Friday, December 5, 2008

Where the 'burbs end and community begins...

I suppose it would be a good idea to start things off on a fresh, honest foot (a foot not in a gumboot, unfortunately) ... I grew up in the suburbs (please, please don't judge). The Burbs. Originating in the 50s, these new developments were touted as the solution to everything that was wrong with the city: why live close to your work or school when you can live farther away, in a bigger more energy consuming house, and spend a large proportion of your life driving in your gas-guzzling vehicle to work, school, the fitness centre, and anywhere else you needed to go? Sure, I may sound a little ... cynical, when it comes to thinking of my childhood in Coquitlam, but with a sustainable mind and a community-driven heart, I can with no good intention say the environment I grew up in was conducive to either.

Community is based in no small part on the build environment: how the physical environment is shaped by humans, and in turn how conducive this arrangement is to such things as capacity to build/sustain community, to lead a sustainable lifestyle, and to be physically active. Think about transportation: in the suburbs, getting around, being social, and being active oftentimes necessitates a vehicle. In the city, you can just walk. In a small town like Merville, well, many of the necessities of daily life can be grown (or shot) from your own backyard. Everyone knows everyone (for better or for worse, as gossip goes...feel free to ask John Horn for some stories...). The suburbs are built to be insular. Houses and cars, and not a lot in between. The sedentary nature of a suburban lifestyle has played a role in the rising obesity epidemic in Canada (did you know that over 50% of Canadians are now considered overweight/obese?). Oh, and another interesting fact: studies show that the rate of heart attack increases with the length of time you are stuck in traffic.

Communities need to be built to encourage, well, community. Open Spaces. Parks and Trails. Mixed Land Use (residential, commercial and organizational). Locally owned businesses. Community Gardens.

In closing, please excuse my upbringing in a community-deficient suburb. Out with gas-guzzlers and in with gumboots,


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