Stephen provided us with an in-depth study and an extensive reference list, indicating that living close to major roadways – within a few hundred feet – is associated with a wide range of health hazards, especially for small children. He asked us to consider the implications for our professional practice. As an architect, would you design a home for a young family, to be sited next to a high-use freeway? As a planner, would you approve a nursery room addition to a house in the same neighborhood?
What did you know, and when, and what did you do with that knowledge?
These are the questions that need to guide ethical practice in our search for green communities.
Stephen also encouraged us to ask: what do these epidemiological findings mean for me and the people close to me?
For me the answer is simple. Two of my best friends – siblings – grew up within a few hundred feet of Bangerter Highway on the west side of Salt Lake County. The sister, Symmer, has had asthma since elementary school, and the brother, Emerson, has had a chronic hacking cough for just as long.
Years earlier, the three of us speculated that spending their childhood so close to such a major roadway must have contributed to their pulmonary issues. Now, that assumption seems all the more reasonable. Of course, we don’t have incontrovertible proof. But this is the essence of the precautionary principle. In all likelihood, my friends will face lifelong health problems because of where they were raised.
Clearly, we have enough information to stop siting homes near big roads. “Incontrovertible proof” will only mean more lifelong health problems for more close friends. We already know better. Now, it’s time for architects and planners to act like it.