On the Road to Sustainable Urban Development

As Albuquerque holds community planning meetings this week, I’m reminded that cities are places requiring generalists who have the capacity for a wide perspective, the ability to synthesize seemingly disparate bodies of knowledge, and analyze interrelationships.  Cities are places where different facets work together to bestow and amplify advantages for diverse populations.  For instance, LEED or green buildings are even more wonderful if they are strategically located to encourage walking and bicycling access, the two most natural forms of public transportation.  Not only does good location save carbon, but it creates propinquity for improvised human interactions, and spawns creativity by connecting people in shared public spaces.  It changes social geography.  Bicycling is an accelerator that improves our individual lives and every aspect of our lives together.  Arranging for better bicycling in synchronicity with all of urban life speeds up sustainable development and progress in all areas.  If we pay attention and use a beginner’s mind to approach seemingly intractable problems, we can adapt our concepts of the good life, turning what we thought were sacrifices into advantages.  We can transform travel rush hour into time for creativity, communication, learning, exercise, enjoyment.  Think work-live-play hour.  This and more is in our power as we plan our city.  The following quotes offer a reflective context for the enormous opportunities in front of us.

Above Albuquerque

“Because urban density, in itself, is such a powerful generator of environmental benefits, the most critical environmental issues in dense urban cores tend to be seemingly unrelated matters like law enforcement and public education, because anxieties about crime and school quality are among the strongest forces motivating flight to the suburbs.” –David Owen, Green Metropolis, p. 12

Transportation Planner Dan Malouff: “LEED architecture without good urban design is like cutting down the rainforest using hybrid-powered bulldozers.” quoted in Jeff Speck’s Walkable Cities, p 59

“…the city proves that tremendous environmental gains can be achieved by arranging infrastructure in ways that make beneficial outcomes inescapable and that don’t depend on radically reforming human nature or implementing technologies that are currently beyond our capabilities or our willingness to pay.” …”unconscious efficiencies are the most desirable ones, because they require neither enforcement nor a personal commitment to cutting back.” David Owen, p. 44

“For American cities, that will mean first understanding and then extending the benefits of population density and the thoughtful mixing of uses, as well as acknowledging that in a dense city the truly important environmental issues are less likely to be things like the carbon footprints of apartment buildings than they are to be old fashioned quality of life concerns like education, culture, crime, street noise, bad smells, resources for the elderly, and the availability of recreational facilities—all of which affect the willingness of people to live in efficient urban cores rather than packing up their children and fleeing to the suburbs.”  David Owen, p. 319

Rider Road East Mountains Bicycling

Lord James Bryce, from The American Commonwealth, based on his 1880’s touring the American West: “Why in heaven’s name this haste?  You have time enough.  No enemy threatens you.  No volcano will rise from beneath you.  Why sacrifice the present to the future, fancying that you will be happier when your fields teem with wealth and your cities with people?  In Europe we have cities wealthier and more populous than yours, and we are not happy.  You dream of your posterity, but your posterity will look back to yours as the golden age, and envy those who first burst into this silent splendid Nature, who first lifted up their axes upon these tall trees…Why, then, seek to complete in a few decades what the other nations of the world took thousands of years over in the older continents?  Why do things rudely and ill which need to be done well, seeing that the welfare of your descendant may turn upon them?   Why in your hurry to subdue and utilize Nature, squander her splendid gifts?   Why hasten the advent of that threatening day when the vacant spaces of the continent shall have been filled, and the poverty or discontent of the older States shall find no outlet?  You have opportunities such as mankind has never had before, and may never have again.  Your work is great and noble; it is done for a future longer and vaster than our conceptions can embrace.  Why not make its outlines and beginnings worthy of these destinies the thought of which gilds your hopes and elevates your purposes?”  –quoted from Patricia Nelson Limerick’s Something in the soil : legacies and reckonings in the New West

“One dominant set of ideas overstayed its period of usefulness” –Limerick, p. 155

Crest Views

“It’s a test.  It’s a test for the country as a whole, as to whether we have the capacity to state and pursue a truly public purpose.  We’ve come through a generation where we have really denied the existence of a common good or public purpose.   And I think we’ve recognized that that path leads to collapse, the collapse that we’ve seen. And that the way out is to somehow reestablish for ourselves this vision of what we really could be.”  James Galbraith quoted in Bill Moyers, The Conversation Continues, p. 245

“What are our blind spots?  What are the elements of our social identity that limit our vision.”–Limerick, p.  164

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