As America's -- not to mention the world's -- population continues to soar, many greens and trend watchers have pointed out that the decades old American Dream may need updating. That is, how many more suburban spreads can nature really support, with sprawling yards, white picket fences, two or three cars in garages and so on?
It is anxiety over land resources that has largely prompted high-profile attacks by extremists like the Earth Liberation Front, who have made a name for themselves in recent years by torching new development they feel infringes on wilderness.
Obviously, matches aren't the answer, and that's why it is exciting that so many planners, architects, homebuyers and yes, developers (long a dirty word to some greens) are embracing and exploring the emerging concept of New Urbanism. What does it mean? It means more walkable, bikable communities, with amenities like restaurants, dry cleaners and even schools located close to home. It can mean shared parking space, shared greenspace and smaller environmental footprints for dwellings. It can even mean shared laundry and sporting facilities.
Of course it means we will have to adjust our expectations a bit. America has long been a place where people have preferred spreading out. As Jim Motavalli pointed out in his new book Naked in the Woods, an old saying goes "If a man can look outside his window and see another house he is not a rich man." But the frontier is long closed, and increasing technology has meant increasing demands on the Earth.
Writing in the Naples Daily News, Don Farmer explains why he found it very difficult to serve as a housing complex's "condo commando." Granted he didn't actually live on the premises (his parents had a place there), but he expresses angst about how difficult it is to balance personal freedom with group comfort. It is also worth remembering that any neighborhood rules are highly reflective of the time and local culture in which they are forged (witness a history of appallingly racist decrees in many areas), and are unlikely to please everyone.
Farmer brings up objections people have to certain cooking odors -- reminds me of a friend who shamed her Indian roommate out of cooking her native dishes because she couldn't abide by the aroma of curry -- as well as more serious issues like how to avoid economic conflicts of interest on governing boards.
As most places become more crowded, we are going to have to work out ways to get along, unless we want to inherit blood feuds from our relatives and neighbors. At the same time, living closer together offers tremendous opportunity for reducing resource use and boosting sharing -- everything from tools and rides to good memories and community.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.