Urban vs GreenfieldEver since I wrote Greenfield Development Without Sprawl, I’ve tried to bring a balanced view to the tension that lies between market reality and urbanist aspirations for more compact forms of human settlement.   Joel Kotkin always provides one part of the informed discussion along that continuum.  His recent article in U.S. News is no exception.

Some of Joel’s comments on growth going to areas other than the ‘sexy six’ (see my post ‘Mixed Use for the New Economy – Part I’) is further reinforced by a recent e-newsletter by RCLCO on their analysis of growth in the mega-regions.

So it seems some of the ideas from 2004 are still valid a decade later.  As further evidence, Richard Louv, author of the best seller Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder recently published a book on the research and evidence of how integration of nature allows us to build smarter, more sustainable businesses, communities, and economies.   “Through biophilic design, our homes, workplaces, neighborhoods, and towns will not only conserve watts, but also produce human energy.”

In the chapter on Creating Everyday Eden, Louv speaks to both urban and rural community living and quotes me directly:  ‘While it is often lumped with  sprawl, greenfield development offers the most practical, affordable, and achievable chance to build without sprawl, given its potential to create large-scale, conserved open lands and sustainable modern infrastructure,’ writes Heid.  Good greenfield development relies on three prerequisites: a region-wide system of sustainable open space; more and higher concentrations of walkable, bikeable, mixed-use development; and a diverse mix of housing types, sizes, and prices.”

My current belief is the compact vs. more conventional patterns cannot be reduced to an ‘either or’ discussion.  We have to be smarter about designing for the still larger part of the market that wants single family detached homes, a backyard and a more suburban lifestyle.  While the cohort seeking compactness IS increasing, it is still NOT the majority.  We need to continue the debate, but without dogma and the evangelical zeal that has alienated some of the most important players – the consumer.  At the same time, ‘conventionalists’ need to become more sensitive to the resource and planetary imperatives we are facing, and how less compact forms of development exacerbate challenges and often fail to consider more creative and responsible forms of planning – regardless of where the development is located.