New Urbanism and the Dog River Watershed

 

Blake Pool, Department of Earth Sciences, University of South Alabama, Mobile AL. 36688 E-MAIL: bwp401@jaguar1.usouthal.edu

 

            The Dog River Watershed, located in Mobile County, lies within an urban or suburban setting. Runoff increases as more impervious surfaces are developed within the watershed. A new movement in the development community known as New Urbanism proclaims to be the solution to human and environmental issues associated with urbanization. New Urbanism claims to reduce overall impervious surfaces by building densely populated planned subdivisions. In these communities, the need for the automobile is reduced by making daily needs within walking or biking distance. Though building New Urbanism neighborhoods seems like a helpful solution to pollution problems in the Dog River watershed, it is actually against the law in Mobile. Mobile’s local parking ordinances require massive amounts of parking for residential and commercial properties. This research compares the New Urbanism development of Bon Secour, currently under construction in Baldwin County, Alabama, with the city of Mobile’s parking requirements. It shows just how much more parking the city of Mobile would require to build Bon Secour within the Mobile City limits.

 

            Keywords: New Urbanism, Dog River Watershed, parking lots

 

 

Introduction

 

            New Urbanism is a revolution in town planning and development started by Miami architect and planner, Andres Duany. Duany, recently tabbed one of the top five influential home builders in the country, leads the charge for New Urbanism, writing the book Suburban Nation and founding the Congress for New Urbanism (Rediscover Vision 2005). New Urbanism is often used in coordination with traditional neighborhood design or TND’s, a throwback movement to the older ways of development and Smart Growth, a similar movement whose goals are primarily environmental. The goals of New Urbanism are to efficiently and intensely develop land while preserving the natural landscape. New Urbanism also deviates from the typical suburban design, by encouraging alternative forms of transportation such as walking, biking, and in some cases mass transit. The sense of community is brought back to neighborhoods by reducing single family lots and increasing community open space, deviating from the typical suburban neighborhood where seclusion is normal and cynically minded view of one’s own property are often the only concern.

            New Urbanism recognizes the importance of watersheds and the environment in which their projects are built. The first article of The Charter of the New Urbanism states “1. Metropolitan regions are finite places with geographic boundaries derived from topography, watersheds, coastlines, farmlands, regional parks, and river basins….” It then goes on to state in article 3 “The metropolis has a necessary and fragile relationship to its agrarian hinterland and natural landscapes. The relationship is environmental, economic, and cultural. Farmland and nature are as important to the metropolis as the garden is to the house” (Duany, et al. 2000). Suburban neighborhoods, in most cases, are only interested in profit, often clear cutting their property with no regard for the environment.

            Impermeable parking lots are a major source of runoff in urban areas. New Urbanism recommends the reduction and sharing of parking lots and structures to help reduce runoff. The City of Mobile’s parking requirements are drastically different from the recommendations of New Urbanism. New Urbanism advises no more than three parking spaces per 1,000sq ft. of mixed-use development. Conversely, Mobile separates parking into residential and business with no mention of mixed-use, compounding parking requirements for buildings with multiple uses. Mobile’s current residential parking requirements are 1.5 parking units per residential dwelling, 1 parking units per 300sq. feet of business space, and 1 parking unit per 100sq. feet of restaurant space (City of Mobile ordinance 64-6).

            New Urbanism’s benefits are clear: environmental awareness, revival of community spirit, and the encouragement of alternative forms of transportation. New Urbanism has taken off around the country, with projects underway in Montgomery, Birmingham, Huntsville and Baldwin County, though the City of Mobile has zero New Urbanism projects under development. If the ideas of New Urbanism could be successfully implemented in Mobile, water quality in the Dog River Watershed could improve.

 

Research Question

 

            Parking lot requirements in New Urbanism projects are much less than what the City of Mobile requires. If this project were built in Mobile, AL would it meet the parking requirements of the city?  

 

Methods

            I contacted the developers of Bon Secour (Fig. 1) and acquired the square footage of business space, residential space and the total amount of parking provided. I then compared this data with the City of Mobile’s parking ordinance to determine whether or not Bon Secour would meet the City of Mobile’s parking ordinances.

 

Results

Bon Secour met the parking requirements of Gulf Shores, though they would not have met the City of Mobile’s parking requirements. The City of Gulf Shores requires 1 parking unit per 300sq. ft. of business space, 2 parking units per residential dwelling, and 1 parking unit per 40sq. ft. of restaurant space. The City of Mobile on the other hand requires 1.5 parking units per residential dwelling, 1 parking units per 300sq. feet of business space, and 1 parking unit per 100sq. feet of restaurant space(City of Mobile ordinance 64-6).  The City of Gulf Shores has a separate parking ordinance specifically for mixed-use developments. The ordinance allows parking lot size to be reduced by as much as 65% for mixed-use developments. 

            Though the exact amount of parking Bon Secour will use could not be attained, we can create a realistic scenario to compare the parking requirements of the City of Mobile, the City of Gulf Shores and the recommendations of New Urbanism. For a 30,000 sq. ft. mixed-use building with ten 1,000 sq. ft. residences, 15,000 sq. ft. of business space, and 5,000 sq. ft. of restaurant space, the following amounts of parking would be required: City of Mobile, 120 units of parking, and Gulf Shores 69 units of parking and New Urbanism 30 units of parking, Figure 2.  The Village of Bon Secour has met the City of Gulf Shores parking requirements, doubling the amount of parking recommended by New Urbanism, yet it is still half of what would be required in the City of Mobile (Fig. 2).

            Not only does Bon Secour incorporate fewer parking spaces, but it also utilizes the environmentally friendly parking structure. Parking structures generates much less runoff than do surface parking lots of equal size. “The amount of imperviousness generated by a deck is inversely proportional to the number of levels the deck contains. For example, a two-level parking deck yields only half the imperviousness of a surface parking lot if both deck and lot have the same number of parking spaces.” (MacDonald et al. 2003)

 

Discussion and Conclusion

            Dog River Watershed is currently highly polluted with litter from automobiles and rising sediment due to poor construction practices. With suburban sprawl consuming more than two million acres of open space per year, something needs to be done now before it is too late to conserve what little open space is left in the Dog River watershed (National Geographic Society 2006).  Reducing the parking lot size requirement would decrease the amount of runoff in the City of Mobile, and could potentially lead to the construction of New Urbanism projects. New Urbanism emphasizes environmental protection and encourages alternative forms of transportation rather than driving exclusively. If the parking codes of New Urbanism were adopted, runoff in the Dog River Watershed would decrease; and possibly, the number of automobiles on the roadway would decrease as well.

 

References

City of Gulf Shores, Alabama. Zoning Ordinance Article 12- OFF-STREET PARKING AND LOADING

 

City of Mobile, Alabama. Code of Ordinances Codified through Ord. No. 22-071-2005 adopted Nov. 1, 2005 (Supplement No. 29)

 

Duany, Andres and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck. 2000 Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream.  New York, New York. 260-261

 

MacDonald, Joseph, Michael Holmes, Phillip Berke. Department of City and Regional Planning, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill College of Design, NC State University. (2003) . Case Study of Birkdale Village, NC Comprehensive Report of the Impact of Urban Design on Water Resources http://newurbanismwatershed.unc.edu/PDF/birkdale_village.pdf

 

Microsoft Corp. http://www.microsoft.com/streets/ 2004 NAVTEQ

 

National Geographic Society. The New Suburb? 1996-2006 http://www.nationalgeographic.com/earthpulse/sprawl/index_flash.html  

 

Rediscover Vision http://www.bonsecourvillage.com/html/rediscoverVision.htm

 

United States Environmental Protection Agency. Parking Spaces / Community Places: Finding the Balance through Smart Growth Solutions Development, Community, and Environmental. Division Washington, DC 20460 January 2006.