By Dom Nozzi
July 15, 1999
Yesterday was a dispiriting day for me as a town planner for a city in Florida.
It was a typical conversation amongst my town planning colleagues, who supposedly were in a job that obligated them to create a better quality of life for their city. Typical because my colleagues are thoroughly quite suburban and auto-oriented.
For the second staff meeting in a row, what was the main agenda item for these planners at the meeting?
The DESPERATE need to require businesses to provide more car parking.
Yes. Perhaps the most effective way to undermine the quality of life of the community.
To say I was appalled was to put it very mildly. I was livid.
I cannot imagine ANYTHING that is more damaging or more likely to lock a community into a sprawling, car-dependent debacle than to widen roads or build bigger parking lots.
Why are allegedly professional planners – whose job it is to protect and promote the city quality of life – doing all they can to ruin the city?
To add insult to injury, we spent the first 45 minutes of the meeting trying to come up with rules for fences or barricades that a business with an outdoor cafe would be required to install to seal off their outdoor tables and seating.
Why, I asked?
Is it not true, I said, that seating and tables are scattered, unfenced, throughout Europe???
Coral Gables FL, in fact, had a law that says that outdoor cafes must NOT be fenced. Are people dying in Coral Gable as a result? Is my city so terrified of urban vibrancy?
Is it not true that at a coffee shop in the town center of my city, the ambience of unfenced tables is fabulous? (it is actually quite vibrant, for the record)
The response from my planner colleagues: “It looks messy if the tables area is unfenced.” (Urbanism is ugly!) “People might walk through the tables area.” (horrors!) “The tables might end up on the sidewalks and people will have to walk around them.” (run for your life!)
Typical suburban concerns. Let’s protect ourselves from a quality city by barricading, by protecting against disorder, by sealing things off, by sterilizing, by cocooning.
Sometimes I wonder why I don’t just quit this shameful suburban sprawl job and write a book or run for commission or something…