Saturday, January 15, 2011

Your City Is Fat

Living in cities without regard for where our food and energy come from is no longer an option.
In the same slow wide arc that it takes to turn around an oil tanker, processes for implementing sustainable policies and are emerging.
The structure of our cities is set in concrete and asphalt. We quit setting it in stone years ago, but that concrete and asphalt structure drives everything about modern life. It's the framework in which we make decisions on how to live.
Renovating our neighbourhoods will be an essential part of building our sustainable future. It won't happen by itself. Council can't do it alone. The politics are hairy and for most, too avant garde. But that's what real leadership requires.
Our cities are like children, who ate lots and grew up tall. Then they kept eating, and got wider instead of taller. Now they're in the hospital with complications due to morbid obesity. That wasn't what they had in mind.
The shape of our cities and the health of our neighbourhoods will chart our course for the rest of this century. Continuing to sprawl is like taking someone who's already had two heart attacks to Fatburger every day for the rest of their lives. Not a good idea.
It's time to eat your greens. Literally. Grow your own food if you can. If you already garden, research 'permaculture'. There's a tremendous depth of information there on how to arrange your garden so you won't have to work so hard at it. Then help your neighbours.
Don't be afraid of denser development. That's what makes it possible to walk to the store (or home from the pub). It's also what makes those European cities we dream of visiting (like Paris) so alluring. The only rules saying we can't do that here are the ones we made up: the ones we can change.
Then there's the business angle. Businesses need customers, and if cities are too spread out for people to walk to the store, people will need to get into their (expensive) cars. Once they're driving, it's not that much further to Wal-Mart. Once they're driving, why stop at the small, nearby store? A denser city keeps your customers close by.
The solutions are interlinked, but the capstone of this grand arch that will become a new sustainable world is the shape of the city. We can do better. Ask your neighbours while they're gardening. They think so too.
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