The notion behind all of this is to diminish what some deep thinkers have come to consider a major contributor to Global Warming, that being "suburban sprawl." Surburban sprawl is a sustainability no-no because it causes people to drive their greenhouse gas producing cars to the grocery store rather than walk. If stores and condo apartments are all stacked up together, people won't want or need to drive. Or so the theory goes.
Our friends at Wikipedia define "sustainability" this way:
Sustainability is the capacity to endure. In ecology the word describes how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time. For humans it is the potential for long-term maintenance of well being, which in turn depends on the well being of the natural world and the responsible use of natural resources.
Good enough, I guess. Though it kind of sounds like any garden variety consultant speaking at a SCAG meeting.
One of the ways the experts gauge a community's sustainability is through its walkability. Their thinkability on this topic having been expressed through 10's of billions of words, many of which can apparently be found on the internet. One such protean thinker is Eric Fredericks, an urban planner who is also the driving force behind the Walkable Neighborhoods blog. Here Eric expounds upon that walkability theme in an interview published on another website dedicated to this topic, the suitably named Small Failures:
A walkable neighborhood completely impacts the daily lives of most of its residents - but the same can be said for just about any neighborhood. A walkable neighborhood just makes you appreciate the impacts more. For instance, typically walkable neighborhoods have multiple destinations that are within a safe and comfortable walking distance of your residence. You wouldn't even consider driving to these places because it just seems silly to drive such a short distance. So, you end up walking to places like the grocery store, the park, the barber, local restaurants, and so on. Then, you realize that in a suburban setting things are so spread out or hostile to walking that sometimes it's difficult to go to these places on foot - and maybe even frustrating to drive to them as well.
Now once John and Joe's Green Committee gets up and rolling you're going to hear a lot of this sort of talk. Previously determined and rote recital rather than any original thinking whatsoever being deeply embedded in the mission statement of this committee I suspect. And it would certainly appear that the themes mentioned above are slated to be included in our General Plan as well. With perhaps a well-versed consultant on the topic being brought in to make sure the language is precise and relevant to our future needs. After all, bringing sustainability and walkability to communities such as ours will take a lot of planning and infill redevelopment to achieve. Saving the world can be a very complex thing, and expert assistance would naturally be required.
But what if Sierra Madre already has the "walkability" thing down? Can such a thing possibly be?
There is a website called Walk Score that gauges the actual walkability of individual communities. Their scale for judging this important matter reads as follows:
90-100 Walker's Paradise - Daily errands do not require a car.
70-89 Very Walkable - Most errands can be accomplished on foot.
50-69 Somewhat Walkable - Some amenities within walking distance.
25-49 Car Dependent - A few amenities within walking distance.
0-24 Car Dependent - Almost all errands require a car.
If you go to the Walk Score page that rates Sierra Madre's walkability (click here), I think that you will find a very pleasant surprise. Our score is an extremely high 95. Which means that we have already achieved one of the major goals for sustainability, that being walkability! Which would also mean that we could already be where SB 375 demands that we be, and that the high density development that is John and Joe's only slightly veiled goal will not be necessary. We're "Green" already! Why mess with near perfection?
Of course, just because a community is as highly walkable as this one does not guarantee people will actually want to do any walking. And judging by the small amount of foot traffic you can see downtown on any given day - including weekends - it seems obvious that people here have yet to feel the magical urge to give up their cars. Which to me is the great flaw of SB 375. You can build as many condos and Metro stations as the San Gabriel Valley can possible hold, but that doesn't necessarily mean people will somehow feel the urge to start going by foot.
Though I suppose that would be preferable to taking the bus.