Fixing A City's Economy Two Feet At A Time

Jul 22, 2013

An artist's conception of a traffic roundabout in Brattleboro, Vermont.
Credit Institute for Quality Communities / University of Oklahoma

Nearly 70 years after the post-World War II suburban explosion, some developers and civic innovators argue that urban centers can increase their livability by going beyond the lower limits of what’s functional.

Dan Burden is the co-founder of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute in Port Townsend, Washington. He’s studied and documented the conditions for pedestrians and cyclists in more than 2,000 town centers.

Burden spoke during a recent placemaking conference sponsored by the University of Oklahoma’s Institute for Quality Communities.

“We’ve always built cities around transportation, starting with our feet,” Burden says. “Today, we’re still going to build our cities around transportation. They’ll be active. They’ll be healthier, but if we don’t spend the money on doing transportation right, we will further destroy our economy.”


Burden cited La Jolla Blvd. in San Diego as an example of an efficient redesign of infrastructure. He says the city reduced the road from five lanes to two, and replaced traffic signals with roundabouts. The average speed on the 23,000-car-per-day thoroughfare dropped from 40 miles per hour to 19 miles per hour, but people still made it to their destination in less time.

“Now the stores are making at least 30 percent more money,” Burden says. “This is a huge moneymaker for the city. People now come down in the evenings to socialize.”

Burden says understanding the complexities of an economy built on a place will attract jobs to communities and bring the most opportunity and wealth to the greatest number of people.