Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

If fail to plan . . .

I don't know why I don't write about these issues more -- I actually have a master's degree in urban and environmental policy, I am involved in a study of near highway pollution, and I am an activist on the issue of healthy communities and environmental justice. Most of the e-mails I get from publicists go straight to the trash, but for some reason a flack sent me a link to this article by Jonathan Lerner which I recommend. (I don't see who's making a profit from this so that's why it's a bit unusual.)

The fact is our civilization is not sustainable on the premise that we need to surround ourselves with two tons of steel and propel it down a highway at 70 miles per hour using fossil fuel for two hours a day to get to work and back, and many more hours each week to buy groceries, take Buffy to her flute lessons, and oh yeah, get the car repaired. We can't keep turning farmland and woodland into suburban sprawl to give more and more people a chance to live that way. This entire way of life is doomed -- and maybe a lot sooner than most people think. (The preceding link is from the Apocalypse Now party, but if Richard Branson is right and peak oil is now, well ... tell me why they are wrong. And the well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico is going to throw a big spanner into the plans to stave it off by drilling in the ocean. Just sayin'.)

Most people are just going to have to live in urban or urban-style communities that are dense enough to support walkable shopping and have mass transit connections to the rest of the world. Those communities can work -- I live in Jamaica Plain which is jes' fine, let me tell you, with two of the world's greatest urban parks, great shops and restaurants, safe streets and a strong, welcoming and diverse community. But plenty of our urban areas are social and physical wastelands where it is not good for people to live. Transportation is the foundation on which successful 21st century communities can be built. Not just the Supertrains! between cities that Atrios is so enthusiastic about -- although those are good -- but well designed, accessible local webs of light rail and LNG-powered buses to fill in the places between, along with sidewalks and bike paths.

Tie the people to great grocery stores, farmers' markets, jobs, educational opportunities, recreational opportunities, and get them out of their cars, and you can have a healthy community anywhere. If we're going to have a future, that's it.


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