For greater environmental protection, poly-dimensional development could be key

Development is by no means unidimensional – it is anything but. In fact, development is “poly-dimensional.” But, based upon the way my life has been shaped, one would not think so.

Smart Growth, Emeryville, Calif.
Smart Growth, Emeryville, Calif.

So, now I am left to wonder how life for me would be different, presumably, had development – of employment, housing, industry, infrastructure, etc., or the built environment – been different from what I grew up with and grew accustomed to.

Nearly my entire life has been spent living in suburbia. Living the lifestyle one comes to accept and gets used to the particulars of such living, traffic congestion and gridlock being two. Believe me, I know the routine well.

With that said, I can’t help but conjure up images in my head of the early 1970s when in my late teens I was working one my first jobs in, of all places, Columbia, Maryland, a unique for its time development located roughly 20 miles from my Baltimore home.

What made Columbia stand out, was that it was a community unto itself. Call it a mini city, a city completely self-contained. Never having given this particular type of development much thought, that is, until now anyway, in hindsight, maybe the developer was way ahead of his time in terms of what development-wise is transpiring right now? Meanwhile, I just took it all for granted.

Now, 40 years later, development styles similar in concept are growing in popularity, every day becoming more and more common. What we’re talking about here is “smart” development, known more familiarly as smart growth.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has even gotten in on the act. The EPA appears to have a significant part.

Case in point: A recently released EPA report titled: Our Built and Natural Environments: A Technical Review of the Interactions among Land Use, Transportation, and Environmental Quality, “summarizes trends in land use, buildings, travel behavior, population growth, and the expansion of developed land. It then discusses the environmental consequences of these trends, such as habitat loss, degradation of water resources and air quality, urban heat islands, greenhouse gas emissions and global climate change, and other health and safety effects,” the EPA in its June 17, 2013 “EPA Report Details How Development Can Impact Public Health, Environment” news release expressed. Wait, there’s more.

“Environmental impacts linked to building and development patterns include:

  • At least 850,000 acres of lakes, reservoirs, and ponds and 50,000 miles of rivers and streams are thought to be impaired by stormwater runoff.
  • Although technology has reduced per-car vehicle emissions, an approximate 250-percent increase in vehicle miles travelled since 1970 has offset potential gains.
  • Transportation is responsible for 27 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions; residential and commercial buildings contribute 18 percent and 17 percent, respectively.

“The report concludes by describing ways to reduce such effects,” the EPA in the release notes. “Strategies include safeguarding sensitive areas; focusing development in built-up areas and around existing transit stations; building compact; mixed-use developments; designing streets that are safe for all users; including walkers and bikers; and using green building techniques.”

Smart growth, Denver, Colo. style
Smart growth, Denver, Colo. style

As I see it, smart growth development is not just about considering building, land use, transportation and the environment as an integral unit rather than separate, isolated pieces. In adopting and applying the smart growth development approach, more effective and efficient land use incorporating greater diversity in transportation, building, housing that is cost-efficient and cost-effective and, along with this, offering greater protection to the environment, can result. What’s more, in bringing more and varied housing choice, having the potential to locate living and working closer together, this, in turn, leading to reduced driving and increased reliance on walking, biking and public transportation which, in and of itself, brings about lower emissions levels, this can be the end product. This is what can and has resulted and as such qualifies as what I would call a formula for success most definitely.

This “other” dimension of development seems to have caught on but big-time. And speaking of time, smart growth is a product whose time has most assuredly come!

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