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San Francisco Chronicle

Plan Bay Area offers a solid vision

OPEN FORUM: Pro/Con on Blueprint for Development

A few years ago, a former colleague traded in her big suburban house and 90-minute commute for a cozy home and short bike ride to the ferry. Jennifer’s oldest kids were off to college, and with only one daughter left at home, she and her husband craved a different lifestyle.

On the other end of the generational spectrum is 30-something Ian, a recent Bay Area transplant who works in high tech. After enduring a year of commuting to Silicon Valley, he found that both his work and his personal life were suffering. He was lucky enough to find a job near San Francisco where he can walk to work and get around on BART or Muni.

Clearly, empty nesters and Millennials have more in common than you’d think. Like many in the Bay Area, they aspire to live in a community with walkable neighborhoods and close access to stores and transit. In short, they want what Plan Bay Area, a 30-year blueprint for regional growth, is proposing to do.

In today’s Bay Area, the old model of a single-family home with a fenced yard and a long commute is neither affordable nor practical for everyone. Demand is shifting; many people prefer the option of a lower-maintenance home near work so that they can spend more quality time with their family and friends.

The benefits of building affordable townhomes and apartments near city centers are many: Vibrant neighborhoods provide a sense of community, and easy access to public transportation reduces the number of cars on the road, improving air and water quality. Pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods get people talking to each other – effective crime prevention. And, homes in tight-knit neighborhoods are more desirable and hold more value than those in sprawling subdivisions.

That’s not to say there won’t be challenges to implementing Plan Bay Area’s vision. For 10 years, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO survey has cited a lack of affordable homes near jobs as one of the top challenges to doing business. Yet little has been done to alleviate the crunch. Industry needs highly skilled employees to be competitive, but when there is a lack of affordable homes to attract them, other states begin to look more inviting.

There’s no question that it takes time and money to find the right places to build and update existing infrastructure. But with 2 million new residents projected in the coming decades, we need to start planning today. We need to accommodate growth without sacrificing the natural beauty that makes the Bay Area a great place to live, and research shows that there is ample room to accommodate growth in already developed areas.

By working together, planners and communities throughout the Bay Area can make sure that all have access to the lifestyle they want, at a price they can afford.

Plan Bay Area: The blueprint for the bay is under public review. The comment period on the plan and draft EIR closes May 16. To learn more, go to http://onebayarea.org

Jeremy Madsen is executive director of Greenbelt Alliance.
This article appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.


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