Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sustainable Cities - They're walkable

A recent article on the web site fo the Center for American Progress http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/02/green_transit.html provides listings of the "greenest" cities by transit use and walkability. The article compiled different rankings that judged cities, "not only on how much transit they endorse, support, and make available but also on how many dwellers actually use that transit." The article goes onto say, that "Individuals’ daily decisions, like not driving alone, can make a big difference in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, saving money, and even helping residents to lead healthier lives." Of course I would add those same decisions could make a big difference in traffic reduction, an issue of almost equal concern to Santa Monicans as the issue of sustainability.

By combining the various rankings, two top cities emerge, New York and San Francisco. However, since each of the rankings utilize different indicators, a number of other cities jostle for the next three spots. These cities include: Portland, OR, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, Honolulu, Oakland, CA, and Cambridge, MA.

However, one of the sites, WalkScore.com provides a ranking using criteria that seem especially appropriate for Santa Monica, which does not yet possess rail transit. Walkscore looks at the proximity and interrelatedness of stores, restaurants, schools, parks, workplaces along with transit hubs (including bus hubs). An individual's choice to forego use of their car (or not to own one in the first place) is ultimately based on this combination of factors. Interestingly, Philadelphia cracked the list using this more holistic set of criteria, while Portland cracked one of the other lists, primarily due to its high level of bike ridership, which leads me to the point of this post

As a community that aspires to be among the greenest in the nation, we Santa Monicans should consider that the list of the most sustainable cities in the U.S. are the densest, most functionally diverse, most walkable and most bikeable. In fact these characteristics are synergistic. Philly is not a city full of solar panels, yet, but it is a city in which a two-mile walk feels like a short stroll, because the character of the urban space is so charming. As Santa Monica grows upward, city leaders and advocates alike should all make sure that its new growth is still aimed downward, i.e., at the sidewalk, at the place where people inhabit the city, where they walk, bike and engage in the daily activities of public life. Each new building should aim to enhance that experience and contribute to the ensemble that ultimately is the Sustainable City.

For another take on sustainable cities check out: http://www.dcexaminer.com/opinion/Help-the-environment-stay-in-the-city-39422222.html

The days when we were just building sprawl forever, those days are over

It has been over three months since I've posted to this blog, but President Obama's remarks today have inspired me to get back in the game. Today, at a 'town hall' meeting in Fort Meyers, FL he said:

I’d like for us to invest in mass transit, because potentially that’s energy efficient. I think people are a lot more open now to thinking regionally. The days when we were just building sprawl forever, those days are over. I think that Republicans, Democrats, that that is not a smart way to design communities, so that we should be using this money to help spur this kind of innovative thinking when it comes to transportation, that’ll make a big difference.

Assuming that there is any money for any of this high speed rail, (and with Measure R some support for rail is assured) what does this mean for Santa Monica: the extension of Expo Line, the Subway to the Sea? How about a rail line down Lincoln to the LAX? One thing is certain, it must mean more density, not just for Santa Monica, but for all the mature communities of the Southland. For that to happen, we need to continue to think creatively at blended density solutions that are idiosyncratic, site specific, and pedestrian friendly. We need to continue to support a robust and finely grained mix of uses that support vibrant sub-neighborhoods, even blocks.

The current economic downturn may be a blessing in disguise for Santa Monica. It may allow for completion of the LUCE in a less frantic manner, so that when things heat back up, we are prepared for it.
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