The Morning Measure: The Region Forward path to a sustainable future

Feb 23, 2011


Pursuing sustainability is a major goal of Region Forward as well as of the President and many leaders in Congress. Policy decisions regarding land use/development and energy creation/consumption will determine whether meeting that goal will become a reality.

When it comes to making places more sustainable there are two primary choices neither of which includes unbridled land-consumption as has been commonplace in recent decades (the “drive-till-you-qualify” paradigm of development has proven to be a mirage and the Administration recognizes this fact). The first option is to concentrate all new development (housing retail office etc.) in compact mixed-use activity centers with transit connections and to prohibit all development outside of such areas. The second option places a priority on making existing land-use patterns (sprawl) more sustainable as described recently by urbanist writers Yonah Freemark and Mary Newsom.

The first choice is sometimes perceived as the more difficult of the two options because it requires a striking behavioral shift – the large-lot sub/ex-urban form of growth that has characterized American development since the proliferation of the automobile would be halted in favor of more dense urban land-use patterns. The second option more focused on adaptation is perceived as less challenging because rather than dramatically altering current land-use patterns adaptation of the existing structure (through infill development new or increased transit service adding pedestrian and bike infrastructure etc.) becomes the primary objective.

Region Forward recognizes that this isn’t a zero-sum game. By taking the best of each option RF is an impact-generator rather than a utopian commentary. Part idealist RF does want to change the way development happens by channeling development and growth into activity centers with transit; however also part pragmatist RF realizes that existing land-use patterns do not evaporate quickly so adapting them to be more sustainable is much more preferable than not giving these areas attention.

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