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Tiffany Traynum’s Blog

Smart City Planning: Reviving Your City - and You

Tiffany Traynum

Posted February 6, 2013 in Health and the Environment, Living Sustainably

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As I’ve said before, “I love my four-wheels”, partly because I’m the offspring of the car enthusiast of all enthusiasts and partly because I’m a Californian. Now, I can’t speak for everyone, but as a former Southern California local, I can safely say that back then, in order to do anything around town you needed a ride. It was simply impossible to go anywhere without one. In those days, the only way you would have any sort of social life was to have a close friend with access to a car otherwise, you were stuck at home reliant upon your parents. I was always under the impression that if I were in New York City I wouldn’t need a car, but over here on the west coast, a car was the only way to be an independent woman.

3832525_thumbnail.jpgThings have changed for me since those days in sunny Southern California. Not only have I relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area, but I have also reduced my crippling dependency on my car – along with most Americans.  We still love our cars; Californians are voting in support of clean car standards and consumer demand continues to rise for technologically innovative fuel-efficient vehicles, but in recent years less people rely on their vehicles in general, regardless of its efficiency. More people, including this former speed racer right here, are walking and embracing public transportation. The reasons for this dramatic shift in my habits and perhaps for other Americans as well; smart growth and the revitalization of urban communities.

In my recent search for a new home, I had five criteria that I looked for. My new place had to: have big closets, be within walking distance to a Whole Foods market, be in close proximity to public transportation, be near a great café, and have a local gym. Essentially I wanted to live in my very own urban “smart growth” mecca.

Smart growth is the general principal of city planning that believes that new places should be designed among existing ones. The aim is to build urban, suburban, and rural communities with affordable housing and transportation choices near jobs, shops, and schools. This kind of revitalization has been crucial in revitalizing urban areas like Oakland, CA, where I live, that have experienced inner- city decay. The construction of new shopping districts, entertainment venues, and cultural attractions has enticed young urban professionals to come back into these cities where nightlife and culture are now more accessible -- without driving out long-time residents. This approach supports local economies and helps to protect the environment.  We’re talking job creation and environmental protection (cleaner air and water) that comes from running errands, commuting to work and enjoying our city – mostly by foot!

Major cities across the country, particularly in California, are adopting successful and, most importantly, sustainable smart city models. We aren’t hiding behind our tinted windows or rear view mirrors. Instead, we are leaving our cars at home, or finding that having a car just isn’t a necessity anymore and ditching the car completely.

Today’s young people rely on technology, not cars:  between 2001 and 2009, young people reduced their driving to a mere 7,900 miles per year -- a dip of 23% from previous years. They have found alternative methods for getting around -- everything from biking to ridesharing. In fact, some studies have shown that young people are actually more reluctant to drive than ever before; this is a stark contrast to how things were when I was teenager and this change is all for the better. If more cities adopted
mailbox 2.JPG walkable, self-sustaining communities, it would have a huge positive impact on not only the environment but on the quality of peoples’ lives as well. Ever since I’ve stepped away from my car I have been more engaged in my community, and my dog is much happier. Nearly every day we stumble upon something that encapsulates the unique vibe of our new neighborhood (evidenced by this mailbox we found – pictured right)

You don’t have to live on the east coast or in the “city” to be in a cool neighborhood anymore. Thanks to smart growth developers, devoted to creating connected, walkable neighborhoods, Americans on the west coast and all over the country are enjoying the freedom of ditching their cars and strolling to their destinations. Kind of feels like the way California ought to be. Wouldn’t you say?

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Comments

Bill BranhamFeb 7 2013 03:24 AM

"Smart growth is the general principal of city planning that believes that new places should be designed among existing ones. The aim is to build urban, suburban, and rural communities with affordable housing and transportation choices near jobs, shops, and schools."

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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