In a recently published report titled Urban Design and the Environment: Highway 61/Red Rock Corridor, Professor Lance Neckar of the University of Minnesota Department of Landscape Architecture, discusses the ‘genetic code of sprawl’—a term used in this report to describe all the legal and formal frameworks and the resulting systematized structures that create a sprawled suburban landscape. This genetic code, Neckar explains, is embedded into the designs, planning practices, and policies that encourage conventional, suburban-style development and is embedded deeply in the culture of the Twin Cities region.
The report, which is the 13th in a series of the Transportation and Regional Growth (TRG) Study, is a combination of two studies (Task 1 and Task 2 and 3) on the Highway 61/Red Rock Commuter Rail Corridor; Red Rock commuter service is proposed to serve communities from Hastings, Minnesota to Minneapolis, with a principal station in St. Paul. The Task 1 portion describes the baseline conditions related to subdivision-scaled growth in the corridor, with particular concentration on Cottage Grove, one of the station sites, and considers current plans for the downtown St. Paul Union Depot.
Task 1 findings illustrate there is a lack of design, planning, and policy integration across transportation, land use, and urban and suburban design in the corridor and the communities served by it. According to Neckar, this lack of integration produces, paradoxically, a homogeneous pattern of dispersed growth or sprawl. This report offers designs for new, alternative patterns of regional growth, both urban and suburban, in broad corridors served by commuter rail service and also demonstrates the designs’ effects on two principal problems of sprawl as it relates to the street and highway network: the unstratified, single-mode transportation infrastructure designed for peak demand, and the degradation of environmental resources, especially water.
The Task 2 and 3 study specifically focuses on issues relating to the relationship between transportation and the environment. Also discussed is the need for design and institutional integration of objectives across investments in transit services at a regional scale (such as commuter rail), public space (such as streets and parks), and the long-term value of developed private space, especially in suburbia. Several innovative institutional propositions are raised in the final chapter of this report, all suggestive of greater cooperation across units of government in decisions about infrastructure provision in concert with land use, zoning, and urban design decisions.
This report goes on to explain the critical design and institutional variables that might alter this genetic code of sprawl which has caused exponential growth in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and has threatened surface and groundwater quality and groundwater quantity. The study findings demonstrate that VMT and water quality could be positively affected by alternative subdivision designs. The designs illustrated in the Task 2/3 study investigate forms of subdivisions different from the current baseline designs shown in Task 1 and pay particular attention to integrating commuter rail, street design and networks, land use, station area design, and hydrological infrastructure.
The report is available online or by contacting the Center for Transportation Studies.