Beyond buses

Real Change recently interviewed Anthony Flint, author of This Land: The Battle over Sprawl and the Future of America. Here are some excerpts from the discussion:

Real Change: What are the effects of sprawl on the environment?

Anthony Flint:
Twenty-five million acres of land between 1982 and 1997 succumbed to suburban development. That is a lot of wildlife habitat [and] farmland that has disappeared. It is a lot of pollution from cars, which are necessary to get around in these dispersed environments, though it has not been enough to change anybody’s mind about sprawl until now. On a personal level, people are discovering that it is inconvenient and actually very expensive to live in sprawl.

RC: …some commentators have said that sprawl is a sign of a good economy. What is your response to that?

These critics are not addressing the real issues that communities all over the country are wrestling with in terms of planning for future growth… Sprawl has been so popular, not because it is driven by affluence, but because it is seen as affordable, at least initially, by the middle class. The initial sticker price is very attractive and within reach, and then of course [with the price of a car and gas] it doesn’t turn out to be the bargain it’s cracked up to be.

I haven’t read the book yet (on the waiting list at the library), but I appreciate Mr. Flint’s perspective. As we move further and further from walkable, transit-friendly neighborhoods in pursuit of our “American dreams” (good schools, cheap land, “nature,” or a nearby Wal Mart) we trap ourselves in automobile-dependent, unhealthy, isolated, unsustainable communities.

Incremental improvements (more frequent bus service, a couple of new bike paths) are better than none at all, but unless we fundamentally change the way we live, including (and especially) the way we build our neighborhoods, we will never have true transportation alternatives.