David Brooks’ column in the New York Times today made reference to Joel Kotkin’s latest book, The Next Hundred Million; America in 2050. Brooks summarizes Kotkin’s prediction of the future physical form of the country: “Urban downtowns will continue their modest (and perpetually overhyped) revival, but the real action will be out in the compact, self-sufficient suburban villages.” This conclusion is exactly in line with my research; there is pent up demand for walkable urban places and upward of 70 percent of this demand will take place in the suburbs while the rest will be the redevelopment of center cities. Think Bethesda (MD) and the many walkable urban places in Arlington (VA). Think Pasadena (CA), Palo Alto (CA), and Hyde Park (Boise, ID). This and other research shows that it will take a generation to catch up with the pent up demand.
What is needed to catch up with the pent up demand for walkable urban places, especially in the suburbs, is complete transportation policy reform. Since transportation drives development, we need to build the second half of the American transportation system--rail and bus transit and bikes and walking-- while repairing our existing roadway system. Only this will allow for the emergence of the walkable urban places that the market, economy, and environment demands.