Durable Growth

Building islands of urbanism

150617 Amsterdam Island HousingWhile concluding my recent cogitations on the alternative SMART station site for Petaluma, I offered some thoughts about the future of urban growth.

I suggested that (1) if a city has grown outward to a firm urban growth boundary, (2) if the city has also grown upwards to conform to a reasonable development transect, and (3) if the demand for housing nonetheless remains high, then the next solution could be to create well-bounded pockets of urbanism at a distance from the city, far enough away for the new communities to have separate identities, but close enough for transit connections to the original city to be effective.

In the earlier post, I recounted an anecdote about proposing that type of development for Tolay Lake Park southeast of Petaluma.  In a subsequent email exchange with a North Bay architect, I acknowledged that a more likely location for development springing outwards from Petaluma would be around the existing west county communities of Valley Ford or Bloomfield, or perhaps around the Coast Guard training center in Two Rock.

In essence, I was proposing islands of urbanism surrounded by land that would remain in its native or agricultural state.

Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Amsterdam was following exactly that path, down to a literal interpretation of “islands”.

Finding that new sites for residential development on the mainland were too far away to be effectively integrated into the metropolis, Amsterdam turned its attention to the adjoining Lake Ijmeer.  The resulting plan, which is now being implemented, calls for ten new islands to be constructed in the lake, all of which would be well-filled with residential development and connected to the core of Amsterdam by tram.  (The photo is of the early development on the lake and is from the linked City Labs article on the project.)

I think the concept is inspired and will be eager for updates.

But that doesn’t mean that I’d propose it for the Bay Area.  As much as I love the redevelopment proposed for Treasure Island and expect that it will be an exceptional place to live, I don’t think that it would possible to replicate the filling of Treasure Island today.  One, I’m not sure that it would be a good idea environmentally.  Two, even if an environmentally sound concept could be conceived, I doubt it could be approved through the CEQA process, where even good ideas often go to die.

But even if the concept of actual islands may not have application to the Bay Area, the concept of well-defined compact new communities of moderate density remains a valid model.  We may still be years away from truly needing those new communities, but that means that we can watch and learn from the Amsterdam experience.  I’m intrigued by the idea of “islands” of urbanism surrounded by farm land.

Next time, I’ll write of a data point on the financial viability of cities across which I first stumbled while chatting with the barkeep in a suburban Pittsburgh pub.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. – Dave Alden (davealden53@comcast.net)

Written by Dave Alden

Dave Alden

Dave Alden is a Registered Civil Engineer. A University of California graduate, he has worked on energy and land-use projects in California, Oregon, and Washington. He was also the president of a minor league baseball team for two seasons. He lives on the west side of Petaluma with his wife and two dogs. The blog that he writes can be found at http://northbaydesignkit.blogspot.com.

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