homeowners frequently complain about the rampant development across South
Florida. When a developer eyes a parcel as a good opportunity for increased
density, outrage within the community is a given. Complaints range from traffic
congestion to decreased privacy– the validity of each is debatable–
but one complaint that I hear over and over, which is inarguably wrong,
is that development and increased density is not “green."
Many people seem to believe that building a
park or a small single family home in the suburbs instead of allowing increased
density is “greener” because, well, lawns and hedges have
more of the color green, but this does not mean that they are sustainable.
Developers want to build housing because there is a demand for housing:
populations are rising and Northerners are tired of freezing each winter. When
a developer comes to a neighborhood and suggests a new building with increased
density and the neighborhood successfully fights against it, that housing
demand doesn’t simply disappear just because a project is halted. The
demand simply gets placed elsewhere, somewhere further away. Even though there
is plenty of space within the Urban Development Boundary Line to build more homes,
because of the numerous obstacles present like neighborhood resistance,
developers have moved further west, slowly eating up the Everglades.
We are presently
witnessing a mass global extinction of both plants and animals at rates 1,000
to 10,000 times higher than regular extinction rates of Earth’s
past. The overarching cause is habitat loss. (You thought I was going to say
climate change, didn't you?) Suburban sprawl has consumed immense areas of land
and created barriers that do not allow for animals to cross between fragments
of remaining green space. While this doesn’t really bother
squirrels and pigeons too much, a bald eagle, resident of the Florida
Everglades, for example, generally requires 820 feet of distance between it and
the closest human or domesticated pet. Many animals need large contiguous
wilderness spaces in order to survive, not a conciliatory public park full of
eager dogs. One may think they are doing a service to nature by advocating a
park space in the middle of suburbia but instead they are indirectly
contributing to the loss of more valuable habitat by limiting the neighborhood’s
But who cares
about animals? What’s on every South Floridian’s
mind is traffic. Bad news: when we limit development in our neighborhoods and
push it further out, we actually make the traffic problem worse. As housing
gets built further from where most jobs are located, more commuters driving
longer distances get added to the highways. The problem with traffic extends so
much further than simply how frustrating it is to waste two hours of your day
behind the wheel. Collectively, driving adds inconceivable amounts of pollution
and carbon dioxide into the water and air and driving forces us to rely
on oil and gas frequently obtained from politically unstable areas. This is not
reasons are for opposing development, please refrain from quoting
sustainability as a legitimate excuse. The most sustainable thing we can do in
South Florida is increase density within the land we have already claimed and
leave the Everglades alone.
You might be
thinking right now, no way am I going to let some high-rise condo into my
single family home neighborhood! You don’t have to! There is
some middle ground available. Townhouses and small apartment buildings or
condos can help satiate housing demand and thus reduce the cost of living for
everyone while not appearing drastically out of scale with the surrounding
neighborhood. The problem is that Miami’s zoning code makes it very difficult
to develop small buildings because of parking requirements that essentially
force developers to go big or go home. This Thursday, Miami Commissioners will
be meeting to hear public opinions on various topics including a proposal to
eliminate parking requirements only for buildings under 10,000 square feet that
are located close to public transit and not within areas zoned suburban.
Allowing this small but significant change to Miami’s zoning code is a
big step toward making Miami a more sustainable city. Please email your
commissioner or attend the meeting to share your support.
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