Monday, June 05, 2006

Community-based solutions

There are a number of issues that are becoming increasingly important and yes, even urgent, as we press forward into the 21st century. Peak oil is one of these and I’ve written about it numerous times. Additionally, global warming and climate change is an issue that requires society’s focus, as are the issues of out of control sprawl, which threatens our farmlands and wilderness habitats and in more populated areas, creates large scale traffic congestion, which further adds to wasteful use of dwindling petroleum stocks.

New Urbanism is a design movement where these issues are openly addressed and alternatives are offered to sprawl (which Jim Kunstler calls, “the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world) and big box development. In fact, Kunstler has one of his more trenchant (and less polemical) posts on the importance of this visionary design movement.

While in Wisconsin for the College World Series, in Appleton, I spent some time walking the downtown area and visiting the neighborhoods just off West College Avenue (near Lawrence University). I’ve always enjoyed the grid like design of the Midwest, with its criss-crossed neighborhoods. What I liked about the city center of this community of 70,000, was the number of parks, neighborhood schools and areas that could be accessed by foot, or bicycle. Maine’s very own city of Portland, a city that is composed of various neighborhoods (Deering, Munjoy Hill, the West End, Bayside) is another good example of walkable design, although the I-295 spur that brings the suburban workers, from their McMansions, into the city, continues to become a greater and greater area of concern. One disastrous solution being proposed is adding additional lanes for traffic into the city, which will only enable those commuters traveling one to a car, each morning.

While there might be discussion and debate about the seriousness about some of the above mentioned issues and how far along we are on the peak oil continuum, New Urbanism offers proactive solutions that are workable and community-based. I urge readers to familiarize themselves with this movement because in my opinion, it offers reasonable and non-ideological answers to many questions and pressing concerns that are facing America, at this crucial juncture.


Rikki said...

Hi Jim –

I stumbled onto your blog by way of Wisdom Weasel, who I recently discovered is also an agent of Blogger operating from Rockland.

I, too, am curious/worried about sprawl and pine for some consideration of Smart Growth among Maine's power agents. Here are a few posts I made that touch on Thomaston's recent giveaway to the big boxes and the prelude to it.

In case you missed the scant media coverage of the project, a group called Grow Smart Maine is teaming with the Brookings Institute to study economic and community growth patterns in Maine and prepare a report recommending means that the State can evolve responsibly in coming decades.

Also, if you are Midcoastal, this group, Friends of Midcoast Maine is all about the Smart Growth. While they were early disparaged with the ever evil, "from away" label, they've achieved some more recent success in helping towns adapt smart growth into their comprehensive planning efforts.

Anyway, I was happy to read your post and look forward to checking back to you from time to time.

asfo_del said...

Jim, thanks for this post. The conservative American Enterprise recently had a cover story on suburban sprawl, fatuously ridiculing those who are against it as snobs who simply don't like the aesthetics of big box stores and strip malls and don't want people to have choices in how they live!

asfo_del said...

Ack, sorry I screwed up the links:



Jim said...

I appreciate the link, asfo_del. I wanted to make a comment about Zinsmeister's article.

Obviously, by making statements like, "Urban historians have tended to share certain tastes common to a Northeastern city-dwelling elite and have been too hasty to dismiss other choices," as well as "Urban history traditionally has been about elites at the very center. It's an almost exclusive focus," He obviously shows his ignorance of urban history, most notably the classic treatise on cities, Lewis Mumford's requisite The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects. Then again, why should I expect conservative polemicists to be fenced in by fact. They've created a virtual cottage industry of faux libertarian fantasy from spin and historical revisionism.

Rick, I'm pleased that you've found Words Matter via Weasel's site. The virtual community can be a wonderful place, particularly if it leads us to making a difference in the actual community's we live in. I'm very interested in what is transpiring along the Midcoast. I'm sad to see Thomaston taking on weak link status in light of valient efforts by Damariscotta, Nobleboro, and Waldoboro, in standing up to Goliath.