Friday, March 31, 2006

Smart Growth Principles
Author: WebGoddessCathy
Audience: for those who are too lazy to read a website's "About" section and who think it is weak to place a link in their comments to a website that explains everything
Bibliography: http://www.smartgrowth.org/about/default.asp (direct quotes used without attribution)

(For some history on this post, you might want to read about the war going on.)

Smart Growth is not about how suburbs are bad for cities, specifically. It is about why suburbs (or "sprawl" in general) are no longer in the long-term interest of our cities, existing suburbs, small towns, rural communities, or wilderness areas.

Smart Growth is part of the puzzle of building sustainable communities.

The prevalence of many of our current environmental challenges -- air and water pollution; global warming, habitat fragmentation and conversion -- is in part due to the way in which we have built our neighborhoods, communities and metropolitan areas during the past half-century -- dispersed, inaccessible, and automobile-oriented -- in a word, sprawling.

There are many characteristics of Smart Growth: having a range of housing options, using compact building design, high density living, locating goods, services and transportation within a safe, easy walking distance.

The prevalence of many of our current environmental challenges -- air and water pollution; global warming, habitat fragmentation and conversion -- is in part due to the way in which we have built our neighborhoods, communities and metropolitan areas during the past half-century -- dispersed, inaccessible, and automobile-oriented -- in a word, sprawling.

The farther we have to travel between home and work, work and play, the more likely it is that we will drive. As the distances between trip origins and destinations has increased so has the amount of driving we have done. The end result of all of this driving is that our air quality has suffered. Research has shown that compact, pedestrian and transit friendly communities have a positive impact on air quality by improving travel alternatives.

As we build, we replace our natural landscape -- forests, wetlands, grasslands with streets parking lots, rooftops, and other impervious surfaces which... OK, this is getting really long.

Toronto is not necessarily a Smart Community. However, at the moment, living here currently fulfills more Smart Growth principles than living in many of the suburbs I could live in, while still holding the position I enjoy. (Which, by the way, I feel really good about - I find it a worthwhile endeavor.) Also note that my belief in specific principles varies in intensity.

If your suburb is walkable - if you can walk (or if there are bike paths) safely and easily to the grocery store and a restaurant or whatever services you use frequently - then your suburb is using a Smart Growth principle.

If those places are located close to where you live, there's another Smart Growth principle that they're using!

If your suburb has apartment buildings, townhouses, semis and detached houses in close proximity to each other, then your suburb is using a Smart Growth principle.

If you are paying a lot for your utilities because you have low-density neighbourhoods, you can blame it on your choice to live in the sprawl. On a per-unit basis, it is cheaper to provide and maintain services like water, sewer, electricity, phone service and other utilities in more compact neighborhoods than in dispersed communities.

I believe that Smart Growth is a step in the right direction.

Perhaps you are not able to make the same choices as I am. I chose to rent an apartment and live very frugally in order to save money for a downpayment on an acceptable house.

To preclude the comments - YES, I'm sure you are very frugal too. I am cheap. Extremely cheap (you can ask Alex to corroborate that).

Now, I am going to list some of the ways in which my new house (should the house inspection go well) meets some of the principles I believe in. This does not mean I am trying to tell you how good I am. I simply want to pre-answer the accusation that I am a hypocrite.

  • My house is within easy, safe walking distance to the subway
  • My neighbourhood has mixed use - there are shops nearby (within walking distance)
  • There are a variety of housing options in the area
  • There are green spaces nearby (within walking distances)
  • There is quite a lot of community involvement in Greektown and a strong sense of community ownership

There are improvements that could be made. It's not perfect. But it's the best that I could do with the resources available.

And I really want to be happy with the choice that I've made instead of being accused of making unintelligent statements when I've only made statements that someone else doesn't agree with.

You are welcome to post comment. Please play nice and do not attack me. I don't deal well with it (as has been noted several times and I have confirmed whole-heartedly). Anonymous has the advantage of being, well, anonymous. I do not.

5 comments:

Kat said...

Cath - good luck tomorrow with your home inspection - I am sure it will go great :) I emailed Alex a whole bunch of things to check out, hope it is helpful.

Stuffinghead said...

I am pleased to say that I live in a Smart Community! Although some people consider Aurora the suburbs, it is actually a fairly self-contained town. I live in a townhouse, close to apartments and detached houses. We are surrounded by greenspace and I can walk to a grocery store, drug store, bank and a healthy selection of cute little shops. I can also walk to work in 10 minutes :) Have I mentioned how much I love my little town?!

Kat said...

Actually, come to think of it - ditto, except for the walking to work part. But for the next year, my work will be in my house!

Stuffinghead said...

I don't necessarily think it's about whether you live in the city or out of it, it's about how close you live to amenities and whether or not you use your legs instead of your car. I'm guilty of driving to the corner when I could walk, but since becoming a mother I've been more inspired to stay fit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions bu driving less. It's sad that so many suburbs and small towns are losing their "main streets" because people are too lazy to walk and would rather drive to the big box stores. Just my rant for the day :)

Cathy said...

I know Aurora is part of the Smart Commute Initiative, but I didn't think it was a "Smart Community". The only one I know of is in B.C., but I only know about that one because I read about it in Alternatives magazine, where I first heard about these principles:

http://www.alternativesjournal.ca/issues/293/default.asp

The area I used to live in around Thorncliffe Park Drive is a failed experiment in creating a Smart Community in Toronto. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorncliffe_Park

They did manage to incorporate a couple of SMART principals. There are a variety of housing options and stores within walking distance. But they didn't manage to incorporate the rest.

I didn't think there were any Smart Communities in Ontario. Although I love Aurora as a city, it stops being a Smart Community when transportation becomes inconvenient enough and driving becomes cheap and convenient enough to go the car-route.

I think suburbs are trying to improve, but I think that there are certain laws that communities need to implement to almost force people to keep their downtowns a vital place.

I'm with you: it's so sad when people are too lazy to walk. Mom and Pop shops die that way and we lose our local economy - which is otherwise another characteristic of a healthy community.

I wish our society would discourage the laziness more actively! We need laws, gas prices, traffic, and services that make it economically unviable to drive so much.

I think I need a separate blog on this.