>Planning for Eat-Ability

>Imagine a setting in which people can live, access life’s necessities without need for motorized transportation, and never worry about having adequate food or water. There are a thousand types of communities that might come to mind, but one of them is probably not a typical suburban or rural housing subdivision. Somehow, though, the majority of people in North America and other developed regions live in these kinds of developments. They sprawl like lichen on a rock across rural landscapes – without an outwardly visible source of food or water. Placed far from urban areas, with cul-de-sac after cul-de-sac of nearly identical houses and no other necessary amenities nearby, suburban and ex-urban (i.e., stuck in the middle of nowhere) developments are a prime example of bad design. They’re impossible to walk through – most lack sidewalks or logical footpaths between cul-de-sacs. To access work, school, or stores, residents have no other option than to hop in their cars, get on the freeway, and find the nearest suburban center. The only remnants of nature might be found in the fake pond at the golf course or perhaps in the subdivision’s name – “Willow Crest” or “Fox Hollow”. And worst of all, most of these developments are built smack on top of prime farmland. From a food security perspective, this manner of paving over and occupying the landscape is fairly frightening.

Of course, some developers talk about “sustainable development” (a puzzling little oxymoron) or planning for “livability”. They throw in a few bike paths and extra trees. Still, these greenwashing tactics don’t solve the root problems of urban sprawl: isolation of communities and the destructin of ecologically valuable unpaved land that has the added benefit of keeping the population fed.
Thanks to rural land speculation and the cycle of decline in inner cities, this pattern of development has been difficult to stop or even slow, although the present recession is helping immensely. Still, the sight of sprawling asphalt and rows of single-family dwellings from an airplane window has the power to throw me into a funk of hopelessness for days.
But wait! Could there be a slow shift in consciousness here? I was recently mailed an article (the old-fashioned way, no less) describing the hottest trend in housing developments: organic farms. And I don’t mean developers are buying out farmers and naming the subdivisions “Pesticide-Free Strawberry Fields” instead of “Shady Oak Glen”. No, according the New York Times article, farms are now considered “subdivision amenities” by many developers. Instead of building homes around golf courses, they are putting in organic farms to draw in yuppie foodies or perhaps those who have ideas about living in a rural area. Residents can even pitch in around the farm and share in the harvest. Of course, the article left out some of the potential difficulties that immediately come to mind. What happens when the breeze shifts and some unfortunate homeowner realizes they’ve purchased the olfactory privilege of living downwind from the chicken house? Will residents tolerate the drone of a tractor disturbing the peaceful summer ambiance?
Apparently, somebody has figured out a way to make it work, because the developments do seem to have caught on. They probably won’t work everywhere – not all sprawl takes place on pristine farmland with ample water – and they certainly don’t cure the basic problems inherent in urban sprawl mentioned above, but I suppose if people must live in subdivisions, they might as well have a convenient, safe food source nearby. The logical next steps will be to put in a school, a few small, locally owned stores and restaurants, and public gathering spaces, eliminating the need to drive thirty minutes for a coffee fix or a new rake. Put it all together, and a sprawling city will have devolved into a cluster of small towns. Livability? Absolutely. Eat-ability? Even better.

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