I keep wondering why our cities are built the way they are.
Let’s talk about water. This newly-developed neighborhood is common here in South Surrey. Lots and roofs are sloped to channel water away from foundations. Roads and driveways are sloped to channel water into gutters where it is whisked away to, um, somewhere else. The grass we plant for greenery doesn’t absorb much water either, spitting it out into the gutters too. There are some trees planted because, after all, people like trees. As for backyards and gardens, new developments don’t need those because people don’t have time to take care of them.
Basically what we’re building are neighborhoods that push everything away. We build houses that regulate temperature so we don’t need shade. Our houses have running water that comes from reservoirs high in the mountains, so we don’t have to worry about the quality of water in the streams that used to run here. We don’t have gardens because we buy our food from South America or the US, unless we’re feeling environmental – then we buy local and feel proud of ourselves for doing something good. We don’t worry about air quality because the ocean breeze whisks away our air pollution to somewhere else.
There are people who look around and wonder if there’s a better way, but they’re called “environmentalists.” As if they’re different or weird.
I’d love to see developments that take into account the needs of the land and of the people who live there. Clean air, clean water, clean food, shelter, and space to socialize and exercise. That means using and embracing the world around us instead of pushing it away.
We could look at the water that runs off our roofs and down our roads and find ways to clean it using swales and planters instead of dumping it “somewhere else”. We could plant useful plants along the roads — plants that need little care but that clean our air, clean our water, and give food to birds and butterflies. We could increase permeable surfaces so the water can go where it has gone for hundreds of thousands of years — into the ground.
By cementing over thousands of hectares of rainforest, we’re the equivalent of a massive volcano. Everything that used to be here is destroyed. There’s little food for the animals that have lived here for so long, and habitat for rare and amazing plants is gone. If we think that humans won’t be affected by that, well, maybe we’re right and maybe we’re wrong.
I can’t help but think there’s a better way. Unless we think that humans really do only want big houses to sit in and watch TV. But if clean air and water and food and natural spaces aren’t important, why do people post beautiful pictures of nature and clear streams? Why do they pay hundreds more for “natural” food? Why are our developments so often named after the natural areas they supplanted? I think humans need a lot more than big houses to sit in. But someone has to pay for it, and I guess for developments in the 21st century, the simplest things are the ones that are the hardest to pay for.