“Green” Sprawl

There’s an interesting piece in The Atlantic Cities this week on a proposed “green” greenfield development in Southern California. The piece focuses on a proposed “I-15 sustainable community,” and the author’s central¬†point is that it’s impossible for this low-density suburban-style housing to be “green” given the proposed location. Since I have some familiarity with the area (my grandparents used to live just across I-15 from the proposed site), I think he’s absolutely right. You really cannot get to anything in the area without driving at least 20 minutes, and that’s with I-15 traffic cruising at 80 mph. Each one of these 1,700 homes is certain to have at least 2 cars, and the increase in VMT will more than offset all the “green” features of the development.

That said, the most important part comes after most readers’ tl;dr line:

It seems to me that the planning office should be encouraging green revitalization and redevelopment within cities and towns, and encouraging the addition of new green features to existing suburbs.

Herein lies the problem. Why are developers proposing “green” sprawl? Because building anything “within cities and towns,” especially in-fill housing in existing neighborhoods, has become effectively illegal in so many jurisdictions. The demand for new housing is still there, and if it can’t be built it in the urban core, it’ll have to be built as sprawl. Once you’re on that path, it makes sense to go “green” since green sells, especially in present-day California.

I doubt the Valley Center Planning Group really needs to do anything at all to “encourage” development in already urbanized areas, they just need to tear down the current barriers. I’m not sure that building the same housing in Escondido would really be “green” either – it’s always struck me as something of a bedroom community for San Diego (30 miles to the south) – but it’s almost certainly better than even more sprawl.