Monday, January 7, 2013

Memphis Could Become A Car-Free Friendly City: An Analysis of Foote Homes Public Housing

Foot Homes public housing is touted as one of the poorest communities in the Mid-South region. 

The crime level has been tremendously high and the local public school system has given up their charter while some of the nearby schools have been shut down and/or they have been on the states failure list for several years. 

The residents are also going through a redesign planning process and this, too, has taken several years. 

And, the powers-that-be are still squabbling over whose plan for the Foote Homes is better; and regardless of who wins this battle, they are still waiting for the grant funding to help cover the cost of either improving or removing the community.  

And so far, the designs presented to the residents do not come close to rising above the high standards of a car-free friendly design.     


And how sad this is for the Foote Homes residents, especially since few of them own a vehicle. 

Few of them have the financial means to acquire vehicles. 

Few of them maintains a vehicle long-term, even if they do get a job and a pay-as-you-go car, which usually gets towed away the second a weekly payment is missed.  

Perhaps all this is due to the ongoing plight of low wage temporary jobs that provide few benefits and/or lay the residents off every few days, weeks, or months and fires them on the spot because a public transit bus got them to work 20 minutes late. 

And then, these residents are right back on foods stamps and knowing that the man is not likely going to ever let them leave these housing projects. 

Housing projects are housing projects, even if they are designed to be nice and elegant.    

On the other hand, a car-free community design would provide The Foot Homes residents with a real means of meeting all of their essential needs within ten minutes of their home. 

More important, a car free community will allow for them to work from their homes or other nearby neighborhoods.   

A car-free community will remove this community from the grid because the community will be run off of solar and wind power. 

That means not dipping into the taxpayer’s pockets nearly as deep as they ever did before. 

The Vance Avenue Collaborative (VAC) organization is attempting to rescue the Foote Homes community through their Improve Do Not Remove agenda. 

Although it may be one of the superior design plans presented to the residents thus far, the VAC does not propose to resolve or reverse all of the major issues that car-free citizens suffer from the most, such as jaywalking.  

To illustrate, hardly anyone here in Memphis can cross our city streets safely at the corners because the cross-walk lights change over to don't walk as soon as pedestrians step off of the curbs; then some car drivers believe it is their right to nearly run pedestrians over if they do not get out of the way fast enough.  

In The Invention of Jaywalking written by Sarah Goodyear for the Commute section of The Atlantic Cities web site, Goodyear points out that jaywalking is a term well researched by one of her sources, Peter Norton, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia and the author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City:

  • Our view of streets was systematically and deliberately shifted by the automobile  industry, as was the law itself.
  • AAA and other auto clubs turned first to the younger generation, financing safety education programs in the public schools that were designed to teach children that streets are for cars, not for kids. They funded safety patrols that taught kids they had to stop for traffic, not the other way around.
  • The [auto] industry lobbied to change the law, promoting the adoption of traffic statutes to supplant common law. The statutes were designed to restrict pedestrian use of the street and give primacy to cars. The idea of "jaywalking” – a concept that had not really existed prior to 1920 – was enshrined in law.
In light of Goodyear’s assessment, perhaps the VAC might reconsider adopting, marketing, and promoting a community plan that is also highly inclusive of a car-free agenda, such as using hand carts and utility bicycles to move some local freight around instead of massive trucks and selling some goods and services out on the open streets instead of in brick and mortar store fronts.   

At least the VAC plan does provide for a park like setting with greenway paths and some unique shopping strips for buying a loved one that special gift, but these pathways are more for recreation and tourism than for utilitarian purposes. 

Let's compare at least two car-free friendly models, so that you can fully understand what is meant by a car-free friendly design.     

For example, in one of my other blog post, Living Car Free In Memphis TennesseeVauban, Germany, serves as a perfectly good example of a community that is both utilitarian and recreational. 

Vauban started their walk-bike planning process during the early 1990s. 

Vauban's 5,000 residents have no driveways or car garages. All paths lead to essential shopping destinations and parks alike. Getting to all destinations is easy because the community is a highly condensed urban center. 

In Vauban, car-free citizens come from various economic backgrounds. It is a secure community economically, with mixed-use facilities and systems laid out for all citizens to enjoy.

More recently, Alex Davies presented his article, China Is Building A Huge Eco-City Where No One Will Need To Drive.  Davies states the following:

  • Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture notes that "Chinese planning officials [are] beginning to see the effects of automobile-dependent design and are open to better alternatives to urban sprawl.
  • Great City [will] provides residents with affordable housing, education, and medical care, all clustered in the city center to encourage a thriving civic life.
In truth, however, cars are going to be allowed, but are absolutely unnecessary according to the planners.

The city will house 80,000 people and should be completed within the next eight years.   

Our own city planners here in Memphis could learn much from the examples set here by Germany and China whose car-free cities will not likely have any jaywalking laws; and therefore, no jaywalking problems. 

In fact, Bobby Allyn’s article, Sprawling Memphis Aims to Be a Friendlier Place for Cyclists, helps to back up several points in the blog post, Living Car-Free in Memphis, Tennessee:

  • Bike-friendly behavior has never come naturally to Memphis, which has long been among the country’s most perilous places for cyclists.
  • Bicycling magazine named Memphis one of the worst cities in America for cyclists.
  • Wanda Rushing, a professor at the University of Memphis and an expert on urban change in the South, said bike improvements were of a piece with a development model sweeping the region: bolstering transportation infrastructure and population density in the inner city. “Memphis is not alone in acknowledging that sprawl is not sustainable,” Dr. Rushing said. “Economic necessity is a pretty good melding substance.”
Despite some car-free friendly reservations concerning the VAC plan, at least the VAC is working with Memphis Area Transit Authority to improve the community. 

For instance, two MATA buses are being retrofitted to become mobile fresh fruit and vegetable vehicles that make pit stops in the food deserts of various poor communities. 

As if that is not enough, MATA is also implementing a Bus Rapid Transit GPS system on Poplar Avenue, which allows for their buses to signal the stoplights for priority green signals. 

This allows for MATA to shave 15 to 20 percent off of the time they are taking to pick up passengers in a timely fashion.

As extra funding comes online, MATA can expand this system. 

So why not add icing to this cake? 

For example, MATA should also provide their passengers with a real-time passenger information system, like Next Bus, so that the passengers can arrive at the bus stop within the same minute the bus does.  

In this way, prior to boarding the public bus, a passenger can choose to wait inside of their homes, or somewhere else that is nice and cozy with no pressures about hanging out in the open air at an unshielded bus stop for up to 20 minutes at a time. 

The icing is much cheaper than the cake!  

Of course, MATA will still need a few super sized bus shelters at major venues like the Wolf Chase Mall, The Bass Pro downtown and at every single grocery store along all main streets like Poplar Avenue and Union Avenue.    

Yes - Memphis could become a car-free friendly city. 

It is never too late for that!      

In closing, here is a video that provides shinning example of a car-free friendly city.  


A hand delivered post card from the University of Catania, Sicily, Italy,
to my apartment by the beautiful Laura Saija,
and some of her students; and under her direction,
they have all come here to Memphis,Tennessee,
to work with the Vance Avenue Collaborative,
among other related things.     
The back side of post card by Laura Saija,
Friday, April 26, 2013.    

The beautiful Laura Saija, pictured to the right in the green jacket.

Not all of the students
are pictured here that came
 to my apratment with Laura,
but I did list a few of the student
names in the labels section.    




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