This is a topic I've been interested in for a long time and it's nice to see it dealt with. I strongly recommend the writings of Forbes contributor Nathan Lewis
on the subject. A few key observations not mentioned in the MMM article:
- The real key is NARROW STREETS. 70% of streets should be just 10-20' from building to building, basically just wide enough for a single car to crawl through. about 20% can be 2-4 lane arterial streets, and 10% 6+ lane grand boulevards. This is how many cities worldwide were designed before cars became big, and he calls it the Traditional City design.
- With that layout and building heights of no more than 6 stories, you can achieve population densities much higher than anything in common use today, which means there can be TONS OF STUFF: restaurants, shops, train stations, etc. all within a walkable distance from most people's homes.
- Bikes are nice for exercise and touring, but they're really no more necessary for transportation than cars. Worth remembering that it's not pleasant for pedestrians to share space with bikers unless density is very low. The real goal is to make places for pedestrians (i.e. people), not vehicle operators.
- This pattern works equally well for cities of millions, and tiny villages (many old European villages are laid out on this exact plan). There should be no suburbs or sprawl whatsoever, and a clearly identifiable boundary between "the town" and "the surrounding wilderness/farmland".
- Living this way, in apartments/townhouses/SFDR's, mostly without cars, is dramatically, dramatically less resource consumptive than modern American living. The effects of massively fewer cars, massively less pavement, modestly smaller living spaces (let's face it, current suburban McMansions are insane), and way more transportation done by walking and trains, is almost incalculably more efficient in every way than modern Suburban Hell. Most people also find it quite pleasant, especially old people and young people who can't drive.
One other thing MMM rather naively fails to mention is that the suburbs weren't JUST a big conspiracy by car and oil companies. A big part of it in America was the desire to flee from the noise, filth, and crime of the urban cores, and today especially the reason many big-city suburbs are so crushingly expensive is so that the same people who make the cities so dangerous (for the record I live in a major city with a sky-high murder rate, and I know full well there are many neighborhoods where if I tried to go walk around on a warm Friday night I would never be seen again) can't afford to come out to prey on them.
Also, about that final asterisk at the end of the article: for such a supposedly serene and happy person MMM sure can't seem to help himself from throwing snarky little shots at people he disagrees with politically, even when it's not contextually appropriate. Here's some science he may not be familiar with: Harvard professor Robert Putnam, in his seminal paper E Pluribus Unum,
found that diversity is massively destructive of social trust and social capital. Daily up-close experience of diversity not only consistently makes people distrust other races, it even makes them distrust their own race, and adopt a "bunker mentality" of staying in by themselves all the time. Anyone who's lived in a major American metropolis and doesn't have their head up their ass knows that Putnam is 100% right about this. By far the strongest communities in America are in small towns and semi-rural areas, where families often have super-deep, multi-generational roots (for the record this is the true key to strong communities: stability over time, leading to an extremely strong sense of belonging and local identity. By contrast, transplants and brain drain dissolve communities)
Fun side note: Putnam tried to suppress his own research because he found it political incorrect (and apparently that trumps scientific truth), but some people threatened to leak the results if he didn't publish so he was forced to admit the truth. Then he tried to soft-pedal his results by saying "yes, diversity destroys communities and makes people miserable BUT WE MUST EMBRACE IT ANYWAY FOR SOME REASON", but obviously that's just his own bias clashing with the plain facts. His study has since been replicated several times, always with the same results.
I realize MMM is financially well-off enough to live pretty much wherever he wants, so I was interested to see whether he actually chooses to embrace diversity in his own life, or whether he choose to avoid it while hypocritically sneering at people who actually have to deal with it day by day. Turns out Boulder County, CO is 80% non-Hispanic white and only 0.8% black, and the average new home sale price in 2014 was a whopping $350k. Yeah, that's about what I thought.
Anyway, obligatory narrow street photo. Imagine living in a place that looked like this: