Can Suburbs and Sustainability Coexist?

Can discussions of sustainability and the built environment progress without devolving into a city-versus-suburb grudge match? Over at Grist, former Streetblog Network manager Sarah Goodyear is asking that question. To say that all suburbs are bad, and all cities are good, from an environmental standpoint, oversimplifies a complex problem, and as Goodyear points out, sorting through is awfully important:

Are the suburbs and sustainability fundamentally at odds? Photo: Edward Burtynsky#

The built environment — how much land we take up, how much fuel we use to get around, how our homes are constructed and powered — is emerging as a crucial factor in the battle to reduce carbon emissions. Maybe the crucial factor.

Goodyear poses the perspective of Andrés Duany, the father of New Urbanism, against the sprawl apologist Joel Kotkin, who in a recent post on New Geography warned that “forced densification could augur in a kind of new feudalism.”

Goodyear concludes by calling for a search for common ground between suburban and urban dwellers. But can common ground be found with someone who thinks in those terms about policies that encourage the development of walkable places? Or are there other voices from suburbia that could supercede commentators like Kotkin? Without some sort of cooperation from both important American constituencies it is difficult to imagine how we would solve any societal problem, particularly one as complex and urgent as climate change.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Wash Cycle laments the fact that D.C.’s proposal for regional bikesharing failed to garner TIGER II funding. Cyclicious explores how transit fare hikes led to declining revenues in Santa Cruz, California. And Publicola reports that Seattle’s parking price overhaul has inspired the opposition of City Council.