Are you satisfied?

My last post, Biophilic Cities, drew on the work of Timothy Beatley – a leading scholar and practitioner of ecological urbanism. This post continues that focus.

Stephen asked us a profound question: in comparison with the European Cities highlighted in Beatley’s book Green Urbanism, are you satisfied with the way the buildings and neighborhoods in your life fulfill your spirit, preserve your wallet, and allow you to sit more lightly on the Earth?

In some ways, my Yalecrest neighborhood comes closer to Beatley’s vision than many other parts of Salt Lake City. Beatley writes of “an explicit emphasis… given to incorporating retail establishments, grocery stores, shops, and offices, all in close proximity” (p. 79) to housing. From my home, a grocery store and a bus stop are just a few minutes away on foot; a book store, a cafe, a deli, and several restaurants are just a few minutes more.

Yalecrest Neibhorhood

But when describing the exemplary case of Freiburg, Germany, Beatley also mentions “impressive architecture, priority given to pedestrians… and an active street life” (p. 91). None of these hold true in Yalecrest. The architecture is pleasant but is not impressive, the massive residential streets favor speeding cars, and there is little to no street life.

We do not sit lightly on the Earth here, either. In contrast to the ecovillages described by Beatley, we have a paucity of renewable energy, an abundance of water-intensive turfgrass, a conventional (and invisible) hardscape stormwater infrastructure, and no community garden. The one bus through our neighborhood comes twice an hour, from 7 am to 7 pm. It is somewhat useful for getting to and from the University during business hours, but little more.

We also lack social equity in Yalecrest. There is minimal diversity of race or income. Many would characterize it as an elitist place.

Salt Lake City, Utah

Nevertheless, Yalecrest comes closer to green urbanism than many neighborhoods in Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County. It is more walkable, more compact, more aesthetic, and more infused by local economy. Am I satisfied, therefore, with my neighborhood and my city?

Absolutely not.

Stephen, Tim Beatley, and many others show us just how healthy, sustainable, vibrant, and beautiful cities can be. In Salt Lake, on days when the air is unfit to breathe, this seems a far off vision indeed.

But Beatley also emphasizes the value of “gradualism and gradual change,” as exemplified by Copenhagen (p. 95). Their transformation began slowly, in the 1960s. As described in my post on bicycle mobility, Copenhagen is now a world leader in sustainability.

Yalecrest and Salt Lake City could and should have started 50 years ago. But we’re making progress now. It’s better late than never.


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