Friday, April 25, 2008

Where You Find Home

Can you be a suburban environmentalist? Is it an oxymoron?

I'm hoping it isn't. Our green family is happy with the life we have carved for ourselves in this suburban landscape. In the established section of town, away from the "sea of roofs" and acres of big box stores, we've found a home. Our neighbourhood has trees, large maples and oaks. Birch trees. Fruit trees, with lovely pale blossoms. The houses are mostly century homes. The people who love and live in them are usually warm and interesting. They garden, take walks, or sit on porches chatting while kids ride bikes and squeal with delight. But it isn't only the neighbours we love, it's about living in community that is sustainable.

I walk everywhere. The Boy and I walk to school - even when it's minus 20 and the sidewalks are treacherously icy. Then I take the dog on a walk through a park with trails that run along a river. She chases ducks and greets other dogs. We may stop by the library or local shops. There are yoga classes and a dojo for twice weekly karate classes. Weekends mean a visit to the farmers market. But for the absence of a place to buy produce year round, everything we need with within walking distance.

Why isn't everyone demanding communities where we can walk to work, school and shopping? Why buy a home in a lifeless, treeless subdivision without any amenities? Are those people happy with without access to shops, clubs, parks, or schools within walking distance? Would you be happy? In Who's Your City? Richard Florida proposes that where you live is the single most important determinant for personal happiness.

A sustainable community offers members a positive state of being. When the school bell rings in the morning and parents stand around the Boy's school chatting before starting their work day, I feel like I'm living in another era. There is a sense of belonging that comes from seeing and interacting with your neighbours. Living here I enjoy the luxury of decreasing my dependence on the automobile in a time when oil is a declining resource and the effects of climate change are visible.

Which brings me back to the "sea of roofs." I'd like to blame developers for building these monstrous communities at epidemic rates, but who the hell is buying homes in neighbourhoods without trees, stores, places to work, or schools? The growth rate of communities in Ontario is insane. According to Greenbelt Ontario:
At the current rate, an additional 260,000 acres (1,070 km2) of rural land will be urbanized by 2021, almost double the size of the City of Toronto. About 92% of the land is Ontario's best farmland.
I know they are right because I've spent my entire life watching it happen. What will we say when there are no farmers to feed us?

It's time the unchecked growth stops, it's time to build sustainable communties with mixed-use zoning. The days of the subdivision are over. Check out Smart Growth for information on building sustainable communities. Talk to your local politicians. Find a home in a sustainable community. It's time.

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