Our Future Path!    A plan for a better world!

Community (an Environmental Issue)


Introduction

In general, a community consists of a group of people living in the same district or locality under the same government. At one time, a community was also synonymous with the place where a group of people lived, learned, worked, shopped and played. People did not really have the ability to quickly and easily travel to places that were more than a few miles from their homes, so everything had to be fairly close by.

Friends and family were also close, which made for a close knit community where most people knew lots of people within the community, but few people outside of it. This close knit lifestyle is the way that we evolved to live and that we are still better psychologically and physiologically suited to live than the way most of us actually live today.

Over time, faster, more reliable and less expensive transportation made it easier for people to travel farther from home. Eventually, the cost saving that resulted from larger factories and stores trumped the costs in time and money of travel. Therefore, people could live farther from the businesses that paid them more and the stores where they could get cheaper goods. This allowed people to improve their financial wellbeing and to have more lifestyle options, but they needed more cars and busses to get around.

With more motor vehicles, the cities became more congested, polluted and noisy. With the help of their cars, many people escaped the deteriorating lifestyles of the cities and moved into suburbs where things were cleaner, quieter and less congested. As time went by, the problems in the cities moved out to the nearby suburbs and many people moved to suburbs that were even farther out, and they became even more dependent on their cars and more isolated from friends and family.

Many people now live in one place, work someplace else, and shop or play in various other places. In fact, there are now few localities where people can find home, school, office, shopping and entertainment in close proximity to one another. It is not uncommon for people to live in suburbs where there are only homes and maybe a strip mall or two, and work in office parks or in cities where there may sometimes only be a few nearby restaurants and shops. Their entertainment options may be scattered around, with theaters and museums downtown, clubs in nightclub districts, and cinemas, bowling alleys, golf courses and other things sprinkled here and there.

Many individuals enjoy being near the cultural attractions, the sights and sounds that exist in urban areas and are willing to pay the higher costs of living there. However, the people living in these urban areas may need to go out into the suburbs to do their shopping and to find other entertainment options. Other individuals have continued to move farther and farther out into the suburbs, because the cost in time and money resulting from the extra driving is worth it to them in order to find a cheaper place to live.

Although it may still be cheaper for individuals and businesses to move farther out into our sprawling suburbs, it is not good for our environment or our civilization. Unfortunately, our regulatory, zoning and tax laws, and our artificially low energy costs have actually subsidized this sprawl and the damage that we are doing to our environment and the numerous economic, social and cultural problems that have resulted. In effect, many of us are paying higher taxes so that we can live these destructive and unsustainable lifestyles.

Today, there are a few things that are starting to reverse the trend towards sprawl. For one thing, the sprawl surrounding many cities is running up against the sprawl surrounding other cities, which is reducing the amount of undeveloped land that is available and is driving up its price. There is also an environmental backlash to the continued destruction of natural habitats and the extinction of so many plant and animal species. Increasing congestion is also lengthening commute times, and rising gas prices are adding a financial disincentive to living so far from work and shopping.

In time, the changes that we are now experiencing may help to push us into making things better. However, we really need to take action now, before we totally ruin our environment, before we can no longer afford to buy gas, before our economy is in ruins, and before our civilization collapses.

Goals

Our use of and dependence on motor vehicles is one of our biggest problems and a roadblock towards change. Not only is it expensive in terms of lost time, money, lives and habitat, but the roads and highways within communities are expensive, and separate and isolate people and many plant and animal species. Therefore, one of our top goals must be to redesign our communities into ones that depend less on the need for motor vehicles.

Another big problem is our loss of farm land, open spaces, and natural habitat. Without enough farm land we cannot produce enough food and we will need to import more of our food. In addition, with the loss of our open spaces and natural habitats, not only do many plants and animals lose their homes, but we also lose much of the biodiversity that all life depends on for survival. Therefore, another goal must be to use the least amount of land that we can for our homes, businesses and roads, so that more can be used for farms, open spaces and natural habitats.

Our global economy is also causing many problems. Energy costs are rising and increasing the cost of the transportation used to ship goods, which is increasing the cost of our imports and exports. International conflicts and diminishing oil reserves are making foreign trade less secure and threatening to cause shortages that could result in a recession that could lead to another great depression. Therefore, another goal would be to shift more manufacturing closer to the consumer.

Pollution, blight, rundown neighborhoods, abandoned building, and crime are also problems that need to be addressed. In our recent history, suburbs have been nicer, cleaner and safer places to live than the cities, but that situation is changing and more of the problems that were thought of as urban problems are also moving out to the suburbs while many cities are now trying to clean themselves up. People want to live in a nice clean secure community, but more suburban sprawl is not now, nor has it really ever been, the answer. Therefore, another goal would be to find ways to keep our communities clean and safe.

Cities

With all the problems that already exist and are developing with suburban lifestyles, is the answer to move more people into our cities? This would allow for smaller suburbs, which could mean less land used for housing and roads, less commuting by car, more people being able to walk or use mass transit, and reduced pollution. The problem is that our current cities do not really meet most of our goals, and they still have the same problems that drove people to suburbs in the first place.

To start with, we often find that residential and business districts are in separate parts of our current cities and that most shopping areas are now out in the suburbs. With people living closer together within the cities, bus and train travel becomes easier, but it still may not be convenient enough for most people to give up their cars. This means that there will still be a need for all the city streets and roads, and there will still be the same traffic congestion, noise and pollution. Although, moving to more electric vehicles might help with the noise and pollution problems.

Another big problem with our current cities is that they are not very convenient nor safe for people to walk to many places. Most cities are made up of many tall buildings separated by streets and sidewalks. Inside a building, people can use the elevators or stairs, but each building may only have residences or offices. To get to various other destinations, people must go down to the ground level and then outside. There, people and motor vehicles are only able to go about a block before meeting and contending with traffic lights and cross walks. In addition, within each block, parking garages and jaywalkers result in further competition between people and motor vehicles.

Change

In order to meet our goals, it looks like we will need to make some big changes. Today, we have a better understanding of ourselves and our world and we now have a lot of new technology that we did not have when we built our current communities. Therefore, we want to take a fresh look at every possible lifestyle and not just those that have worked in the past.

As a starting point, we need to understand how we lived in the past, how we live today, what habitats are needed by plants and animals, how we would like to live, what technology is available, what resources are available, and what problems our various lifestyle choices create. Using this understanding and keeping in mind our goals, we can evaluate different ideas for better communities.

In order to get ideas, I pictured how various types of people might live good, productive and rewarding lives from their births until their deaths. In each case, I wanted to imagine a realistic environment that took my goals into account and that not only worked for one person, but for anyone of any age who would live there. By doing this, I think I came up with some good ideas for building sustainable communities for ourselves and for future generations.

Ideally, it would be nice if we could build these new communities from scratch, so that we could make everything work exactly as we want it and not worry about inheriting any problems associated with our existing communities. The problem with building our new communities from scratch is that, unless we can clear some already developed land, we would need to destroy open space. Since one of our goals is to protect open space, we will need to retrofit our existing communities as much as possible. Retrofitting our existing communities may take some time and involve some temporary inconvenience, but the end result can still be the beautiful, vibrant, convenient and enjoyable places to live, work, learn, shop and play that I am envisioning.

Compact Communities

Instead of having our communities built around and dependent on the use of motor vehicles, we need to design them around human beings and what they need. We want to make it fast and convenient for people to walk or to bike from home to work, to school, to stores, to restaurants, to parks, to amusements, and to almost everywhere else we would need to go.

The way to do this is to create compact communities that have an appropriate mix of homes, offices, schools, shops, parks and various entertainment venues in close proximity to one another. Most places would be close enough so that people would not have to go far for most of the things that they needed or wanted. In addition, each of these communities would cover a small enough area so that everyone living there would find it easy to walk to everywhere or almost everywhere within them.

The best way to create these compact communities would be to replace our mostly two dimensional communities with ones that are more three dimensional. Instead of having many one story and other small buildings spread out over a wide area, we would merge and stack them on top of one another into a smaller number of taller buildings that are arranged close enough together to be within easy walking distance of one another. Of course, care must be taken to prevent overcrowding.

Each one of these new taller buildings could serve a mostly single purpose like many of our existing buildings do today or they could provide a mixture of different things within them. For instance, in one building, the ground floor might have a large discount, department or grocery store, the second floor might have restaurants, shops and night clubs, the next few floors might have offices, and the top floors might have apartments or condos. In another arrangement, the apartments or condos could be on the South facing side of the building and the offices could be on the North facing side.

Another idea for keeping our communities more compact would be to put more things on building roofs. For instance, a building might have just a few floors of shops, restaurants and offices and then have a park on the roof. This would allow the land to be developed, but still provide people with a park and still give the surrounding buildings a more open and scenic view. Building rooftops could also provide places for some suburban style homes or townhouses that have yards, or provide for energy generation via wind mills or solar panels.

A building’s roof could also provide a very good place to put a green house that could be in the middle of the community, but be up high enough so that it would not be in the shadow of nearby buildings and therefore would get good sunlight. This green house could be used to grow flowers and fresh fruits and vegetables that could then be sold year round to local grocery stores and restaurants. Not only would this provide jobs and allow the grocery stores to always have the freshest fruits and vegetables on sale, but would also help to improve the diets of the community’s residents.

With most things within each of these compact communities close by, we could easily ban all cars and trucks, except for any needed emergency, delivery or construction vehicles. With few motor vehicles within these compact communities, there would be no need for parking lots, garages or gas stations in the interior or the community, which would allow everything else to be even closer together. Where there would have been streets for motor vehicle traffic, there would now be paths for walking, and paths for people on bikes, skates and other small personal transport vehicles.

We also want to make it easier to get from the upper floors of one building to the upper floors of other buildings. In keeping with these compact communities being more three dimensional, we want to provide elevated walkways and crosswalks, and to have additional corresponding building entrances and exits on these above ground level floors.

Think about how a mall has multiple levels with stairs, escalators, and elevators for people to get from one level to the next and crosswalks to get from one side to the other. In these compact communities, the big difference would be that many of these would be on the outside between the buildings instead of on the inside of a building. These outside elevated sidewalks and crosswalks would connect the buildings, and could be covered with canopies or awnings to protect us from the rain, snow and other bad weather.

Therefore, a compact community’s ground level would have walking and biking paths, and room for emergency, delivery and construction vehicles. There would be stairs, escalators and elevators to the second and higher levels. The second or third levels could have walkways and crosswalks connecting all the building, and have personal mass transit system stops. As needed, higher levels could also have additional walkways and crosswalks.

The personal mass transit system would move people and goods within and between these compact communities. (See the earlier subsection on transportation for more information on the design of a possible personal mass transit system.) The tracks for the personal mass transit system and space for the monocabs to travel would occupy a couple of levels above their stops. These levels might also have enough room for some walkways.

Urban Centers

Our urban centers would be made up of some number of compact communities. If an urban center is made up of only a few communities, they may all be joined together into a larger community that would look much like a single compact community. With more communities, we might want some open space between some of the communities so that the urban center would not impose a barrier to the migration of plants and animals. Paths, elevated crosswalks and the personal mass transit system would connect these separated communities.

Most citizens of these urban centers would have little need for a motor vehicle, but, for those people who occasionally did need one, there would be parking garages and rental places on the outskirts of the urban centers. The parking garages would be for visitors and any residents who did own their own motor vehicles. For people who rarely needed a motor vehicle, there would be regular car rental places. For those people who might need one more frequently or who did not want to keep filling out car rental agreements, they could sign up for a car share program where they would have a membership card that would let them take out a car whenever they needed one.

Although we should try to eliminate sources of pollution, we may always have some factories, power stations, sewage treatment plants and other businesses that produce pollution, noise or odors, or that pose some other risk. These would be banned from the urban centers and would be located in appropriate industrial parks. People who worked in these industrial parks could still live in the urban centers and use the personal mass transit system to get to their jobs.

In addition to the industrial parks, the area surrounding the urban centers would contain farms, zoos, golf courses and anything else that could not be included in the compact communities. Connecting these places to the urban center would be walking and biking paths, and the personal mass transit system, where feasible, and roads, where absolutely necessary. The goal would be to have an appropriate mix of businesses both within and surrounding an urban center so that it would be as self sustaining as possible in order to reduce the need for travel to and from other urban centers. Most of the suburban sprawl that currently exists between the new urban centers would be returned to being open spaces and habitats for plants and animals.

Within the urban centers, goods could be moved short distances in small electric or bicycle powered carts. For longer moves, the goods could be moved in cargo monocabs that would travel the personal mass transit system. Special commercial stops could be set up at building loading docks for these cargo monocabs. Since some buildings may have stores at multiple levels, the commercial stops would be set up to lift or lower the monocabs to loading docks at the appropriate levels. Goods traveling between urban centers could also use these cargo monocabs. For goods that are still sent by truck, loading docks at the edge of an urban center could be used to transfer the trailer or the goods between the trucks and the cargo monocabs.

Below ground, an urban center would still have water, sewer and utility lines that would connect to the appropriate treatment plants, power stations, and utilities. In addition, there would be a transport system for garbage and recyclables. Instead of having alleys where people would throw their garbage and have it picked up by trucks, each building would have an internal system of sending the garbage and recyclables to a basement area. From there, the garbage and recyclables would be moved to the appropriate processing plant outside the urban center. Hopefully, most of this would be recyclables and little, if anything, would be sent to a land fill. In addition, there could be a separate place for organic material that could be composted.

Residences

There are many factors that go into determining the cost of buying or renting a place to live. The price is usually higher for places having more square footage or a pool, being located in a safer area, or being closer to transportation, good schools, shopping or entertainment. The price is usually lower for places that are not well maintained or are in bad areas. In most neighborhoods we find similar types of homes or apartments with similar amenities. They may be classified as ritzy, wealthy, upscale, middleclass, suburban, low income, slum, or something else. This also means that the housing costs in these neighborhoods will usually fall within a narrow range. Because of this, most people end up in neighborhoods that are segregated by income along with some combination of social factors.

Work is a different matter. Most businesses need to employ people to do a variety of jobs. These jobs may require a diverse range of education, skills and experience, and demand various amounts of physical and mental energy. In order to get the work done, employees may need to work closely with or interface with many other employees doing many different jobs and earning very different wages. In addition, when people shop, go to school, run errands and conduct various types of personal business, they may need to interact or to come in contact with people that have a wide range of incomes.

For most of human history, the people who worked, shopped or conducted business in a community were mostly the same people who lived there. Of course, living in the same community where one works may not have always been possible. For instance, spouses may end up working in two different communities, but they would only live in one or the other. Nevertheless, with a compact community, we want to try to get the people that work there to live and to shop there. With these people having a wide range of incomes, the community would need to have a wide range of housing options at different price levels all within a given area, so that everyone can have an affordable place to live within the community.

To start with, we want all housing to be clean and well maintained. Prices should be mainly based on things such as size, view and included amenities. We want to have housing that ranges from small simple studio apartments suitable for people making minimum wage all the way up to large luxury condos or mansions for the very wealthy. With our compact communities, most housing would be in large multistory buildings, but there would be few limitations on their interior designs and styles. Of course, they would not have attached garages or big back yards, but they could have bike storage areas and access to parks. Some buildings might even have private parks on their roofs.

In addition to the usual apartment and condo designs found in high rise buildings, we could also have some designs that resemble suburban homes. For example, a two story colonial with basement could easily be adapted for a high rise. Every third floor of the high rise could have a wide hallway with entrances to the homes. Some windows could overlook the hallway, but most would face the outside. A deep balcony could extend off the basement level, which could have a large patio and an area for grass and other small plants. Smaller balconies might extend off the other floors. Although there would be no need for car garages, there could be small garages for bicycles and storage. In addition to this example, many other home layouts and building configurations are possible.

Sustainability

There have been many different estimates made for how many people the Earth can support. (See the subsections on Resources and Overpopulation.) Many factors go into making a good estimate. We must compare how much of each resource each of us needs verses the total amount of each resource that is available. We must also take into account the lifestyle that each of us wants to live. For instance, some people want more open space or want to live farther from other people. In addition, we cannot forget that the Earth also needs to support numerous other living things that deserve to have good places to live.

With many of the economic changes that I have proposed, these compact communities can be fairly self supporting. Given this, they become excellent places to test out how many people can be comfortably sustained in the given area of land. That number will be different for each given community, since each location may have a different growing seasons, more or less water, and more or less of other resources. Nevertheless, this would give some real numbers to the question of how many people the Earth can support and how much of an overpopulation problem we really have.

Implementation

The first thing we would need to convert our existing communities into compact communities would be a master plan. In order to reduce the overall cost of the conversion, the plan would try to utilize as much of the existing infrastructure as possible and leave as much of the existing open areas and farm land as possible. During the planning process, strict limits would need to be placed on any new construction so that we could ensure that it would meet the needs and standards of the new compact community before the work was started.

The idea behind a compact community is to shift homes, offices and other buildings into a smaller area and remove buildings and roads from other areas that would then become open space or farm land. Given our current laws, the value of the land in areas that would become more urban would rise and the value of the other land would fall. Therefore, the real estate tax and ownership laws would need to be changed and to be phased in over a period of time so that property owners are not unduly harmed or rewarded based on where they own land. It would be best to do this before laying out the locations of the compact community to keep down real estate speculation.

Many existing communities are centered on a main road or an intersection of two or more roads. There may always be a need for some of these main roads, so they may become the boundary lines for some of the new compact communities. For instance, an intersection of two main roads may become the dividing line for four new compact communities. For the most part, any parking areas should be kept away from the intersection, so that they do not impede traffic flow through the intersection or provide any barriers to people. It would be nice if the intersection could be moved underground, but barring that there should be ample overpasses for pedestrians and bicyclists to get easily from one community to the next.

The conversion process will take time and may require a number of temporary intermediate steps along the way that would need to be incorporated into the plan. For instance, more busses may be needed in the short term until a monorail system could be built. In addition, it may take some time before a lot of people feel comfortable giving up their cars. Therefore, some temporary packing lots may be needed until enough of the nearby communities convert to the compact community design and people get comfortable with other means of transportation.

Next Section

Government Finance Issues - Introduction to the Government Spending and Taxing Issues affecting Our Future Path.

Last Updated:
Sunday, December 17, 2017
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