Sustainable housing and real estate in Kitchener-Waterloo Region

Suburban sprawl and sustainability
January 13, 2009, 2:54 am
Filed under: Rebecca Sargent, Sustainability | Tags: ,

Air rights become increasingly important as the population increases. When there is no more room to build, the only optionĀ becomes to build upwards into the sky. The ongoing pull of suburbia is incredibly land intensive. Each person now requires more space to live than they did 50 or 100 years ago. With the ever increasing amount of space needed, where do we go from here? Once the land runs out, the only place to go is up.

At the early part of the 20th century, families were larger and homes were smaller than they are today. We now have ourĀ 2.5 children and dog living in 2000+ square feet of space on tiny postage-stamp size lots where we can practically touch our neighbours from our window. Why do we suddenly need soo much more indoor space than our parents or grandparents did? Why do we not care as much about the outdoor space around us?

Perhaps we need this space to hold our increasing amount of “stuff”; the overwhelming amount of material goods we now “need” to live our modern life. Perhaps it is because most families buy their groceries and do not need gardens to grow their food. Perhaps it is the government policies and development propaganda that tells us this is what we should want. Whatever the reason, the trend is concerning for many.

We separate the land use in suburbia, with areas for shopping, schools, work and residences all spread out and far away from each other. This increases our need to use our cars to get around, even if it’s just to pop over to the store for some milk. Studies have found that those living in suburban areas are more likely to report high blood pressure, arthritis, headaches and breathing difficulties than those living in less sprawling areas. There is also increased use of polluting fossil fuels as people must commute to work, or use vehicles to visit friends, go to the store or get around the community.

Every year I see new developments springing up where farmland used to be and it is very concerning. Southern Ontario has some of the most prime farmland in the province, and it is slowly but surely being replaced by the ever growing population, with little thought to the future. If we want to continue our suburban sprawl, we must do it in responsible and sustainable ways. We must begin to look to the future and redesign these areas with the health of the community in mind. Farms feed us; we need them to survive. If we must build suburban spaces, we should also look to build more green spaces or community gardens within these spaces. Mixed use spaces are recommended, but what else can we do?

Urban areas are expanding at about twice the rate that the population is growing. Interestingly, many developers continue to expand suburbia, expecting the government to foot the bill for infrastructure like roads and sewer lines- increasing our taxes, while making substaintial profits for themselves. Part of the problem is the policies in place for development that focus primarily on profit, and not on the health and sustainability of communities. Redeveloping land currently in use to better suit the needs of the population instead of spreading out further and further is one way. Taking time to plan new developments in more mixed and sustainable ways is another. We are doing a lot of action and very little thinking. If we do not learn from our history, we will continue to make the same mistakes. It is time we took a close look at the housing industry and made regulations to ensure the health and sustainability of our population.