After interviewing close to thirty experts on the subject, one reoccurring theme has revealed itself. We can no longer continue building our cities in the same way we have over the last half-century. The suburbs, while being an integral part of our nation’s maturation, contribute substantially to our problems of air and water pollution, increasing our health risks, and decreasing our quality of life. Suburbia has trapped Americans behind the wheels of their automobiles, as they commute further and further distances to find good paying jobs. Given the inevitable depletion of non-renewable fossil fuels, such as oil and natural gas, it’s clear that this 50 year suburban experiment has created a host of unintended, unlivable consequences. Consequences we will have to find solutions for if we want a sustainable future in a post-fossil-fuel world.
This nation and its citizens have been lulled into a false sense of security. We are blissfully unaware of the impending ramifications of continuing the patterns of growth that have locked us behind the wheels of our cars. Like Nero, we are fiddling away, confident that tomorrow will be as promising as today. We don’t realize that with each new suburban subdivision, with each new strip-mall, each new corporate office park, that promise slips further and further away.
Wrestling with these emerging realities, state and city governments are finding that they can no longer encourage these patterns of growth by further investing in highway and utility infrastructures. They are now forced to find viable alternatives by investing in public transit in the form of BRT (Bus Rapid Transit), commuter rail, and light rail to serve their community’s transportation needs. Through this process they are gaining an historical understanding of the relationship between land use and transportation. They are rediscovering how well designed, walkable, mixed-use communities, that are served by transit can build and support local economies, aid in defining and creating communities, provide for diversity, improve accessibility, provide transit choices, reduce pollution, and improve health. These many benefits ensure a successful and sustainable solution to the problems associated with their growing populations. In our interview with former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, he quoted Albert Einstein saying, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and each time expecting a different result." He clarified this quote by adding, "Continuing to develop our cities in these ever increasing suburban sprawl patterns will increasingly diminish our quality of life, both physically and mentally. We simply have to stop building more highways!"
How we build our cities will determine the future of how we live our lives, how we form our values, and will determine what we leave for our next generation. It’s time we answer the wake up call.