I Don’t Want to be Like You, Either

A few days ago was Greater Mankato Growth’s “Day at the Capitol.” Unfortunately the Capitol building is undergoing some much needed renovation so we were actually at the Double Tree in St. Paul. Cool place.

Anyway, during a discussion with someone, they told me that “You just want us to all live like you, downtown in an apartment”. While I was somewhat taken aback by the statement, I had to ask: “Is this how I present myself?”

Well gosh I hope not…

Maybe it’s a question that all urbanists should ask themselves.

As much as I fawn over Europe and the way they’ve put their cities together, I have the common sense to know that it’s probably not going to fly in America here–even less in Mankato.

I should point out that I live in a 1890 single-family style house. It has been converted to a duplex, but it’s not like I’m living in a swanky condo (although this laughable video seems to think we have something akin to a New York penthouse in North Mankato.)

The unfortunate part of being a self-proclaimed urbanist is that (as with anything) it’s easy to point out the bad, without celebrating the good.

Single-family housing and subdivisions are never going away. They have been integral to the American city since the founding of the nation. They can provide a path out of poverty, they can build communities and it is still probably where we’ll end up. (I’ll eat a raw chicken before I link to something by Joel Kotkin though.)

And not just American cities, cities everywhere. Remember how I said I fawn over European cities? Well here’s a nice shot from just outside Paris.

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 11.54.28 AM

But you’re also going to find stuff like this:



That being said, the issue I have with “you want everyone to live like you” statement is the sheer hypocrisy of it.

While, no, I don’t want everyone to live like me, but I sure as shootin’ don’t want to be forced to live like you. Which is the main conflicting point here.

Homogenous Cities

Most American cities are now broken into two distinct entities within city limits: downtown or urban and auto-oriented.

Yet in many parts of the country, those living in the denser, urban areas still have to largely play by suburban rules. Things like minimum parking requirements, road design standards, etc…

If you don’t want to “live like me” then it’s completely reasonable that I can ask to not have to “live like you” I want smaller streets, small setbacks, no parking requirements, mixed-use and so on and so forth. However, for a myriad of reasons, we tend to drop the whole city under similar requirements, which very well may artificially inflate single-family housing development. Why live in the denser parts of town if you still need your car to do everything?

Likewise, we put arbitrary (albeit far less expensive or common) rules on suburban development. There was a planning commission where I literally laughed out loud after the chair expressed her delight in seeing that the new gas station met the minimum bike parking requirements and was connected by sidewalk.

It’s being built somewhere out here:


Multi-modal baby!!!

We know that life isn’t fair, but cities should try. We need to take a nuanced approach to how we regulate our cities.

Freedom of choice is something that we’re supposed to value in the U.S. so why don’t we allow people to live sans-car or car-reduced in cities that it could work? Especially with the trends, I think it’s time we revisit some of our land use policies and codes to make this possible.

So no, I don’t hate single-family development and I don’t want you to live like me if you don’t want to, but don’t say something like that unless you realize that the city you want is probably already built for you and not for me.

As Jane Jacobs said, downtowns are for people, so let’s design them that way.

We can have both, it just takes a little creativity.


[Cover photo from Tim on Flickr.]

12 thoughts on “I Don’t Want to be Like You, Either

  1. Wayne

    You make a really great point about how suburbanites expect cities to play by their rules (so they have places to put their cars and don’t get stuck in traffic!) but balk at any suggestion they increase density or, say, include sidewalks (I’m looking at you Golden Valley). They want to have their cake and eat ours too. As a dedicated urbanite they can sod off and live however they please, but seriously they need to stop demanding highway-like roads through the sad barely-walkable mess that is the core of Minneapolis. Narrow all the streets! Widen all the sidewalks! Commuters from far-flung suburbs be damned, they have their roads and I’m tired of choking on their exhaust where I live.

  2. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

    A usual follow up comment by the sort who say, “You just everyone to live like you, …” is “You’re wanting to social engineer me!”

    Such responses have to be be met with pointing out how much their preference is socially engineered, and subsidized. That what they live like is artificially supported and they aren’t paying the full price.

    1. Matthias LeyrerMatthias Leyrer Post author

      Ain’t that the truth.

      Heck, I would let them have all their stupid roads and parking lots if they would just simply admit that they are living a heavily subsidized lifestyle.

  3. Ron

    I’m just an unfrozen caveman commenter visiting this site so I’m not familiar w/ your ways. (Sorry, 20+ year old Sat. Nit Liv joke)
    I would guess that the real conflict within the city regarding design standards is between business owners and the residents who live close to them. Businesses want to be able to cater to all customers regardless of the transportation method. Isn’t that who’s providing the opposition in the planning process? People are not driving into downtown from Big Lake to demand parking spots outside of a new development at planning meetings.
    There should be a sticker that store owners put in their window as a certified ped or whatever friendly business. If people in town only shopped there then we’d see design changes in a hurry.
    Just my thoughts. I enjoyed the article.

  4. Monte Castleman

    You may not be trying to tell people in the suburbs how to live, but there seem to be a lot urbanist bent out of shape about the new lanes on I-494 or even when an ordinary suburban “stroad” is has a new turn lane added. (Since I love stroads I’m reluctant to use terms that are intended as pejorative on one hand, but on the other hand it’s a useful term and more brief than “5+ lane suburban street).

    1. Wayne

      Honestly you can have all the lanes on highways and turn lane encrusted stroads you want in the burbs if you’ll just let us narrow our streets/lanes, widen sidewalks and FUND OUR OWN TRANSIT. Part of why we complain about those road-widenings is because they cost a lot of money from a shallow bowl where barely any goes to transit as it is, and they cry poverty after spending it all on a questionably-necessary highway upgrade when very necessary transit improvements have been waiting decades.

    2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      I’m bent out of shape by new turn lanes on stroads (at least, right turn lanes) not because of arbitrary urbanist ideals, but because stroads affect me, and they affect many people not solely using a car to get around. I live close to 77th, but when I’m doing things in Bloomington, I often bike on American. The constantly adding and dropping right-turn lanes, free rights, acceleration lanes, and auxiliary lanes make all but impossible to safely and predictably bike along that stroad. Bicyclists, unlike cars, are obliged to ride in the farthest-right lane practicable, but where that lane is and how many there are change constantly — as a result you’re left with the choice of riding 18′ out from the curb, facing possible harassment from police and motorists — or jockeying back and forth and hoping you can correctly detect how badly cars are speeding behind you as you switch lanes.

      And Wayne: I really don’t follow you here. Bloomington might have some aggressive stroads (as clearly accounted for above), but I don’t think we can fault Bloomington or Monte (or the vaguer “suburbia”) for stupid MSA rules. In terms of highway expansion, I-494 expansion is probably the least questionable (except for maybe 94). Portions bordering Bloomington carry over 150,000 cars a day. (Versus, what, 14k for the Stillwater Bridge?)

        1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

          I was referring to the long-term plans to widen 494 through the TH 5 commons, which has 153,000 to 159,000 between TH 100 and 35W.

          But as a relative matter, even the more imminent widening through Plymouth is definitely more cost-effective and more justified than the Stillwater Bridge. My point is just that there is a range of value in auto-only investments, too. Projects like 494 widening, improvements to 94, Crosstown Commons rebuild, etc, rank much higher in my book than an intact expressway to New Richmond, or extension of TH 610.

          1. Monte Castleman

            The I-494 Plymouth project is one of the ones I’m questioning the implementation of. As used by Mn/DOT new concrete construction has a 60 year life expectancy, but the existing lanes are a situation where it’s cost effective to do an unbonded concrete overlay to extend the life another 30 year. Better to jury rig the shoulders for a few decades until the entire road needs building, or else find extra funding to do a ground up reconstruction, so we don’t have different lanes wearing out at different times.

            Godwin’s Law (Or should we call it Miller’s Law) has popped up here again. It is fair to ask what else we could do with the Stillwater Bridge money. In my opinion any highway project that has a benefit / cost greater than 1 is worth doing, but there’s no arguing some are greater than others. Even if you use the projected traffic on the new Stillwater Bridge (in the 40,000 range) there are obviously higher bangs for our buck. For $330 million we could rebuilt the I-35W I-494 interchange with enough left over to make improvements to accommodate the displaced Stillwater Bridge drivers on I-94 (sections close to I-494 and the Hudson Bridge are very close to capacity).

            But reality isn’t like that. Stillwater has been agitating for a new bridge for 50 years and finally got it to happen. And we’re building a new MN 60 expressway with traffic volumes at 5000 thanks to a provision inserted in the last gasoline tax increase. Meanwhile improving I-35W / I-494 is greeted with yawns by anyone with enough political clout to get it expedited.

  5. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    I don’t want people to have to live like me, but I do wish they’d try it (college is great for this) for a bit before deciding they really want a completely sedentary, car-dependent lifestyle.

Comments are closed.