Thursday, August 11, 2016


Political Mayhem Thursday: Is development good?

One of the things that has come up during this campaign has been the need for "infrastructure improvements." It's true, too-- we need to properly maintain our bridges and roads.

What goes with all of that, though? As population increases, we build more roads, more bridges, more buildings. Wild spaces disappear, and the world becomes a more uniform expanse of concrete and metal.

This happens because of political choices we make: to build new roads, to encourage and finance development, and to zone land for new uses.

Should development be more or less restricted than it is now?

Development can take many form. It's not just tearing down forests and destroying ecosystems. You can tear down old strip malls and put in mixed use buildings with shopping and services on the street level and LEED housing on top.

Sadly much of the way American live today is not environmentally efficient or wise. I like my single family home, but I'd make a smaller carbon footprint in a condo. And as the human race expands, there will be fewer places for single family homes.
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With a current population of over 7 billion people, and a projected 9 billion before we slow down, development is inevitable. So, more or less restriction? The key is developing in a thoughtful way that includes input from developers, environmental scientists, smart growth experts, the public, etc. I'm currently involved in an infill development project where I live, and the public was only brought in a month or so before the plan went to the town council for approval -- very unfortunate. Although involving all stakeholders can be a tedious process, it's an important step. For large projects, NEPA involves input from all stakeholders, but oftentimes, smaller or local projects skip this key step.
I agree with IPLG and Desiree (and find Blog FastCare's comment puzzling, wondering how he ever passed the robot test).

Development seems part of the human condition (a pleasing part, a better angel part). I am for an emphasis on the good, the true, and the beautiful in development projects (obvious point). But I too worry how to achieve the right balance of governmental oversight, human creativity, and community benefit. Let us go forward together.
Environmentally sound infrastructure development exists and it is successfully and creatively practiced in densely populated urban areas. There should be no reason why smaller municipalities could or would not implement “expansion NOT on the table” model or if a developer wanted to cut a tree or two older than 50, a Town Hall meeting would become necessary even before the development plan took shape. It happened where I live, on Roosevelt Island NYC, when Cornell Tech presented a plan for their new campus. They did end up having to come up with one of the most daring environmentally conscious projects, not just having to explain why they had to cut a few old trees but how the construction would impact the neighboring community and how the entire structure would fare in the long [environmental impact] run. I’m sure if the developers were not constrained by landscape or local rules they would have happily colonized new ground. I guess I should mention I personally hate those developments that look like a cloning experiment gone seriously wrong.
I think the key to managing environmental impact of population growth and relocation is to redevelop spaces that are already developed. An example is that we have hundreds of small towns where the population is shrinking, and where, with appropriate infrastructure development, dispersed business and service operations could be located. Maintaining highways and bridges is important, but moving toward more energy and apace efficient transportation can reduce the long-term impact.

We also need to create some new types of infrastructure. The drought and flood cycle will get more intense with climate change and much of the occupied ocean front will be susceptible to ocean rise. On the former, we could build underground silos to the depth of the aquifer along rivers and streams, set at flood stage, to divert flood water to underground storage, improving our water supply volume and reducing the severity of floods. Aquifers with low levels of contamination but too high for human consumption could be pumped and discharged during flood events, eventually making additional underground storage capacity available.

High speed electronic communication capability, extended to the small towns that have vacant buildings, including older homes that can be reclaimed, is infrastructure that can reduce the environmental impact of human population.
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