking or cycling inside it.  Provision for convenient modal interchange speeds a longer journey and avoids the concentration of road traffic that causes congestion and local pollution.

There is no cheap and easy way out of this cul-de-sac.  We must accept a degree of planning and calculation.

Above all, we must build no more sprawl.