Toward a Sustainable Community

Not until the spread of the Industrial Revolution in the late nineteenth century, has man possessed the ability to adversely alter, on a global scale, the geologic and climatic cycles that have existed for millennia. Planet earth, which man calls home, is approximately 5 billion years old. The science of paleontology tells us that man is a relative new comer to the planet. Modern man did not arrive on the scene until approximately 10,000 to 15,000 years ago. Developments in hunting, agriculture, literacy, and the sciences, have allowed man to thrive and inhabit nearly every corner of the planet. However, this success has not been good for the earth. The world\'s population has recently surpassed 6 billion and the developed countries community models and lifestyles are not sustainable.
Due to rapid, unrestrained growth, housing, shopping, and entertainment construction has spread across the surface of the planet like an oil slick. We are depleting resources and altering ecosystems at an alarming rate. Only now are we beginning to comprehend the long-term effects of more than a century of environmental ignorance, neglect, and apathy.
Historically, city and community planners lacked the vision and understanding that would lead to environmentally friendly and sustainable conditions, allowing us to live in harmony with nature. This, coupled with irresponsible consumerism and poor individual choices, has led us to a crossroad. It is now clear we cannot continue to build communities that are unsustainable and we must change our lifestyles. We have arrived at the threshold of the 21st century where nothing less than a global call to action is necessary. We can continue on our current path, which will ultimately lead to severe health problems, loss of valuable resources, extinctions, and a wholesale denial of contaminated areas, or we can take positive, radical steps to break with the past.
Regarding unsustainable communities and lifestyles, the blame lies mainly with two specific phenomena, American\'s love affair with the automobile, and the "American Dream" of owning a home and land outside of the city. A car-dependent lifestyle introduces numerous problems and exacerbates the dilemma of exurb migration. With so many cars on the road, they become congested, leading to the need for new, longer, and wider roads that encroach on existing ecosystems and animal habitats. With roads and highways stretching farther and farther from the city, suburbanites can now live at greater distances from the cities requiring a need for increased fossil fuel production. This increased consumption and burning of fossil fuels increases air and water pollution and contributes to the greenhouse effect. It is estimated that out of the millions of underground storage tanks of gasoline and diesel fuel across the U.S., over 300,000 have failed, contaminating the surrounding ground water tables (Nebel, Wright 490). In the case of the fuel additive, Methyl Tertiary-Butyl Ether (MTBE), contaminated wells have to be shut down entirely.
Many cities fail to meet air-quality standards even with improved pollution controls. Vehicles are responsible for an estimated 80% of the air pollution in metropolitan regions (Nebel, Wright 581). Vehicle traffic congestion increases year after year, accounting for billions of dollars worth of lost time and productivity. From 1945 to 1980, U.S. oil consumption nearly quadrupled while the population grew by just 60 percent (Nebel, Wright 581). According to the Washington Post, the world\'s oil reserves will be exhausted in approximately 40 to 50 years.
The "American Dream" of owning a home and land is something almost all Americans aspire to. However, this lifestyle is also responsible for a unique set of associated problems that contribute to a wasteful and unwise depletion of energy sources. Single family homes or detached dwellings, cost much more to heat than apartments. The paved area around all homes reduces rainfall percolation back to ground water tables. The increased run off due to the paving over of existing soil, causes erosion, and carries away surface pollutants such as lawn and garden chemicals. The unplanned communities that extend out from the cities eat up existing rich farmland, requiring food to be transported in from greater distances.
The only way we are going to be able to move away from unsustainable practices and behavior is through education, inclusion, planning, and regulation. By educating Americans about the effects of the car-dependent lifestyle