Thursday, October 18, 2007

Cul-de-Sacs Then and Now




(N.B. all to the same scale)
The top is c1961 and the middle c1973 and the bottom c1998. What happened in that first dozen years? Planners happened. Which to do think is the nicer place to live? Which way since then has planning pushed us even further? Developers will build the second kind of crap so that they can live in the first kind of neighborhood. No, it is poor planning policies that are responsible.

Oh and just for reference from a mere 3000 miles away, the 1950s version:

There are three things that should most strike you. First FAR or floor area ratios. Second intensity of grading and concurrent uniformity and impermeability. Third the percentage of public to private space.

Woe to us what a half century of planner agenda hath wrought.


b4freedom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
b4freedom said...

It reminds me of the lines of crack that I used to snort back in the 60's & 70's.

Akubi said...

Well, I was watching the dogs for freedom program on nature, but I have to say that layout reminds me of Poltergeist or something along those lines

Akubi said...

Freedom these days amounts to maxi pads.

w said...

Come on now, we live in a time of great personal freedom when we can have personalized credit cards with many different images on them to demostrate how cool we are. Don't forget about those custom skinz for your cell phone. If our founding fathers had known about skinz they would be in the Bill of Rights.

JohnDiddler said...

i see density, a desirable social trend.

Lou Minatti said...

i see density, a desirable social trend.
What's desirable about not having a yard with trees, or even a place to have a vegetable garden? I've never understood the "patio home," as these houses are called here. These people might as well buy a condo.

BL said...

Two major issues here:
- Developers maximizing $/ft^2 of land leads to "planning" like this.
- Exponential population growth.

What would good planning include? Higher density, but with nearby parks, shops and schools within walking distance, accessible public transit. Kiddos don't need their own large private lawn if every block has a small park.

This type of planning doesn't happen - it usually doesn't maximize developer profits.

Unknown said...

thankfully I live in a neighborhood built in late 40's early 50's. the 90's look like you could reach out and touch the next house from your window or here the next couple over having sex. Which isn't really a bad thing unless ....well use your imagination.

Metroplexual said...

Actually Rob, planners in general despise culdesacs (french for bottom of the bag) because it limits the ability for people to walk and limits connectivity. Grids are far preferable and in Minneapolis these have nearly been banned due to snow removal issues as well as better planning.

As far as densities go, that is the choice of planning boards and councils. Planners can guide but not decide. If densities were approved it was probably due to land costs and other issues important to the municipality.

From another perspective, they also lull owners into the false security of thinking noone is driving on the street so kids run free in the street. This has resulted in numerous injuries to children.

Jake said...

That's true Metroplexual, but I love my street's cul-de-sac in Eden Prairie (suburb of Minneapolis for Non-MNers). The planners in the 70s designed ours with a little park in the middle, so it's more of a roundabout so snowplows do just fine on ours. I just love having all these families in my area and knowing all my neighbors. Reminds me of back home in North Dakota.

When I lived in a mixed use development near downtown two years ago, my section 8 neighbor was a crack hoar (literary). I made a few friends in the building, but the section 8 residents were hit and miss, usually miss.

Legion said...

I see that CFC is taking anice little nose dive...way to keep the stock price up Mozillo you piece of shit...

Bilgeman said...


During the 3 years, 4 months, 2 weeks, 3 days, 17 hours, 32 minutes, and 43 seconds I served at Twentynine Palms,(who was counting?), I got rather familar with the Desert Cities of Palm Desert, Cathedral City, Yucca Valley and Joshua Tree.

(Thanks God...I can die now. I've been to Joshua Tree.)

During the 80's, those places were booming, attracting "economic refugees" from the LA basin,(and Federal inmates like myself).

I've mentioned this before...Corona is now "high dollar"...the End is HERE!

But what happens, and it happenned in Fairfax County VA, and I'll wager happens everywhere, is that people recreate the very things that they were escaping from.

So the answer to your question:

"What happened in that first dozen years? "


"WE happenned.".

Winston said...

Since these appear to be L.A. area developments (which would make sense given your location) I think that planning hasn't been the prime driver in the increase in density. It has been economics. If anything, So Cal cities would be denser were it not for urban planners working to prevent dense development.

However, if you're thinking about moving somewhere, you can always move to Galt, CA where planners recently banned any new house on less than 1/4 acre.

student said...

Don't forget about the dangers associated with building houses so close together. Up here in Canada's fast growing sprawl we have had numerous fires that take down multiple houses in the burbs. Not to mention all that vinyl siding and mold issues from throwing up houses as fast as possible.

Peripheral Visionary said...

Bilgeman's point about people recreating the very things they escape from is well put--Arizona's adobe construction, Utah's brick and stone, and Colorado's timber homes have all given way for the massive influx of stucco which has come, not coincidentally, with the California refugees. And that applies to the endless plats of closely-built two-story homes in spirals of extra-wide cul-de-sac streets.

Density is a good solution, but it needs to be built right--high rise, with a lot of parks and shopping, big-city style. It's perfect for people like me who prefer a beautiful view over massive quantities of square feet, and whose lifetime dream does not involve pushing around a lawn mower every Saturday morning.

H Simpson said...

But where does one put the koi (that is a kind of fish) pond???


Come on back to the granite state. In my little town, you need 2 acres min to build.

There is also a rule that you cannot cut the trees 50' from the side property lines so there is 100' of trees minimum between homes.

Yup, the houses are of a good size but still much, much less costly that those ranch style pillboxes your neighbors live in in So Cal. Then again, most do not have the finest granite & stainless steel kitchens to be ordered from Home Depot.

If illegals show up, they are arrested locally and then we wait for ICE or the Mexican embassey to tell us what the devil they are doing here.

Such rules work.


Ogg the Caveman said...

The changes in those pictures are exactly what I would expect to happen from developers acting in their own interests -- maximizing profits by increasing the number of homes per acre. The fact that they can sell the kind of developments you see in those pictures is a simple result of increased population density.

I'm not saying that there isn't some planner conspiracy causing the changes in those photos. Maybe there is, but in the absence of evidence I lean toward the simpler explanation.

Ogg the Caveman said...

BTW, oe of the nastier trends in cul de sac development through the 70s and 80s is to do away with the little paths connecting the heads of opposite cul de sacs. The result is that one might have to walk for miles instead of yards to get to the next street over. That sort of thing is really easy to accomodate if the developer designs it in -- just reduce the width of two lots by a couple of feet each -- but hard to retrofit especially with the kind of density that you see in the 70s and 90s pictures.

If you're the sort who thinks that kids should walk, ride bikes, and play outside with their friends instead of being chauffered over for some quality time with the Xbox, those little paths are a pretty big deal.

Metroplexual said...


You are spot on. BTW, most of these developments are planned by architects and engineers. Planning professionals typically shun any of this stuff (if they are good planners, is that an oxymoron Rob). Grid based development is the preferred template for neighborhood development.

Rob on the other hand prefers to not liv in such a place.

BJ said...

You really want to know what I like about the older houses? Each one is different!! Every house had its own character. It is not rows upon rows of clone houses so similar that if you make one wrong turn somewhere, you end up at a house that looks just like yours... but isn't.

Somehow they managed to have them built more unique and at 2x to 3x gross income. Oh yeah, forgot to mention that they also have room in the backyard and front yard for kids to play. I guess that all child-play has now been restricted to viewing the TV and playing Nintendo?

I grew up on 1+ acre. The lot used to be part of an Orange orchard. We kept the trees, but replaced some of the commercial orange trees with more exotics like navel, mandarin, tangelo and tangerine trees. We also added avocado, guava, lemon, lime, apricot. Nothing like being able to climb into the apricot tree for your lunch.. it doubles as a fort/etc for play.

To keep water bills down, we mulched heavily. No pesticides, used live bugs (lacewing and ladybird beetles).... This was the 60's to 70's. No we weren't hippies, no recreational drugs. House was not a shack.. it was 3500+sq/ft.

The density that houses are now done at, is not for land cost. It is for profit of the builder, who will try to drive every cost down while charging as much as possible for the house. Less land means greater profit margin. Everyone else seems to have gone along with it. Personally, I didn't mind mowing the lawn (I was the one doing it in the family), it wasn't every Saturday (more like every third). I hate rotary mowers.. but reel mowers were ok (but can't get them easily an more).

Lost Cause said...

Cul de sacs are a blight. They make a walkable neighborhood impossible. A grid is preferable, as Mr metroplexual said.

A simultaneous lowering of densities is occurring in many inner cities. Burned out vacant lots outnumber houses on many blocks. Use Google Earth to observe this. It is already probably more economical to reclaim these areas.

PS -- They hate us for our maxi pads.

Peripheral Visionary said...

Density in a lot of neighborhoods is about to go down . . . well, density of occupation, at least. It might take some time for the houses to be removed after their previous tenants (if there ever were any) are gone.

Sweet Cashback said...

Anybody watching the Dow free-fall??

Pleather Murse said...

Nice day for the QID (ultrashort Nas) down about 4%. I usually keep the QID and QQQQ on my screen simultaneously, and try to jump on whichever one looks "cheap" (oversold) for a given time frame. (They mirror each other though of course the QID is 2x weighted and thus the riskier bet.) It's a binary proposition -- it's either one or the other at any given time. I saw several opportunities today but just didn't have the ballz to jump on them. Too tricksy for me. Monday might be an interesting day.

Peripheral Visionary said...

I am. It's not Black Friday--I mean, after all, the Dow is a multiple of what it was back then, this is just a 2.5% drop. But I might call it Dark Grey Friday. Those are some ominous clouds over the horizon.

The more distance the Dow puts with its recent high, the more the momentum riders bail out, and the more the phones at the mutual funds and the hedge funds start ringing asking for redemptions. That, and with the incredible bull run in Asian markets continuing and the dollar still dropping, foreigners have little incentive to move money into the U.S. When the money flows out of the markets en masse, there's very little that the Fed and the investment banks can do about it.

Akubi said...

@Lost Cause
They hate us for our maxi pads.
Hmmm, Freedom maxi pads might be a nice extra touch in the panty bomb Burmese embassies (SFW) campaign...

Lost Cause said...

It always starts on a Friday, and then Monday is really bad. They might as well put the Pepto-Bismol straight into the cocktails tonight.

Lost Cause said...

Look! Over there! Commies under the bed! Evil military running command economies.

Meanwhile, back a the W Ranch, they drop the bombs on weddings.

Only one you can actually do something about.

Rob Dawg said...

I cannot freakin' believe "anniversary" is the excuse du jour. 5 down days, $90 oil, 2/3rds surveyed consumers predicting recession, HPI record declines, homebuilder dead cat bounce, Casey returns, fishnet prices skyrcketing. There is absolutely no reason any sane person could remotely pretend that they weren't warned.

Jake said...

Oh, trust me, I like grid style too, but people are driving way too fast any more and/or not paying attention. My biggest concern when I was looking at more affordable areas of the Twin Cities was all the people who take residential streets because of the terrible traffic & construction. (GUILTY right here too!)

Anonymous said...


Don't forget the 10 year bond yields dropping 32 bps this week. If the Fed cuts again, which I am pretty sure they will, a strong message is being sent that Americans should keep spending and borrowing and there will be no negative consequences.

Bernanke better man up Oct. 31 and hold or raise, otherwise we should all be very, very afraid. It's no longer a "game" of laughing at Casey. It will be a real case of survival. And if the economy morphs into hyper inflation, even you guys with huge nest eggs will be affected as well.

Rob Dawg said...

Planners cannot afford grid style. I know that sounds counterintuitive but grids require public investment and reduce buildable lots for developers thereby reducing fees and taxes.

I am enjoying the discussion and will chime in with new follow up separate topics on both street patterns and density.

sk said...

That was an excellent post Rob. Thank you.

On a tangentially related note, more related to earlier posts actually but anyway, I recently watched some old episodes of "Columbo", even the two pilots shows.

I was struck by how dull, overcast the picture and sky and everything was, fiddled to no avail with the parameters on the zoomplayer software, on the LCD TV, conjectured that perhaps it was just an old copy and then it struck me.. SMOG !

Say what you will about regulation, I tell ya, LA smog in the 90s ( that I personally experienced - Pasadena and that haze on the mtns at that ) was nothing, NOTHING compared to what I saw on those Columbo episodes.


wagga said...

@Dawg 1:34
Gets my vote for most succinct, snarkiest post ever.

Bring on Monday, I've got no skin in that game.

Lost Cause said...

People drive too fast because they have to drive ten blocks when they could have driven two. I am all for giving the indiviulal the choice, and not some BS planner. It is all just subtle unkindness.