by Christi Elflein
I became a city planner because I wanted to marry my love for cities and my love for the environment. I am not your typical “environmentalist.” I am petrified of most animals and the only tree I hug is my Christmas tree before we send it to the curb. Yes I do recycle and use a tote bag for groceries, but these token gestures do not equate to sustainability. I want, like most people, to live a luxurious life. The key is in figuring out how to live luxuriously and sustainably at the same time and on a middle class budget.
The parts of our cities designed post World War II are designed for the automobile and are thus innately unsustainable. This is where most of us live and herein leys the problem. Even if we put solar panels on our roofs and drive a Prius, we are still not living sustainably. We still have to drive everywhere, which leads to more pavement, stormwater runoff, and water contamination; more gas used and air contamination; and more roads and parking lots, the loss of nature, and thus land contamination. These things lead to other horrible things like the dependence on oil and thus national security issues and our overweight, over driven kids…but I’ll leave that for another day. The topic of discussion here is that our modern cities and suburbs are not designed to be sustainable.
Building a green LEED certified house or building is important, but the framework of the neighborhood where we build that building is much more important. Neighborhoods and cities that are connected and compact promote sustainable living allowing alternative transportation options – places where you can live, work and play without having to get into your car. Now I’m not a car hater, I just think that a car should not be my only option to get from A to B.
In a car dominated society, your daily commute resembles photo group A. You leave your house, drive to work on Anywhere, USA collector streets and a crowded interstate, to an office park, where you park and walk through a sea of parking to your building. This is definitely not sustainable, and I would argue not a preferable lifestyle either.
In a connected well designed society, your daily commute could look like photo group B. You leave your house, drive, walk, ride or bike on networked streets to an urban mixed use area, where you can park your bike next to your building or disembark from your train nearby, and walk down an interesting sidewalk to your building or any other destination that may strike you. This is where the luxurious lifestyle I prefer and the sustainable lifestyle I should lead are one in the same.
I plan to use this blog to highlight good and bad examples of urbanism. I’ll use photographs to explain where a place went wrong or what they are doing right. I look forward to everyone’s opinions, ideas and comments. Thank you Yahya for the opportunity.
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