The bustle of activity in the Duluth housing market is encouraging, but the spate of residential subdivisions carving up the city into a jumble of piecemeal housing developments is not.
We’ve all seen the enclaves of curvilinear crescents and cul-de-sacs that lead to nowhere. They reduce connectivity to the street network, increase travel distances, reduce traffic dispersal, and encourage private car use.
These off-grid streets function almost exclusively for the benefit of their residents, but their maintenance and the delivery of public services are paid for by all taxpayers.
Subdivisions are not designed to integrate with the city at large or enhance the public realm. They breed insularity and separateness. They are patterned to waste land, public infrastructure, and energy, contributing to costlier street maintenance and public services.
Because each subdivision application is an ad-hoc proposal that needs to be scrutinized by planners, commissioners, and councilors, they distract from the real work of city planning.
There is an alternative to subdivisions. It is the street grid. And much of Duluth was platted according to a numeric street grid that binds together all 26 miles of a city riven by geology and topography.
Street grids steer orderly, predictable, and sustainable growth by an efficient and organic process of accretion. They enable planners to define the public realm in advance of growth, which streamlines everything.
Buildable land is scarce and building costs are high in Duluth, so it behoves you to mitigate these disadvantages. Why then has the city so cavalierly discarded plats and routinely vacated paper streets and utility easements?
Those rights of way are the future extensions of streets, gas lines, sewers, water mains, telecoms, bus routes, and sidewalks.
None of this will come as news to the city’s planners, so ask your elected officials why it persists.
Whitley Bay, England
The writer was a planning intern with the city of Duluth and was graduated in 1988 from the University of Minnesota Duluth after studying geography and urban and regional studies.
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