Density Done Well

One reason so many people have been attracted to (the idea of) the suburbs is to “get away from the crowds” in the cities. The American Dream came in a lot of flavors, and most of them included the idea of a larger lot to give you “room to breathe“, a “taste of the country, with the convenience of the city“, etc.

Waterloo_Sprawl

Problem is, all that “room” pushed everything farther apart, including you from neighbors, merchants and much of civic life. Walkability went WAY down, sidewalks often were not installed at all, and “Zoning” insisted that there be a fence between your house and the stores right behind you… turning what would have been a nice short walk into a drive (again).

Our own "Eagle Creek Shopping Center"! The fence continues to the west for the length of the housing complex!

Our own “Eagle Creek Shopping Center”! The fence continues to the west for the length of the housing complex!

Believe it or not there is “Good Density“. You even pay to intentionally experience it when you travel on vacation or as a tourist. Quaint little villages in Cape Cod, Times Square in New York City (recently made even MORE pedestrian friendly!), funky hillside neighborhoods in San Francisco, mountain villages in Bavaria, ocean-front island towns where cruise ships pull in for a day or two at a time. Not that we have to travel that far… been to downtown Antioch, Libertyville or Lake Forest lately?

See if this does anything for you:

“We agonize over the quality of amenities that make density livable and sociable, like parks, community and cultural places, schools and child-care, and local “third places” such as grocery stores, cafés and pubs. We design an inviting city for walking, biking and transit, not just because these are green and healthy, but because they’re inherently social. We require homes fit for families, as well as provide rental and social housing, for diversity and mix.”

Photo: NYTimes.com

Photo: NYTimes.com

“All of this fits into a framework and ethic where density is used not to maximize real estate profit, but to achieve outstanding public life, and hopefully neighborliness, with successful, authentic place-making. Density that works because people love it.”

Does that sound like what our Village Elders committed to when dealing with Real-Estate Developers who wanted to build in Round Lake Beach over the last several decades?  [Hint: “No!”] We do know (because we asked) that they cared about “building the tax base” and “providing retail opportunities for our residents”, things like that. Sensible, modern concepts.

“To be sure, there are a lot of bad examples of density out there. Sites that are overbuilt, disconnected from context or place, without design, mix, amenities and respite. People don’t love this kind of density, and the fear of bad density tends to lead to controversy and less community acceptance of densification in general.”

Sounds more like what happened here.

Even in the suburbs or small-town America, you WANT density in the places where it makes sense. Village Centers, a downtown/shopping district with a sense of “place and restaurants and benches for sitting and public art and touchable history and sidewalk vendors and nooks & crannies to discover and 2nd-floor residences over the stores and a square or plaza for celebrations & concerts and… well, a lot more. These are among the “universal” aspects of successful municipalities, regardless of size or where in the world they are. It’s NOT just something for “big cities”. Main Street USA is iconic for a reason!

Think of the satisfying “in-town” experiences you’ve had in your life; were they in a town that “rolled-up the sidewalks” when the stores closed, or someplace that had a “critical mass” of people engaged in a variety of different things all at the same time?

“You can double the density of people in a public place by doubling the number of people who seek it out, or by doubling the length of time they stay. Great places are both initially attractive, and “sticky” once you get there. A place, or a community or city for that matter, is sticky if people love it, and don’t want to leave.”

As we look to the next 75 years of Round Lake Beach, where will our “good density” be? Where will be our gathering places, our “living room of the neighborhood”, the heart-of-the-community, the place you bring your guests when they ask “What is there to DO here?“, the spot where it is just fun to hang out and watch the life of the village carry on before your eyes? Our 28,000+ residents not only need such places, but can make them happen!

Entire Article: Density, Neighborliness, and the Concentrated ‘We’

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