Restoring the Human Habitat Where You Live

I’m wrapping the last sustainable community class I will teach in a program that is ending and this article was just what I needed today as I consider what worked, what didn’t and where we go from here.
I am the planner teaching transportation and land use from an active healthy community perspective to grad students in a Community Economic Development program. The payoff for me in this Adjunct gig is in the application of these principles in small communities across Arkansas-communities that would otherwise continue on their car-centric ways. Students go on to Chambers of Commerce and Economic Development Agencies and I work to arm them with the ideas I have borrowed from the signers of the Ahwahnee Principles on to the present with more than a few trips back further to Mumford and others. I am sure to insert personal heroes like Dan Burden and John Norquist and other friends, like Dan Zack, when they have something new that I can share.
These students have grown-up with an understanding of the argument in favor of protecting the natural habitats of various species. Applying that understanding to their own species is the fun part for me. There is a fair amount of denial, where students have grown-up in communities where there is no alternative to driving to connect their daily origins and destinations. We utilize the sort of data you provide here to consider the impacts to human health and well-being that are implicit in the sorts of choices students will make in their lives and careers. We look at the unspoken marriage of Euclidean Zones and private automobiles and consider the outcome should cars become too expensive to continue to provide the necessary connections in the scheme.
We tease out a human habitat model that provides the option to be active in your daily life in a more Transit Oriented landscape where access and mobility are an option through colocation as well as transportation. We look at the scale of the street and the interface of the built environment to encourage walking and lingering. So, we know how to restore the human habitat.
But, the one concern that I have no answer for without radical change is housing affordability in these very desirable locations. As these landscapes become more desirable, there is increased competition between the people and businesses that want to locate there and the price of all properties is driven higher. A robust transit option, together with more walkable livable neighborhoods, pretty much ensures that my students can’t afford to live wherever “there” is (or the sort of compromises they would have to make to insinuate themselves are not possible).
We can blame people attracted to these landscapes who are driving prices higher but some of those people are former residents who are being attracted back by the new amenities. We can blame individual communities for the lack of affordable housing and we can create the sort of lotteries that create winners and losers, but these responses can never achieve the sort of scale necessary to address the problem. Whatever the policy response, it needs to be scalable to create human habitat that supports our species across the economic spectrum.
To tease out options, we discuss the concepts shared by the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis in their Housing Trilemma
article. In all of this, it becomes pretty clear that land use and transportation planning are creating a sort of have and have not dichotomy wherever we look. These are Economic Development students, so the concept of scarcity is not new. They usually agree that any solution needs to address supply and demand of the sort of livable walkable transit-oriented habitat that is in such demand that residents are priced out.
A modest proposal: Take the sort of approach to Transit and Transit Oriented Development that we have taken in promoting private auto use over the last century. But, instead of the 1939 vision of General Motors (start at 8:30 or so on the video) and Norman Bel Gaddes  that yielded a brutalist autocentric  landscape, we can develop landscapes that promote human interaction-landscapes that provide all of the elements necessary to ensure human health and wellbeing. These do not need to be sterile Disneyfied landscapes, but can instead incorporate the science available today to create places that fill our hearts and allow us to engage in our communities.
I’m going to Spain in May and my objective is to linger, walk around and ride a bike to experience the human habitat there. In cities like Sevilla, and even in new-towns-ghosttowns like Valdeluz, cycling and walking infrastructure are intentionally included. This intentionality is what seems to be lacking here.  The places that include this sort of basic human infrastructure here are being loved to death and average people are being excluded based on price. This is not an equitable solution. Communities need to serve everyone from eight to eighty and when they don’t, isolation is the outcome. We have seen before that accommodations designed for one small group, can have incredible benefits for the entire community and that will be the case here.  Predicting your lifespan and your health knowing only your zip code has implications for all of us. We need the sort of push to create these places at scale. Even a fraction of the sort of effort we saw from the automakers and Bel Gaddes back in 1939 would improve public health by restoring the human habitat.