When environmentalists talk about the sustainability/green movement, many times you hear two different solutions:
One side discusses the benefits of urban density. Everyone must live in dense walkable areas that stimulate community connectivity. We need to reduce automobile dependence by living close to most of our daily services and ideally, close to our jobs as well. This is the best and most logical solution to our current problem.
The other side uses terms such as “locavore” and “permaculture”. This side discusses the benefits of everyone producing their own food. Everyone should have a beehive, three chicken and a vegetable patch in their backyard. Everything you eat, or possibly even use, should be produced within ten miles of your home. Native plants and animals can and should be utilized for food, instead of exotic and foreign plants and animals. Off-grid solar panels, rainwater harvesting and natural design should be top priorities.
This weekend, I spent a large amount of time on one of these backyard production sites. It was fascinating and amazing. I learned about all the valuable flora and fauna that exists in the deserts around the city of Tucson. I drank delicious prickly pear lemonade. I was one with the Earth.
My average day takes place in a more urban setting. I bike to school and spend the day walking around the University of Arizona, one of the densest sections of Tucson. I survive pretty well without a car and get to have interesting unique human interaction all day, every day.
Here is the question: which method or technique is better? Which one is better for me? The environment? The community? Humanity in general?
These are important questions that are partially covered in the book Green Metropolis by David Owen. This book discusses the many benefits that result from living in a urban setting. In fact, Owen goes as far as saying that the green ideal of “living in the country” has resulted in suburbia itself. It makes sense: everyone wanted to live out side of “the city”, so they created a place that is not quite urban, but not quite rural: suburbia.
This argument would suggest that the people who support Solution #2 are actually stimulating the growth of suburban sprawl. This may be true, but this issue is not just black and white.
Most modern suburban dwellers have very little connection to the natural world, the origin of their food, the benefits of sustainability and the concept of “walkability” in general. Then again, many urban dwellers are in the same boat. In general, few people understand the interconnected systems and supply lines that keep us alive and wealthy.
Though I agree with many tenants of this book, the key to finding great solutions to our long term problems are education.
There are no high school classes called “urban planning”, “sustainability”, “the modern economic systems”, “the future of urban form”, etc. Many of these classes do not exist in college as well.
Maybe if people understood the connection between sprawl, the natural world and the innate desire for nature among humans through education, there would be more momentum for creating an urban system that benefits everyone instead of just car owners.