The question has become a well-worn one in urban planning circles. Ditto for the answers commonly proffered: zoning laws need to be relaxed, planners and developers need to be more sensitive to the needs of citizens, yada yada yada. The first answer is true enough: we're never going to attain walkability as long as zoning codes require segregated uses, large lots, and other pedestrian-hostile features.
|Credit: Philip Kamrass, Times Union|
A formal planning and development process can give us mixed uses, but it can't give us the kind of neighborhoods we most need. It can give us contrived architecture, chain stores, and predictability, but it can't give us authenticity. Nor, I would argue, is it likely to impart local economic benefit. Formal development doesn't generate wealth for the people already living in a neighborhood; instead, it replaces them with a different group of people who acquired their wealth elsewhere. The residents who remain may have a newfound convenience of walking to a chain store, but that store sends wealth out of the community every day.
What will it take for more mixed-use neighborhoods to be built? Less zoning, fewer developers, and more mom and pop.