Friday, March 28, 2014

Liberty, a Ten Minute Town?


Traffic through the city is placed underground.
Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to visit and live in a small city in Belgium called Louvain La Neuve. There I witnessed a presentation by the visitors' bureau on the design and development of the town. It's truly a remarkable city, idyllic in many ways and likely a perfect example with which small towns with strong community connections should consider as they move forward with design.

The most remarkable part of Louvain La Neuve is their rejection of sprawl. In fact, the entire city was designed so that the core business area was within a ten minute walk from most residential areas. I loved this idea and felt a town like Liberty should consider such a vision. They explained that from the original design, most people are willing to walk instead of drive if its under ten minutes, so government visionaries designed the city around this idea.

When companies want to open a store in Louvain La Neuve, they are
asked to provide a piece of artwork for residents to enjoy.
In fact more interesting is that the business core is fire-walled from direct access by vehicles to encourage walking, a complete reversal to our Roman ideals. To reach the opposite side of the city drivers are encouraged to circle a peripheral road as there is no direct (line of sight) roads. Some Americans may see this as a nuisance, but I can assure you its a far easier approach to community, environment, and pedestrian safety than our current methodology in Liberty. The benefits are plenty, including increased commerce (because people actually walk by the businesses and enter them), a healthier life-styles for citizens, reduced environmental impact from cars, and reduced costs for government because there are less roads and intersections to maintain. A man-made lake was even placed at the center of town so residents could promenade (French term for Sunday Stroll). It's as though city leaders are attempting to simply create happiness among its citizens, rather than simply disappointment every time you need to go shopping.

Notice how major roads circle the city rather than breach it.
Clearly Liberty, considering it's an established town would be a hybrid of our current model and a Ten Minute Town if leaders so chose to move in this direction, but small changes could be made to move closer to this vision. The goal, in my opinion is to look at every road currently within our urban core and surrounding areas to see if its completely necessary. If it's not, converting it to foot traffic use is a perfect way of improving the city while reducing costs. A perfect example is Old US-421 and Route 49 approaching the town from the south. These two arteries could be reduced to a single main road. Furthermore the portion of Swannanoa Street that currently passes through downtown could be closed permanently to vehicles to create open social spaces, and room for outdoor dining a cafes. Returning the town-square / public market concept to the public (Liberty once had a town square) seems like a redeeming thing to do and Louvain La Neuve provides leaders with an excellent template moving forward for town growth as they ask themselves if future decisions fit into a Ten Minute Town?