Human culture is at a unique point in its history. The possibilities for information sharing have become nearly endless, especially with the advent of the internet.
Hence, it is easier than ever before to research and design new communities, and to reconfigure existing communities for maximum benefit to residents and minimum environmental footprint to our mother earth.
There are several aspects to designing sustainable 21st century communities.
- Environmentally friendly
It no longer makes sense to make new subdivisions that cater to and depend wholly upon the automobile for transportation. In Canada, due to our abundance of space combined with the fact that the uptake of the automobile was concurrent with the growth of our cities, many neighbourhoods were designed and created with little thought for any mode of transit other than motor vehicles. Neighbourhoods were often built with no sidewalks, no multi-use paths, and often quite distant from amenities.
The resulting sidewalk-less communities restrict one’s choice of practical transportation to the motor vehicle, and arterial roads become congested. Walkers, joggers, bicyclers and others must share the roadways with motor vehicles. With most members of a community entering and leaving by car, there is less chance to meet people in one’s neighbourhood. The bias towards the car makes it more difficult to make environmentally friendly choices. And frustration and safety issues often exist when people using different modes of transit share the same road.
Hence, for many reasons beyond the obvious environmental argument, it is important to design new communities with multiple modes of transportation in mind.
Accessibility is a far reaching concept. Designing communities for multiple modes of transit, as well as including localized amenities will make communities viable for many different people. Elderly who do not drive… Mobility challenged persons… People of lower income levels who can not afford vehicles… Families with children in strollers… Joggers, walkers, bicyclers, roller bladers… the list goes on! Communities designed for maximum accessibility will benefit in many ways. A natural diversity will develop which will benefit all through greater understanding of each other and each other’s needs. Accessible communities will also encourage people to choose active and environmentally friendly transit. Accessible communities provide more opportunity for neighbours to come in contact with each other face to face, which encourages more familiar and friendly neighbourhoods.
An important part of sustainable communities is access to amenities. Basic services and amenities should be planned into new communities as much as is possible. This requires collaboration with the private sector, and carefully designed balance in new developments. Having basic amenities accessible by various modes of transit in the community first of all makes the community easier for living. Amenities within a community helps provide residents venues for meeting each other. Familiarity between members of a community has many benefits including, but not limited to: more friendly communities, more helpful communities, and safer communities.
As mentioned under the heading “Transportation” above, if amenities are not located within the community and if they are not accessible by multiple modes of transit, then residents have little choice but to use the motor vehicle for most of their needs.
Our present level of human knowledge is astounding. We know that we must accelerate our move towards an environmentally sustainable lifestyle.
There are no good excuses for us to design new communities without giving deep consideration to the community’s environmental footprint.
Including infrastructure for different modes of transit, by itself, is not enough to encourage environmentally friendly transportation choices. If the amenities are too far away, many modes of environmentally friendly transit become less viable. This is why accessibility and amenities must be considered as part of a total community plan.
Building construction is another consideration for environmental friendliness.
There are countries in the world whose building codes require new developments to incorporate a certain percentage of green energy. Technology exists today such that it should not be a difficult task to make certain all new buildings have a percentage of their energy requirements are supplied by on-site green energy. Having a requirement for a certain amount of “green” energy in new developments helps encourage business in the sales and installation sectors.
Small wind-turbines, quieter than wind in the leaves of trees, are now quite readily available. Solar electric cells are readily available. Battery storage has come to a level of maturity that makes it practical to outfit new homes with combined solar/wind electric systems.
Solar hot water systems can be used in tandem with solar/wind electric systems to further lessen a house or building’s environmental footprint.
At a time in human history where we recognize the environmental damage caused by former and present lifestyles, the only excuses for not requiring future developments to lessen their environmental footprints are lack of courage or lack of vision.
There is more and more knowledge showing that humans benefit from having greenery in their environments.
Trees and green spaces are important for people’s recreation, relaxation, and spiritual peace of mind.
An interesting study on the benefits of shade trees in the urban environment is here: http://lhhl.illinois.edu/media/thepoweroftrees.htm
Trees help baffle and reduce city scape sounds: car engines, car tires, sirens, ventilation fans, construction noises, and all the other noises in the urban landscape.
One reason I love my neighbourhood in Dartmouth so much is because of the abundance of trees and all the benefits this brings – the abundance of various bird species, the calming sound of rippling leaves in the trees, and even the relative quietness of Dartmouth at night when I can hear the dull roar of peninsular Halifax across the harbour.
As a City Councillor, I pledge to the residents of Dartmouth and the HRM at large that I will strive to work with existing groups of stakeholders in order to identify both short term and long term goals, and create plans to achieve these goals in order to make ourselves a truly modern sustainable urban environment.