The New Green: Getting rid of sprawl
Published: Thursday, September 20, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2012 22:09
European nations seem to have much more success than the United States in building ecologically-sustainable communities and cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions. There could be many reasons for this disparity, but perhaps the most significant contributing factor is the suburban sprawl that is endemic to America. Sprawl could very well be the worst thing that ever happened to our communities, in terms of both environmental and social well-being. In suburbia you must drive to get anywhere, causing the average American to pollute much more than their European counterpart. However, it’s not just the pollution that is hurting us – driving everywhere puts a lot of stress on an individual. There’s the cost of gas, the congested traffic, the tremendous amounts of time spent doing simple errands and, arguably worst of all, the loss of a sense of community. This is the very reason that a currently hot topic in the field of urban planning is the concept of density.
Density can be measured in many different ways, but generally it indicates how many people and how much infrastructure exists in a given area. When picturing a high-density area, it might be common to visualize a dirty, crammed city environment. While this may have been true in the past, city planners now consider high density an essential element of smart growth because it eliminates the devastating effects of sprawl. As explained in the 2003 EPA report “Creating Great Neighborhoods: Density in Your Community”: “Jurisdictions that prohibit density create an environment where low-density development is the only option, open spaces are consumed at alarming rates, traffic congestion increases as people drive longer distances between work and home and subdivisions grow up without any town center, any corner store or any sense of community.”
Think of how much more enjoyable life would be if you never had to stress about finding a parking spot or being late for work. Condensing living, shopping and other amenity areas means that cars can be left outside of the community, opening up huge pedestrian areas where people can just hang out. This results in increased human interaction. Instead of driving past the world in our private, individual vehicles, we would all be walking next to each other, bumping into old friends and meeting new people every day. Dense communities also make alternative transportation, such as railways or buses, much more practical and viable. For nature lovers, it’s important to note that living in a dense environment doesn’t have to mean that you don’t have a yard, or any vegetation. In fact, many cities all over the world are learning to incorporate nature into super dense communities through parks, green roofs and rain gardens. And if nothing else, a great argument for high-density living is the creation of a nightlife- something that many suburban communities are currently lacking completely. As put one smart-growth planner, “We want an entity that will not shut down at 5 o’clock.”