I think you may be surprised by this post. Yes, I'm a raging tree hugger. Yes I am interested in organic gardening and I'm interested in urban design. Now I'm going to express my distaste for both.
When I think of organic farming I think of how God made the earth. There is an amazing system of leaves falling in the fall, creating a perfect mulch from which a nutrient rich soil can develop. It's a basic system that can be seen in it's perfect arrangement deep in a forest where humans haven't messed it up yet. Now lets compare that to organic farming. We take and destroy the plants in the area, because what was previously growing isn't what we wanted to farm. Then we till the soil to get lots of air in there or something. I don't know why we till, but we have for a long time so we might as well continue. Then we plant a whole lot of one crop over the area we have 'prepared'. Don't worry, we won't add chemical herbicides or pesticides because that would be unnatural. Do you see the same problem I see?
I do want to recognize that I subscribe to Mother Earth News and have seen some wonderful examples of trying to mimic Mother Nature, but still it is all for our benefit. I don't think that we should return to a hunter gatherer system, but I do think that we need to move away from mass monoculture and start trying to mimic God on a larger scale.
Now lets look at development (this is really the one that I want to write about, it's the subject I"m studying for comps right now). The early communities were developed without any plans. You built your house and if you were a butcher, you raised animals in the back (or bought them from the local farmer) and sold them from your shop next to your house. Everyone did this and it created a community that had all of the essentials, supported all of the residents and didn't take any planning.
To be fair, this also lead to some poor situations where people have to live next to a slaughter house or other disturbing businesses. It also lead to some unsanitary conditions because they didn't have plans on how to get rid of their waste. We've changed things up (in large part for the better) and now we have separated the polluting industry from the places we live. Unfortunately that has also separated our destinations from our homes so we have to drive everywhere.
Of course I don't like that most people have to drive everywhere, but there is high demand to have your own little piece of land away from stuff, but in a nice little community. Now there is a neo-traditional movement that says that we should live in tightly packed condos built above stores. It's a great idea from the view point of walkability and environmentalism. The problem is that there is not a lot of economic demand for such places. People don't want to live in small condos (for the most part). The people who can afford those trendy little condos can't pay the bills with the amount of money they would make working at the downstairs shops, so they have to commute out of their 'walkable community' to their job. So where do we get the workers? They commute in from outside of the 'walkable community' because they can't afford to live in the new condos. So we've created a massive flux in and out of the 'walkable community' (mainly by car) every morning and evening in order to provide the needed jobs.
I don't think that people understand that organic means natural, just sort of let it go and allow nature do its thing. I would say that I'm all for organic farming. And I mean real organic farming, not mass produced and then transported monoculture. The organic communities... I'm just not sure. I like some of the principles of Euclidean zoning. I like having some confidence that my neighbor isn't going to start a feed lot in his back yard. But I also don't like the status quo of developing everything further and further apart so we have to drive more and more to get to where we need to go. I like the idea of incentives to make good decisions, to help people make choices that will lead to walkability, good communities, etc. That's not organic. I also don't believe that is realistic considering the current political climate (and the political climate in the foreseeable future).
So what do we do? This is the question I most fear for my comps. (all the questions have been submitted, so as long as Dr. Tucker doesn't read this while compiling them, i should be OK). The status quo is out, we need to make changes (although he political climate seems to be against major change... in my highly skewed view of the world). I think that complete streets that make cities more friendly to pedestrians and cyclists are important. Sure, nobody uses them except for cars, but I think we need to be prepared for that to change and having bike lanes and sidewalks is a step in the right direction. I also think we need to continue developing mixed use. I know I was just making fun of the mixed use ('walkable communities') because they just don't usually work as planned, but maybe as they age, they will become more walkable. The thing is that it is putting people closer to the stuff they need and therefore they have a choice to walk or take another job (although it's often not economically feasible, maybe it will be in the future). Tomorrow I think I'll write about some big changes that I think need to be made, like making it harder for big box stores to set up shop and attracting smaller Mom and Pop shops.
That's enough for now, I'm going to return to studying.