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MainstreetInsertTurningTheSuburbanTide

East Pierce is a place where forests fall in the onward march of suburban development. It is a place where roads thicken, frustrations boil, and the vestiges of a local economy often get piled under the rubble of big box stores.

Environmentalism, for many long years, often appeared only from the hinterlands, in the form of frustrated neighbors trying to protect the scraps of wilderness left around them. It is honorable, exhausting work. It also begs the question: “If an environmental group is against development, then, taken the modern age we live in, what do they propose instead?”

This, happily, is the work of the Sumner Downtown Association, the Puyallup Mainstreet Association, and anyone who loves and supports walkable communities.

In order to explain this connection, it is helpful to understand differing lifestyles in terms of their ‘ecological footprint’. A brief definition of an ecological footprint is “the amount of the earth’s resources that are used up; the size of an activity’s ‘footprint’”. Tribal people have very small ecological footprints, they often gather or grow their food and live within the means of the environment. People who live in a town or a city, who walk to work, share infrastructure, and buy from local farmers, have a bigger ecological footprint. People who live in the suburbs, who drive to work and shop at corporate stores, they/we have the biggest ecological footprint of all.

The phenomenon of this huge ecological footprint in our region has been made possible thanks to cheap oil and lots of land, resources that are fast dwindling. In the pursuit of progress, we may want to stop and ask the question “what are we progressing to?”

An international visionary, David Holmgren has summed up the situation by saying that as the pre-industrial age relied heavily on human labor, the industrial age relied heavily on resource extraction, and the post-industrial age will rely on good design. This is the task that our younger generations face: how do we turn a badly designed system based on cheap oil into a well-designed system based on our environmental limits? And how do we keep it just as much fun, if not more?

Luckily, this revolution is as easy as having tea at a locally-owned hangout, growing food with neighbors, and biking to work. Though easy in themselves, a badly designed suburb may make such things impossible and/or insane to do.

The task before many of today’s environmentalists is to disassemble suburbs. With the same density, and a lot more creativity and community input, our strip-malls and cul-de-sacs can become villages. When communities are designed for people rather than automobiles, an amazing amount of space is opened up for gardens, green space, and localized economies.

While this may seem impossible to some readers, the rapidity and passion with which it is happening around the country proves that it is not only possible, but that the time for it is very ripe. When we get out of our cars and onto our feet, it awakens many potentialities.

The downtown cores we have in Sumner and Puyallup are our teachers, our drawing boards for how this revolution will happen. This revolution will not be televised. We will make our path by walking it.

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Page last modified on March 08, 2008, at 07:43 PM