One of the reasons why high density development in cities is possible and is higher than in small communities is that city buildings can be accessed by a variety of transportation modes. .
If the personal car was the main source of transportation in large cities, if not the only source as it is small towns and suburbs, the parking requirements alone would tremendously reduce the densities of large cities. The cost of providing sufficient parking would, of course, reduce high density development in most areas of the city.
Communities like Shorewood are finding that even limited increase in densities can only be accommodated by providing ample parking, moving them in the direction of parking structures. Their costliness operate against even the slightest increase in densities.
High density requires increase in sidewalk walking, as ground floor businesses are accessed by pedestrians. Easy access to parking on the other hand encourages back door access, also reducing the number of sidewalk walkers; therefore, also reducing retailers' possibilities to prosper.
Increased auto traffic on the streets then makes pedestrian crossing of streets even more difficult, further discouraging sidewalk walking.
Shops that require a lot of walking traffic will not be able to operate too successfully in Shorewood. Shorewood's high cost of land is reflected in the rents, therefore, only those shops that can afford high rents and that do not require a lot of walk-in trade can make it.
It follows then that the conventional approach to redevelopment is not going to be conducive to the best atmosphere for increasing the attraction of shops, of pedestrians and of shoppers.
What is needed is an approach that will override most of these forces for these economic forces operate against the development of a good and active community center. The redevelopment of our community center must be based on basics. What makes a community center work?
If we don't know what a community center is or what makes it pay off, then working with the pay off elements by themselves is in sense working with the effect and not the cause, the symptoms and not the disease.
Can we fulfill the objectives of developing a real community center? A real center is likely to have all of its coffee shops, its restaurants and those other commercial activities that draw people at its center. The type of bookstore that Shorewood had until recently would be at that center.
Giant grocery stores, appliance shops and drug stores don't work. All the people are walking inside of those places and they require lots of parking and spreading, therefore, low density. Once we discover what works, we'll be on our way. Can we really discover what makes a community center? Only time will tell.
(After having written this piece, this morning, I read an article in this week's Time. On page 54, there's a piece on suburban sprawl and on development and building density. This may or may not apply to what I've written, but if you've read this far, you might also be interested the Time's article).