When Outdated Environmental Laws Prevent Sustainable Development

Here’s a story that would make any urbanist cringe. Last year in Seattle, the construction of a commercial building (“one of the nation’s greenest”) in a dense urban neighborhood was challenged by neighbors who said an environmental impact statement should be required because the building would block views.

The Bullitt Foundation's "Living Building," which it calls the "greenest commercial building in the world" was nearly hamstrung by environmental regulations. Photo: The Bullitt Foundation

The problem, Adam Bejan Parast at Seattle Transit Blog writes, is that we are stuck with environmental regulations from a bygone era:

I have thought for a while that each generation of environmentalists is shaped in response to the differing environmental challenges of their time. While older generations of environmentalists were shaped by the back-to-the-land movement, one that believed in an essentially rural solution to environmental problems, young environmentalists are exactly the opposite, believing that dense cities are the primary solution to the problems we face.

Call it Vashion Island environmentalism vs Capitol Hill environmentalism. I find these underlying beliefs to be a helpful organizing structure when talking about density, tree preservation, parking requirements or other issues facing infill development.

Parast links to a post by Dan Bertolet, who argues we are entering a “fourth wave of planning,” influenced by climate change, energy concerns, food systems and sustainable regional development. How long will it take for our environmental regulations to catch up?

Elsewhere on the Network today: The League of American Bicyclists unveils its project aimed at memorializing every cyclist killed on American streets. Steven Can Plan compares traffic injury rates in the Netherlands to Chicago. And Brown Girl in the Lane discusses obstacles to women in the cycling movement, and how she developed a sisterhood of supporters.