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

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