Benefits of the burbs.

 Last weekend we finally finished moving into our new house, and from where I'm sitting right now I can see the lights inside the new  and enormous APL factory just outside Cambridge, I can see the traffic hurrying in either direction on the new freeway, and I can see the lights up and down Victoria Road in and out of town. 

Immediately surrounding our house though, is a swathe of green on three sides with encroaching suburbia on the far edges of all fields.This is all recent development too; you don't have to have lived around here for very long to remember the right side of the road from Cambridge to Hautapu being all farmland.

Of course, as a greenie, or at least a person with a environmental conscience, my initial reaction to the view from our house was one of dismay at the speed with which green is turning to grey.

But then I thought about it and I'm not sure that it is all bad. Here's the rationale, along with a disclaimer against the chance that I am entirely wrong. I have no empirical evidence or facts to back up my suggestions but my chain of thought went like this: People have to live somewhere and they have to do their shopping, and conduct their business, and relax. For Cambridge we're talking about a lot of people because it's a popular place. So we are swapping fields of grass for suburban development. An area of land which is covered with grass is, from an environmental point of view, pretty neutral; it doesn't contribute a lot, but then it doesn't detract either - unless you get into the fiery debate about the effects of intensive animal farming which I do not propose to do here. 

So once that land has been transformed into suburbia, is it going to contribute to the planet in a positive way or is it going to detract from the planet by consuming resources and requiring waste treatment and transport infrastructure etc…?

Here's where a difference can be made, not only by the planners and developers, but by the people who live in these new suburbs. Of course we should look to central and local government for direction, for sustainable choices, extensive planting in public places, efficient and fiscally viable public transport systems. By and large they are not doing too badly on that score, but this is where the individual can make a positive difference: Plant more shrubs and trees and have smaller lawns, reduce the amount of household rubbish going to landfill, put solar panels on your roof, drive an electric or hybrid car, recycle and re-use more and throw away less, get the dryer fixed instead of buying a new one.

The suburbs are coming - I can see them from my office window like rain across a lake. But who knows? The new suburbs could just be better for the planet than the green fields they are replacing.


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