I often wish I live closer to where I work and that may become a reality at some point in the future, however it’s not that simple. We own our property in West Jordan, which is about 12 miles from the center of Salt Lake City (which is also where I work). To sell our property and find a comparable property closer to work is practically impossible. We could downscale to a less “involved” property, but our dream is to have our property be a community center for activism. Thus our decision to stay put – at least for the time being.
West Jordan is far from “sustainable”, as sustainable standards go, however it’s possible to get around without a car and be able to meet just about every need.
For example, from my house in West Jordan, which is on the far east side of the city limits, close to the Jordan River and almost to Midvale, I can walk, take the bus (at least for now until the routes are changed AGAIN) or use my bike to take advantage of these West Jordan services (all within 1-2 miles):
- Grocery Shopping at a local Mexican Market
- Grocery Shopping at two local health food stores
- Local Sandwich Shop
- Asian Market
- Local Mexican variety shop
- A number of other various locally owned businesses (health, haircare, etc.)
- Thrift store
- Local Library
- City Offices, where I can pay my utility bills
- City Park
- Jordan River Conservancy District – educational center with sample xeriscaped gardens
- Jordan River Parkway
From my house in West Jordan, it is also easy to go the other direction without using a car to the next community, Midvale, a historic little town, where there are tons of local businesses, including a used book store, restaurants, and a variety of other merchants.
Of course there are larger chain stores to use within these boundaries without using a car, but the list above reflects the locally owned merchants and services.
In my search for information on sustainable cities, I have heard about the new Daybreak Development, owned and being developed by Kennecott Land (a division of Kennecott, the largest copper mine company in the world), which will include 15,000 – 20,000 homes and is being built on a sustainable community model. I’m still examining that project before weighing in on my opinion of it. I have also found this article on what constitutes a Healthy City. West Jordan has some of these characteristics, but still has a long way to go. From the list below, I can safely say that West Jordan has characteristics #2, 6, 9(one of my favorite characteristics about West Jordan) and parts of #1, 3, 4(it’s hard to identify a “downtown” to West Jordan), 5, and 7.
Top Ten Characteristics of a Healthy City
1. Fixed transit, preferably rail, above and below ground. Subways along all major travel corridors; buses or trams on all secondary corridors
2. Mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhoods
Mixed-use neighborhoods solve many urban ills. By intermingling commercial, residential, and civic functions in the same neighborhoods, you reduce dependence on automotive transport, since destination facilities are always close at hand: one can walk to the market, the salon, the library, the bar, school or university, administrative offices, what have you. This means denser development is possible without reducing living spaces (you reduce street pace, space dedicated to the automobile, instead); it also means more tax money for more amenities and social programs, since streets don’t pay taxes and parking lots don’t pay much tax, but homes and businesses do. Yet, since there is less road infrastructure to build and maintain, and utility infrastructure is more efficiently configured (eg. 100 feet of sewer pipe serving hundreds rather than tens of users), such neighborhoods need less tax money to support their basic functions. This means one could then either lower taxes, or apply them to more desirable civic amenities, such as parks, squares, concerts, etc. More people walking also increases community feeling, reduces opportunity for crime (“eyes on the street”), and allows for more interaction among the citizenry. It increases ridership on public transit, making it more efficient.
Mixed-income neighborhoods not only increase urban variety by mixing types and sizes of housing; they also increase the cohesiveness of a community. People from different walks of life come to meet and know each other, however superficially, and are thus less likely to make political or personal decisions based on stereotyped views. Rich, poor, and middle can discover common ground and not base their attitudes toward each other on envy, disdain, or spite. It’s a matter of hybrid vigor: purebred ideas, like purebred animals, tend to be delicate, weak, and subject to “genetic” infirmities. We learn not by congregating with those similar to us, but by meeting those who are different. You could say it’s the sexuality of the intellect: just as animals who exchange genes evolve into more efficient forms more rapidly than those primitive creatures that don’t, so do societies whose members exchange ideas, social concepts, personal philosophies, what have you–even just gossip.
3. Buildings of different age, condition, and size
4. Living spaces everywhere, especially near downtown
5. Large or small public squares at all significant intersections
The automobile has arrogated nearly all public space in the US to itself. It has stolen from us the places where we used to be able to meet and mingle as human beings, and replaced them with channels for sealed metal cells whose operators stare grimly straight in front of themselves as they manipulate the controls of the car. We need to have places where we can be people together, whether we talk to one another or not, where we can pass among each other on our way to our daily chores, acknowledging our common humanity with a glance or a nod or a word; places where we can linger if we feel so inclined, where we can enjoy the day and partake of a feeling of community, a feeling that we’re all in this together, helping each other, tasting life together, creating the city. Places that we feel we won, as individuals in a polity, and that we do literally own. Public space: our space. Not some landlord’s or management company’s.
Public squares, unlike public parks, are also thoroughfares for pedestrians, and usually support businesses on their perimeters. They acknowledge that we all bear responsibility for the working of our society, and that we all take pleasure in it too. Motorists isolated in their cars will never feel this way–the car is sold by fostering the delusion that is frees one from responsibility. People crossing each others’ paths in a square may not speak to each other, but they know that they occupy common space.
6. Lots of people coming and going (immigrants, people moving in from other places, and people moving out to other cities)
7. Street trees and rooftop gardens for pleasure, and to ameliorate temperature extremes and reduce need for HVAC
8. Light rail or a rapid train connection to the airport. Freight and passenger rail depots in town
9. Working farms adjacent to or (better yet) within city limits
The farther food is grown from town, the more it costs and the worse it tastes. Local farming means less fuel and road use, which is good for the earth and reduces need for taxes to support road infrastructure and fuel subsidies. Shorter transport times means food can ripen longer on the branch, so it tastes better and is more nutritious. The necessity to fit farms into numerous smaller spaces in town means fewer big agribusiness operations making their money on economies of scale; instead you have a greater number of small producers, which would lead to more variety of food, more accommodation to local tastes, and more competition (thus better service and lower prices), as well as making commercial organic farming economically feasible. This would again reduce stress on the earth and help minimize dependence on petroleum. Urban farmers’ markets bear all this out, providing higher quality food than the supermarkets, yet charging less for it.
Also, the presence of farms provides green space for the citizens and reminds them that all, regardless of pretensions, are tied to the earth.
10. Shops that open onto the sidewalk, not onto parking lots. All automobile parking is underground or mid-block, not between street and shop
Shops that open onto the sidewalk encourage pedestrian traffic, and pedestrians are better able to window shop than drivers. Walking of course is exercise too, and people who are walking are more likely to meet or make friends or other social, even commercial, contacts than drivers can. More pedestrian traffic therefore makes for a healthier and richer city. Shops set back behind vast parking lots foster the delusion that they are separate from the city and bear no responsibility to the community that supports them. They practically require driving, which increases civic infrastructure costs and increase social isolation. Sidewalk shops encourage friendly social contact and simply make life more pleasant.
Putting parking in mid-block structures or (better yet) underground accommodates those who must or prefer to drive without fragmenting the city to make room for vast parking lots.