Thursday, April 12, 2012

Is Sprawl by Another Name Any Greener?

Suburban neighborhood developers want a piece of the "green" market. They're building sprawling neighborhoods far from city centers and declaring them "green and sustainable" by virtue of the fact that the National Association of Home Builders says they are.

For example, the 95-acre "The Lakes of Orange" outside of Cleveland, Ohio boasts that it is "Ohio's FIRST Green Certified Residential Community." That means that it satisfied the requirements set by the NAHB's Green Building Program. But if you live there, and happen to work in downtown Cleveland, it's a 19-mile drive each way. There's a bus stop a 15-minute walk from the neighborhood entrance, but since the bus doesn't use the interstate, it takes three times as long to get downtown. It's also a purely residential and recreational development, so you have to drive to buy groceries or meet a friend for lunch. Is this really green living?

As Angie Schmitt points out in her blog, mixed-use developments like "Saxony" outside of Indianapolis are an improvement over the bedroom community model. But sprawl is sprawl. And so long as public policy makes it cheaper to build on farmland than in-fill locations in urban centers, these new developments will funnel more cars onto our already choking highways.

Monday, April 2, 2012

How to Transform Transportation in a Hurry

I often think it would take generations for Atlanta to build a world-class transportation system, one that includes a comprehensive network of roads, bike lanes, bus, and rail. But then I see examples of places that are making great strides quickly.

One such example is Boston, which Bicycling Magazine named one of the "Worst Biking Cities" three times from 1999 to 2006 (New York Times 2009). The city hired a former Olympic cyclist as "bike czar" and by 2011 had installed 50 miles of bike lanes and made other bike-friendly changes. The League of American Bicyclists now gives Boston a "Silver" (third) level award and ranks Massachusetts as the ninth most "Bicycle Friendly State" in the country. Not bad considering not a single East Coast community earned a "Platinum" (first) or "Gold" (second) level award.

Another impressive example is Medallin, Columbia. Two decades ago, it was the poster child of drug-related violence and earned the notorious ranking of most dangerous city in the world. Today they have shed their violent image and are becoming known for their sustainable transportation system.
"Over the last decade, Medallin has worked hard to change its image. The local government is investing in education and social programs, and the city recognizes the importance of providing an integrated public transportation system as the backbone of these projects."
See a video of Medallin transportation transformation.

How have these cities done this? By committing to sustainable transportation from the top down. One of the striking things you will see in the video about Medallin is just how bought-in to the idea of alternative transportation every government official is. I would love to see that kind of commitment here.