By Sheri Choi
Most of us come from one of great many suburban towns sprawled across Canada. Our childhood homes were our parent’s dreams to escape the harshness of the city into an island amidst the great sea of suburbs. Behind its blissful looking lawns and rows of identical houses, the real cost of the suburban lifestyle is not translated into amount of dollars but expressed in fading atmosphere and melting ice caps. On average the bloated and poorly designed suburban houses consume more energy than an apartment in a city would. The source of high energy consumption of suburbanites comes not only from heating and maintenance, but inevitable dependency on automobiles. The design of suburbs which segregates the public and private sectors create reliance on private vehicles for transportation that is detrimental socially as well as environmentally. A suburban lifestyle builds a social barrier among people created by isolation of individual homes as well as a substantial amount of each day spent commuting. The suburbs are environmentally unsustainable, socially destructive model of living that must be reconsidered.
New Urbanism is a growing movement to redesign the suburbs in a way that addresses the problems of suburbanized towns. The inspiration to design communities that are compact, walkable and pedestrian oriented much like the 19th century and the pre war 20th century America and just as much of the modern European towns are set up. The inspiration for the future of human dewelling is ironically modeled after the past. The towns are designed to have a mixed use of space in which offices, homes and shops coexist in a shared space as opposed to being compartmentized into residential, recreation and working areas. Emphasis on the aesthetics of the buildings and the surrounding that would enable a sense of comfort is also reflected in its practices. The greatest achievement of new urbanism is its consciousness on sustainability by enabling options of alternative transportation and focusing on renewable source of energy and local production of food.
There are several existing New Urbanism communities in Canada and many in construction. A notable example of a successfully established New Urbanism town is in Markham on the outskirts of Toronto. But to witness a town in its journey towards sustainability one need not go further than a quick bus trip to Dundas. Dundas was recognized as a Transition Town in 2008 and retains many of the qualities that New Urbanism emphasizes.. Since development of a New Urbanism town requires extensive construction and financial investment, the transition movement is a realistic alternative for the existing suburban towns . These towns recognize the impact of using fossil fuel as their primary source of energy and attempts to create communities that strive to lower their energy consumption. As a community that strive towards sustainability, vast local produces are available from several farms that follow the principle of permaculture.
New Urbanism and Transition towns are not without criticism. Some claim that a more drastic measures than what New Urbanism offers must be taken to minimize notable environmental impact. The critics also claim that merely retrofitting already existing suburban homes won’t be sufficient and the goal of redesigning the human living space with taken with more ambition. Nonetheless, the gradual change of using alternative transportation, designing walkable towns and eating locally produced foods are significant step towards building a sustainable future.