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Editorial: Region can add homes, jobs without more sprawl

It’s easy to see how installing solar panels or driving a hybrid can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But it’s less intuitive that the way we build new neighborhoods — how we lay out the streets, how close together we place the homes — affects global warming.

But it does. And a new report by the Greenbelt Alliance provides a road map to greener development.

Grow Smart Bay Area, released Wednesday, persuasively asserts that all of the growth in housing and jobs expected by 2035 around the bay can be absorbed within existing cities, without annexing an acre of open land. And it shows how building on the vacant or underutilized sites that the Greenbelt task force identified can create more livable, walkable neighborhoods — if cities adopt policies that encourage good neighborhood design. Check out the details at growsmartbayarea.org.

Not long ago, arguments to build neighborhoods where people could walk to schools, parks and stores, and maybe use mass transit, were often about lifestyle choices. But now a multitude of commonly held goals have converged to push in that direction:

  • Energy independence, which will mean driving less.
  • Water conservation, which compact development helps achieve.
  • Controls on costs of city services, which surge when subdivisions stretch far afield.
  • Healthier lifestyles, which improve with more walking and biking.
  • And now, restrictions on greenhouse gases. Besides cutting down on driving and reducing emissions in other ways, compact growth allows us to preserve the forests and grasslands that remain our natural and best defense against global warming.

No sprawl through 2035 is a reachable goal. But to be effective, Grow Smart Bay Area will need an army of evangelists throughout the region making the case that development doesn’t have to be harmful to its neighbors or to the environment — even in the age of climate change.


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