More specifically to an
environmental group such as NRDC, where I work, we use the phrase to
describe places where per capita use of resources and per capita
emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants are going down, not
up; where the air and waterways are accessible and clean; where land is
used efficiently, and shared parks and public spaces are plentiful and
easily visited; where people of different ages, income levels, and
cultural backgrounds share environmental, social, and cultural
benefits equally; where many needs of daily life can be met within a 20-minute
walk, and all may be met within a 20-minute transit ride; where
industry and economic opportunity emphasize healthy, environmentally
For a feel of what this looks like on the
ground, let's take a short journey together. On the way to our
destination on the high-speed train, we pass through a rolling rural
landscape dotted with farms, forests, and windmills, until we come to
the urban growth boundary of the Sustainaville metro region. The
landscape abruptly changes to well-ordered development.
first stop inside the developed area, we can tell that we are in a
suburb, but it doesn't look like suburbs built in the 1960s and 1970s.
For one thing, there is a lot more green space, not so much in private
yards, but in neighborhood-sized green squares around which are
clustered different types of homes—apartments, townhomes, and
single-family, offered at different price points and mixed together, not
separated. Some of the squares also have neighborhood shops, including
in one instance a dry cleaner's, a café, a convenience store, and a
pharmacy on the first floor of a five-story apartment or condo building.
A light rail line runs down the center of the main commercial street.
(We may be in a place similar in some respects to Orenco Station, Portland's iconic transit-oriented suburb.)
disembark and transfer to the light rail, which runs to Sustainaville's
downtown. We get off in an older, revitalizing neighborhood, largely
abandoned in the 1960s and 1970s but now healthy again after a
grassroots-led restoration. (We might now be in a place like Old North Saint Louis is rapidly becoming; or Melrose Commons in the South Bronx, whose plan has been certified gold under LEED-ND; or Oakland's Fruitvale Village,
whose grassroots-led rebirth was financed in part by NRDC's development
partner, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation.) At the rail stop,
we see carshare and bikeshare stations, cafés, shops, and services.
into the residential area, we notice kids walking home from school, the
little ones with their parents, the big ones with their friends,
because they can; their homes are all within a 15-minute walk on
well-connected, slow-speed streets with porous-pavement sidewalks on
both sides, native street trees, and parking spaces for cars and bikes
by the curb, which buffers the street from the pedestrians. Walking
farther, we see that there is an elementary school beside a small park,
and we can see another in the distance. The school has solar panels and
a green roof, as does a condo building on the park. Both have small
parking lots in the rear shaded by mature trees and surfaced with porous
pavers to filter stormwater.