Sunday, March 1, 2009

Small Town Feel

People who move to smaller communities often cite the small town feel as one of the things that attracted them, but without a lively network of citizens and activity the character they hoped for is hollow.

Downtowns of the past were a tapestry of owner-operated shops you could walk to. The owners often lived upstairs. They got to know you and were invested in your community. Now, thanks to land use plans that have us hiding behind our double attached garages, we'd rather haul a ton of steel across town than walk to the corner store.

The big box stores with their sprawling parking lots have figured this out. With their help you transform from a citizen into a consumer. We've sold out our communities for low, low prices.

Municipalities whine about their downtowns dying, while at the same time approving sprawling residential developments that sequester people in housing a long way from the community center. As citizens, we continue to allow this to our detriment.

It will take time to fix, but the other options are worse. For example, paving over agricultural land to make room for hungry people doesn't make big picture sense.

Higher density mixed use walkable communities reduce traffic because people who live there don't need to drive much. They save people money on gas and give them back the time they don't spend commuting. They lay the foundation for a functional transit system and breathe life into a community.

Help your municipal government demand more from its developers. Let them know that more of the same isn't the right choice for your community. Encourage mixed use, walkable communities which put amenities and jobs where the people are.

By the way, planning decisions like this get made really early. Once you see the dump trucks and graders, it's already too late. Make your opinions known early. It's easier for the government to approve more of the same suburban development but that doesn't make it the right thing to do. Small town feel isn't about houses, it's about community.

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