January 18 2013

The Placement of the Automobile in Seattle vs. Phoenix

If Phoenix is loops and lollipops, then what is Seattle? After recently moving from Phoenix to Seattle, it is more apparent to me how sprawl has defined Phoenix’s landscape, with its vast amounts of highways interchanges (loops) and cul-de-sacs (lollipops). Disenchantment with the post-industrial city has consequently spawned debates about what constitutes “good” urban design. And this conversion undoubtedly includes the placement of the automobile in our cities.

Suburban Development close to downtown Phoenix

Suburban Development close to Downtown Phoenix

The values of the time during each city’s population expansion reflect the urban form we see today. Since Phoenix was built largely after WWII, the city expanded in a pattern of curvilinear streets and cul-de-sacs with several major highways linking suburban development types. The idea of the contemporary automobile city was en vogue post-WWII, and as a result, today Phoenix is an automobile dependent city. Many developments, even close to downtown, are suburban in character, with large building setbacks and surface parking lots facing the street.

Seattle, on the other hand, saw its boom at the turn of the 20th century, due to the Klondike Gold Rush and the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. During this time, the use of the automobile was not as widespread, and streetcars were a popular mode of travel in the city. Historic street patterns survive today, so you see far less sprawling street types in Seattle compared to Phoenix.

Typical Residential Street in Seattle

Typical Residential Street in Seattle

Personal values drive market real estate, which is shown in the typical residential street in both cities. What size street is comfortable for you to live on? Does your car have to be parked right in front of your place of residence? Should on-street parking be allowed? Previous generations have asked these questions and answered them through their choice in urban design. That’s why in Phoenix, garage doors front many residential streets, while in Seattle, garages are typically accessed from alleys.

Urban lifestyles are a popular trend for Millenials because it offers:

  • More employment opportunities;
  • More social networking;
  • Ability to live without a car.

As demographics shift in the coming years, how do you feel the values of the Millennials determine urban form?

Credits: Photos copyright of Amanda Bosse. Data linked to sources.

Amanda Bosse

Amanda Bosse is a former writer for the GRID. At the time she was writing, she was in the Master of Architecture program at the University of Washington. Growing up in the Midwest, she became interested in the dialogue between the individual structures and the urban fabric (including those structures not typically designed by architects). With a background in both architecture and urban design, Amanda was primarily interested in applying architectural thinking to solve larger scale design problems.

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This entry was posted on Friday, January 18th, 2013 at 9:36 am and is filed under Architecture, Housing, Land Use, Social/Demographics, Transportation, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


5 Responses to “The Placement of the Automobile in Seattle vs. Phoenix”

  1. Lucas Lindsey Says:

    Nice post. In key ‘hoods Phx is changing/will change. It holds potential to be preeminent lab for suburban retrofit.

  2. Amanda Bosse Says:

    Lucas, I definitely agree with you that Phoenix has the potential for suburban retrofitting. There is a significant amount of vacant and underutilized land (surface parking lots, etc) adjacent to the light rail that is perfect for infill development.

  3. Lucas Lindsey Says:

    Central to 7th Ave, even 15th, along Camelback will see a lot of that lightrail related infill in the next few years. Investment is starting to heat up around there. Particularly with the new Beefeaters redevelopment into The Newton. Momentum is definitely building in places like that.

  4. Lorne Daniel (@LorneDaniel) Says:

    Good post, Amanda. The cities certainly reflect their eras and not enough can be said about the virtues of early 20th century grid street patterns.
    Another factor that is significant in most of the world’s most ‘livable’ cities is the influence of geography. Many of the best cities are actually constrained by geography – they are on islands, or on waterfronts or up against mountains that limit their sprawl. As a result, those cities grow up instead of out. In the case of Seattle and Phoenix, I can see Seattle as having benefited from its geography, whereas Phoenix has sprawled across the desert.

  5. Robert Poole Says:

    Great post Amanda. Lorne, I agree with your point. If you look at cities in just the U.S., the heavy majority of them are located on the coast or near a large body of water. Amanda, the Millenials (us) are certainly not living the same lifestyle as that of our parents. Homeownership is becoming less important, we’re more mobile yet we don’t want to drive cars as much and we value density, meaning being in close proximity to one another as well to jobs and retail. It’s excited to see this new urbanism being adopted in major cities. Frankly, that is how we are going to create sustainable regions. But in achieving this, it almost seems like we have to undo a lot of what we have already done. Or at least just fill in the land we have already use with creative, mixed-use development.

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