The Greening of the Suburbs

A post on Planetizen today offers a link to a Newsday article discussing the future of suburbs in America. Triggered by recent efforts in Nassau County, New York, Scott Carlin, an associate professor of geography at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University, offers suggestions for reversing the trends of individualism and consumerism and discusses sustainability and interdependence as the future philosophy for American suburbs. Indeed, the discussion also turns to development patterns and adjustments in the transportation networks that link suburbs to their neighbors.

Greening the suburbs is about recalibrating philosophy, technology and public policy so we champion interdependence rather than individualism. The suburbs were born out of an ideology of separation from the city, but the 21st century requires new regional and global partnerships.

Green suburbs will need a new generation of regional plans that are far more visionary than current offerings. The challenge is to reduce total energy consumption dramatically, yet create more enjoyable and healthier communities that reconnect us to nature. Green suburbs will be high-density, mixed use, walkable communities built close to public transportation. In a greener future, cars will be used sparingly – maybe even shared among neighbors instead of being privately owned. Food and energy will be produced locally. The green suburb won’t be an assemblage of individual homesteaders; it will be a mixed-income, ecologically integrated community that promotes natural and cultural diversity.

In this era of severe resistance to new taxes, what are some ways we could promote these concepts in the Portland area? Given that roughly two-thirds of the metro-area population resides outside of the urban core, how could we tackle the challenge of transforming existing suburbs into walkable neighborhoods with easy access to reliable public transportation? A frequent topic of discussion on this board relates to the challenge of adequately funding public transportation in the low-density suburbs. In a future that requires taking serious and tangible measures toward reducing energy consumption, what specific steps could we take here in the Portland area to address the challenge of making transit an attractive and practical alternative to driving in the suburbs? How do we address the inevitable mobility challenges for the baby-boomers that are now reaching retirement age? How could we promote local production of goods that will rely less on fossil fuels and an increasingly constrained freight system for delivering food to the local grocer?

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