APA member Nicole Foletta, AICP, is passionate about communities enabling residents to live car-free. She recently co-authored Car(bon) Communities: Inspiring Car-Free and Car-Lite Urban Futures that highlights European and U.S. communities working to reduce dependency on cars. In a recent email Q&A, Foletta explains her motivation for writing the book and how she came to her career as a transportation planner.
What was your motivation for writing Low Car(bon) Communities: Inspiring car-free and car-lite urban futures?
While living in Europe, I was contracted by ITDP (Institute for Transportation and Development Policy) to do a series of case studies to document best practices in Europe with applications to the U.S. and elsewhere. I was excited about the case study-based approach, and the opportunity to show that new developments with a focus on reduced car dependence do exist and have been successful. Each case study tells the story of the circumstances and players that enabled the community to develop, and emphasizes that none of the examples is perfect – each development has lessons to learn, both good and bad.
The book includes seven case studies, but only one is of a U.S. city. How did you decide upon the cities to feature? Why is only one U.S. city included?
The initial scope of the project with ITDP was to document European case studies. However, for the second phase of the project that resulted in the book, I was able to include a U.S.-based case study and update the lessons learned for a U.S. market. For this phase of the project I recruited my co-author Jason Henderson, a professor of Urban Geography at San Francisco State University. He is an expert in the planning and politics of the Market and Octavia Plan in San Francisco, the subject of our U.S.-based case study. In particular, I think this case study provides a transferable opportunity for other U.S. cities of converting urban sections of freeways, particularly those nearing the end of their useful lives, into sustainable urban neighborhoods.
What challenges do U.S. cities face in reducing car dependence? How can planners help facilitate this change?
With growing demands on constricted urban spaces, it is essential for cities to reevaluate the use of urban land and whether space is better used to build communities or thoroughfares to travel across them. In the case of the Market and Octavia Plan, removal of a section of a damaged freeway opened up the opportunity for redevelopment in an area with good transit infrastructure close to jobs and services to sustain residents. Creation of a structured plan with explicit goals to reduce car dependence helped to guide the development. Intention and master planning are key, especially when planners need to make difficult and sometimes controversial decisions such as reducing parking and implementing maximum parking requirements.
What do you hope a reader will take away after finishing your book?
There is a growing demand for low car(bon) communities and change is possible. There are opportunities within our existing urban fabric to make changes that will help facilitate reduced car dependent lifestyles.
What are you working on next?
For now I’m focusing on getting the word out about this book. I also recently started a new job at BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), a regional transit agency in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’m excited to work on facilitating improvements to our transit system and the land uses around it, which will help to enable more people in our region to lead lives with less dependence on cars.
Why did you decide to become a transportation planner?
My initial inspiration to become a transportation planner was actually quite in line with the inspiration behind this book. I myself wanted to be able to live car-free and wanted to help improve alternative forms of transportation so that more people would have options besides driving. I’m happy to say that I am still living car-free, in a walkable neighborhood near transit. I’m hoping to make changes to enable more people to have these options as well.
Nicole Foletta, AICP, completed a dual master’s degree at UC Berkeley in the departments of City and Regional Planning, and Transportation Engineering. She has since gained professional experience in sustainable transportation planning across the world including as a Fulbright Scholar at CENIT, a transportation research center in Barcelona, Spain; as a Program Coordinator for the non-profit organization ITDP (Institute for Transportation and Development Policy) in Hamburg, Germany; as a Senior Transportation Planner for the transportation consulting firm Fehr & Peers in San Francisco; and currently as a Principal Planner with BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) in Oakland. Throughout her career, Nicole has had a focus on using high quality data to identify projects that benefit the local community while conserving resources and limiting our impact on the environment.