As expert representatives from various sectors (including energy, green job creation and consumption) have been predicting in droves lately, the bright spot in the current global economic crisis may be the opportunity that it provides for long-awaited growth in forward-thinking, more sustainable policies and innovation.
On Saturday, Roger K. Lewis at the Washington Post contributed an excellent column discussing what the economic downturn could mean for smart growth.
Lewis identifies a new vocabulary of "R-words:"
rethinking, redeveloping, renewing, revitalizing, retrofitting
that are cropping up repeatedly in connection to new suburban development in the region surrounding the U.S. capitol.
He continues, noting that the housing bubble collapse and increasing foreclosure epidemic are now exacting a heavy toll on homeowners in sprawling exurbs in high-growth areas, and offers the following glimmer of hope in smarter planning for the future:
Today's nightmarish economic crisis does teach a lesson. It at last illuminates the consequences of policies and practices yielding costly sprawl. It shows that growth by limitless outward expansion is no longer sustainable, no longer an option.
What's possible and desirable, if not unavoidable in the future, is growth characterized by the R-words. We must transform portions of our cities and suburbs that already enjoy favorable locations and serviceable infrastructure, but are poorly or insufficiently developed. Properties apt to become economically and functionally obsolete should be revived.
Shifting demographics make such transformations more feasible. Traditional families -- parents with children -- may continue to opt for the suburban model. But traditional families represent less than half of all American households. Millions of households are made up of singles, couples or housemates who neither want nor need the traditional suburban home. They tend to embrace a more urban lifestyle, choosing to live in mixed-use environments where they can go shopping on foot, commute via transit and get along without a car.
Investments in roads, transit and utilities must be aimed at enhancing infrastructure quality and performance within metropolitan areas, not at the fringe. Rather than continuing to suburbanize the agrarian landscape, we should urbanize more of the existing suburbs. This is the essence of "smart growth."
Thanks to John Brown at Slow Home for bringing this to our attention.
Photo credit: flickr/mikesoron, Creative Commons license.
My wife and I, no kids, just moved from Oklahoma to Portland OR so we could live that exact life style.
We still have a car (we drove here), but do not need to use it for day to day life.