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Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Fallacy that Anti-Development is Sustainable

Suburban 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 development potential.

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 sustainable!
Whatever one’s 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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Blogger Bruce said...

Mr Matson's position that denser development, when well planned, is more environmentally sustainable than sprawl is not new. Call it "smart growth", New Urbanism, whatever. Certain areas of Miami that have access to mass transit -- and wide boulevards accomadating pedestrian and bicycle traffic alongside autos -- are good candidates.
The residential areas of Coconut Grove are not good candidates for denser development. If you double the density with duplexes, townhouses and lowrise apartment buildings, the narrow, meandering streets without sidewalks will become more crowded and even more dangerous for those brave enough to walk or bike.
As for the new hi rise condos going up in the Center Grove, how does Mr Matson think all those people are going get to their Brickell offices? Is the buyer of a million dollar condo really going to walk up 27th Ave, across Dixie Highway, and take the Metrorail? Only in a dream world.
Even a New Urbanist creation like Seaside has a maximum planned density. Coconut Grove is maxed out. Don't blame us for the developers who want to pave the Everglades.

September 24, 2015 10:48 AM  
Blogger Malone Matson said...

Hi Bruce, Miss Matson would point out the increasing development of office space in and coming to the Grove. However for those commuting to Brickell from the Grove, Bayshore offers a direct route-- with increased density having a frequent and reliable bus line between the Grove and Brickell is quite realistic. I would also guess that a portion of the residents buying these luxury condos probably do not even live in Miami full-time.

I highly doubt any business in the Center Grove would complain about having crowded sidewalks. And certainly the solution to making Coconut Grove more walkable isn't to reduce the number of people walking or biking.

Luckily the proposed change to zoning which I mentioned only applies to the places you, Bruce, described: "areas... that have access to Mass transit" and areas that are NOT zoned suburban like many of the quiet Grove streets you speak of. So you and I are not in disagreement.

Not too long ago a proposal for a mixed use building with affordable apartments on the corner of 27th and US1 right next to the metrorail was shut down due to neighborhood resistance because of this fear that bigger and more equals bad. For the sake of all of Miami, we need people living and working near the metrorail and we need to feed the housing demand so that the only apartments available aren't the million dollar condos you mention. It's moments like this when I get frustrated.

PS. It is not your fault the Everglades is being paved, but I think it is important to draw to people's attention that saying no to development here means development elsewhere and that's how sprawl happens. We are not the problem, but we are part of it.

September 24, 2015 11:30 AM  
Blogger August said...

Seaside has a population density of 12-14,000 people per sq. mile. Coconut Grove is only with 8,000 people per sq. mile.

September 24, 2015 12:12 PM  
Blogger Bruce said...

August, My point is that Seaside was planned to be more dense than Coconut Grove. Office space, retail space and residential space all in close, walking proximity. Which parts of the Center and West Grove have as well.
But even Seaside has its limits. Manhattan has a density of 60,000/sq mile. Manila over 100,000. Mumbai probably over 200,000 if anyone really knew how many lived there. Is that kind of density something Seaside or the Grove should aspire to?

And Ms Malone, sorry about the Mr. Just took a guess based on Malone.
I don't know who had a problem with an affordable highrise on the corner of 27th and US1. That's a perfect place for it. One is being built right now, though I don't know how affordable it will be.

As for crowded sidewalks in the Grove, I never suggested that was a bad thing. Just that the residential streets WITHOUT sidewalks couldn't handle more cars and co-exist with pedestrians and bikes.

September 24, 2015 12:44 PM  
Blogger Sledge said...

More tall buildings more people, more traffic, more Malls, more parking lots, tall marinas, more plastic Don Shulas, more high rises blocking the water and the sky, more Concrete and more developer$$$, more Sarnoffs, more politicians ans special interests, and much more concrete everywhere!

September 24, 2015 12:46 PM  
Blogger reid prevatt said...

Thought the Everglades was protected and they are getting rid of the airboats and trying other stuff. Hell thev an'n't building condos in the Everglades. Am I wrong. By the way the Grove does not have the squirrels possums and birds it used to have. And please do not compare Manhattan to the Grove. That is the whole point of the people who think you are full of it.

September 24, 2015 1:36 PM  
Blogger Coconut Grove Art Blog said...

All the comments make sense to one degree or another. In the letter "The overarching cause is habitat loss. (You thought I was going to say climate change, didn't you?) It's my opinion habitat loss & climate change are one and the same and the common denominator of this mix is over-population. Humanity has built up to the size of some giant tidal wave about to come crashing down on itself leaving in my opinion about 500,000,000 people to get in right the second time around. 20 to 50,000,000 people killed off in WW II and millions more during the 1st WW. The plague killed off 1/4 to 1/3 of earths human population. As the oceans rise and 1/3 the population has to move inland, now here comes an event. Humans have become a virus to earth raising its temperature just like a virus infestation in the human host creates a temperature, which if gone unchecked will kill the human host and the virus. Jobie Steppe

September 24, 2015 1:58 PM  
Blogger Mark Weiser said...

There are plenty of places in Miami that could use new development. Problem is everybody wants to develop the same few square miles

September 24, 2015 3:25 PM  

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