Common Complaints of City Living

By Emy Louie. Edited by MM.
Versatile in many ways, apartments have their appeal.  Apartments come in all different real estate forms: condominium, townhouse, hotel, dormitory, penthouse suite, brownstone, etc.  Also, apartments offer economies of scale in construction, maintenance, operation, heating, etc.  For example, a single family house takes 17 times more infrastructure and resources to build, heat, cool and maintain than apartments.

From a sustainability standpoint, apartments that are walkable to a transit stop and/or to a grocery store have added benefits.  If one locates an apartment within walking distance of a transit stop, commuting times via transit can be much shorter than driving an automobile.  In addition, if you live convenient to your job, you can walk to work also.

Despite the benefits of an apartment within walking distance to a transit stop, here are some responses as to why we don’t do it more and my answer to each point.

Even if I live near a transit stop or live within walking distance to the grocery store, where I am heading to is not accessible by foot, bus, or train. So I still need to use my automobile anyway.

From a sustainable town planning standpoint, transit can be designed with centers so people don’t have to go far from the stop to get to the necessities of life. This is called a Transit Oriented Development (TOD).  In a TOD, you are able to walk, either from your home or from a transit stop to all businesses that generate foot traffic – the grocery stores, restaurants, post office, health care, library, park and shopping.

A good transit network, shown in green, links up to other transit stops, called Transit Oriented Development that provide the necessities of living close by. Note: do not place apartments, crossed out in red, outside of the transit network.

A pattern of many places, with exception of industrial uses and rural farms, convenient by foot from a transit stop which is connected by bicycle, bus, train, car and plane, makes for a good transit system.  This is the key! If any piece of the network is missing, the transportation network is weak from a transit standpoint.

At one time, the United States from the 1890s to the 1940s, boasted a strong transit network composed of streetcars .  This network of streetcars expanded the areas of what people knew by foot alone. It created a network of transit stops.

Our town doesn’t have a good transit system.

After World War II, the interstate freeway system further expanded the sense of distance. Thus, many destinations in the suburbs cannot be accessed by foot, bike, bus, or train–only by automobile.  And we live with the consequences now.

Some of us, with no job to drive to and still paying the automobile bills, or with automobile ownership and maintenance increasingly costly find ourselves stuck in the automobile- dependent suburbs.  Some of us just want other ways to move around.  We want freedom of transportation choices.

Maybe one of these days, the U.S. government will pay most of us to move into a walkable community, into town or near a transit stop, so we don’t emit so much pollution with our cars and single family house lifestyle. Similarly, suggestions for relocating people in response to the challenges imposed by climate change are mentioned on page 129 of Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth by Mark Hertsgaard.  Compared to the rest of the world, Americans, even poor Americans, live lavishly, as only 6 percent of the world’s population owns a car.

With eminent domain and other land re-appropriation techniques, the government has done more drastic things before. Maybe suburban sprawl will turn back into farmland and forests, as they were prior to World War II. The people who chose to live in the suburbs could pay for the highways via tolls. The rest would hopefully find a more sustainable way to live – apartments within walking distance of transit stops.

I like to see a lot of trees.

Trees are not limited to the suburbs and countryside.  Also tourist destinations, these notable cities, convenient by foot, boast good parks and open urban spaces.  They include cities such as Barcelona, Rome, Honolulu, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago.

Place and Design Good Parks and Green Spaces Around Apartments.

These places demonstrate how towns plan parks, which have public spaces for people to pool the resources of maintenance and planning.  Good parks in cities are convenient, relaxing and safe. Good parks and greenery go hand in hand with good town living.  Unfortunately, many towns are concrete jungles with poorly designed parks.  Towns benefits from better parks that offer fresh air and sun: places to picnic, rest, relax, read, walk the dog and socialize.

Rittenhouse square in Philadelphia works well as a park in a residential area.  Big enough to rest and relax in, and to walk the dog; small enough that you won’t get lost in there and you can walk through the park to get to the opposite site.  The trees offer shade, but not too much shade so the people from residential buildings that bound the perimeter of the park, look onto the park, acting as around the clock security guards.

Town living is too much for me. It is noisy and dirty. Too many things going on. Too unsafe.

Have Cars Make Less Noise.

People complain about the over-stimulation in towns. Noise pollution, whether in town or suburb, taxes the ears and nervous system. Perhaps have a rule that truck, taxi and automobile drivers not honk for every single annoyance.  That would spare our ears in the biggest of cities. Add to that, internal combustion engines create much more noise compared to electric vehicles.

People’s voices contribute to another form of noise pollution which I will go into in some detail.  In this case, etiquette in shared public spaces is addressed to decrease noise pollution.

Take for example, Tokyo, where people don’t horn honk, at least when I was there in 2008, and they behave quietly in public places.  Compare the opposite, when people behave inappropriately in public places. Imagine talking the same volume, the same way wherever we go, whether at the beach, at the park, on the streets, at dinner in a restaurant, on the bus or train or in a hotel room or on the phone.

Have Proper Etiquette in Public Places.

Some people talk too loud in public places at inappropriate situations, places and times. Look no further than cell phone etiquette, the latest and greatest social faux pas.

For etiquette in public spaces where you share space with many other people, modulate the volume and content of conversation and behaviors depending on:

  • Purpose of activity
  • Place of activity
  • Time of day of activity
  • Time of week of activity, weekend or weekday

I know I go into detail about this, but some of us need rules and reminders.

Recommended noise levels

  • Quiet, 40 decibel
  • Quiet conversational, 50 decibel
  • Conversational, 60 decibel
  • Loud, rallies and musical events, above 70 decibel

On the beach or in the park, in the middle of the day,

  • by yourself or with small group. People are relaxing and reading. Noise level: quiet.
  • big, organized event with a television crew. Noise level: loud.

On the streets,

  • in the middle of the weekday, middle of the day. People walking all around you.  They think and prepare to do their next thing. Noise level: Quiet conversational.
  • any night, from 10pm to 7am, except holiday weekends.
    Saturday and Sunday mornings from 7 am to 10 am. Noise level: Quiet.
  • Halloween and New year’s eve. Noise level: Conversational.

On the bus or train,

  • during the day, morning to sundown. People sitting next to you rest, relax, sleep, read. Go to the lounge car or speak quietly. Noise level: Quiet.
  • on a Saturday night, during a holiday day night such as New Year’s Eve or Halloween, normal talk, as if you were at a restaurant or on the phone at home and having an engaging conversation. Noise level: conversational.

Place Elegant Lights Near Well Used Urban Parks and Streets.

Regarding a sense of safety, having nicely lit streets at night do help increase the sense of safety tremendously.  Elegant lights at night make for romantic streets.

Hopefully, you understand the benefits of apartment living within walking distance of a transit stop.  In order to enjoy this, we must plan towns and parks better and have appropriate etiquette in public places.  It’s a matter of paying more attention to certain things.

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