Our County Council is having a special meeting today on managing growth. The meeting is for four hours from 10am to 2pm. Not sure if I will get a chance to speak, but I’m organizing my thoughts just in case. Also using it as an opportunity to write down ideas for a possible future permaculture design workshop, a presentation, or other longer thing. And also writing these thoughts down in case they might be useful to some of you in your efforts to push for more inclusive and environmentally friendly housing options in your geographic area.
It’s popular for citizens to talk about developers as “them” — i.e., the bad guys. We talk about our elected leaders that way too. But when it comes to the living ecosystems on which we all depend for survival of human life, there is no “us and them.” There is only “us.”
Just about all the Council candidates in our upcoming election have stated “no increased density” as a campaign promise. As I see it, this opposition to density is misguided. Density, incrementally increased where it’s needed, is actually the exact thing we need more of, to put the brakes on new sprawl development. And also to retrofit existing sprawl developments to make them more livable and reduce the pollution, water waste, and other social and environmental problems they cause.
Some people think of density as only being good for developers, because it allows them to make more money by fitting more houses (or other residential units, or commercial) on less land.
But density is also good for ordinary people in many ways. Density can make it more feasible for households to live without a car. It also allows more social interaction in neighborhoods. And, through smaller homes (or apartments) and smaller lots (or no individual lots at all), it can reduce the cost and labor of home and yard maintenance. Not everyone wants to spend their days off mowing the yard and shopping at big-box stores.
All too often, the “solution” to development woes such as traffic and the oft-cited “infrastructure” boogeyman is to reduce density: reduce the number of houses the developer is allowed to build, so we end up with fewer houses on bigger lots. But this puts a drain on public finances, as the sparse density means there are fewer people to share the base cost of the roads, pipes, and other infrastructure. Abundant data show that sprawl development does not pay for itself. Sprawl puts us always in the hole financially.
NIMBY!! water & infrastructure arguments are red herring or disguised NIMBYism
If you had a friend who was making a million dollars a year, yet they were always broke, you wouldn’t say they needed more money; you’d probably say they need to learn how to manage their money better. We in Volusia County are in that position with water.
Rainwater-harvesting activist Brad Lancaster lives in Tucson AZ where they get ELEVEN inches of rainfall a year. And, he observed that if that rainfall were utilized wisely, it would be enough to meet the needs of every city resident, including municipal government needs. Here in this part of Florida, we historically average about 49 inches of rainfall a year! We just need to catch it and slow its runoff so it gets filtered by healthy soil and plants and percolates down to recharge the aquifer, instead of running off of pavement to pollute our waterways and miss recharging the aquifers and springs.
“people won’t get out of their cars” —> actually, many want to! Not everyone wants to live the same. As a resident of a neighborhood on the beachside with tiny lots and walkable distances to basic stores and restaurants and bars and the bank and the ocean, I always think “No one would want to be stuck in a place way out by the interstate where there’s nothing to walk to and you’re totally dependent on a car,” especially old people who are getting too old to drive.
I say “nobody would want that” — but obviously I’m wrong since so many people choose that life. It’s the same for apartments, townhouses, compact houses, and car-free or car-lite living. Some of you might think “no one would want to live like that” — but in fact, many of us do, and more of us would if given the option.
(to be continued; going to make coffee now)
Brain dump: density, water, infrastructure
“We don’t have enough water to support more people” and “we don’t have the infrastructure to support more people” are assertions I’ve heard often. Usually from comfortably-off people in single-family neighborhoods.
In some cases these assertions may stem from incomplete information (not everyone knows about green infrastructure, compost toilets, low-impact development, and other ways of reducing water use and taking the load off of infrastructure, and making infrastructure able to accommodate more people).
I think they also stem from NIMBYism, which is really just a manifestation of fear. People are worried about their quality of life deteriorating.
But there are many ways to have development while using much less water, increasing mobility (= moving more people though not necessarily decreasing road congestion), and otherwise addressing these “water” and “infrastructure” arguments.
Saving water is easy. One example is waterless toilets, which have been known and used by RV- and boat-dwellers for a long time. There are many types of toilets that don’t create sewage. “Sewer vs septic” is the eternal argument but I choose option C: compost toilets of various kinds.
Put housing units and commercial buildings, and their parking, on the smallest possible footprint of land, leave the rest as-is (trees; uncleared land). Maybe add a walking trail through the uncleared part of the site (unpaved; nothing fancy; minimally maintained).
Smaller buildings, smaller lots.
“Landscaping” is one of the most environmentally unfriendly aspects of human-built environments. By reducing the footprint of “landscaped” areas, we can radically reduce water use (as well as petroleum consumption, air pollution, noise pollution).
Dixie Highway, home to multiple sprawl developments (sprawl = post-WWII development pattern characterized by attributes such as being located outside the historic urban core, not served by transit, not accessible safely by any means other than private automobile, and not having any basic commercial services for people’s daily needs in walking distance. Only single- family houses for acres or even miles on end.)
I suggest adding Votran service to serve the current sprawl developments on Dixie Hwy (if not served already; I don’t recall there being any). Also retrofit the roadside with walking/bicycle paths. (I rode my bicycle from Bunnell to Ormond along Dixie Highway a couple of years ago and there was no good bicycle access at that time; I do know RSTPO is planning Dixie Hwy/1 to be one of its cross-state bicycle network but don’t know if they have added it yet).
*Colonizer-culture-deconstruction note: Can we acknowledge that “Plantation” isn’t a good thing to name a housing development or indeed anything? Any of us white people who get a warm fuzzy nostalgic vibe from hearing the word “plantation,” our ancestors were probably never enslaved on one.
Stop fretting about “zero lot lines” (a lot of suburban folk fret about this). No one is asking you to give up your big half-acre suburban lot or your car-dependent lifestyle. Think of density (including apartments, townhouses and so on which might have “zero lot lines”) as allowing you to continue your lifestyle, while adding fewer cars to the road AND while making room for wildlife.
Development can be beautiful and creative! Here are some possible “pockets” we could retrofit in or near suburban sprawl developments:
Worker village (think of small cottages occupied by students, gardeners, landscapers, CNA/ homecare, chauffeurs, delivery drivers, etc.) all serving the needs of homeowners in a suburban sprawl enclave — thus REDUCING the impact of the existing sprawl). Might even have a little corner store, pharmacy, other small shops intended mainly to serve just the immediate residents of the worker village and mansion enclave.
Veterans, students, elderly seniors … How many categories of people have to become housing-insecure and/or socially isolated to the point of sickness and death, before the single- family-home, large-lot residents will see that density serves and helps us all?
Density can help protect the environment in multiple ways:
Reduce water use (from lawns, car-washing, & other outdoor consumption, which makes up 50% or more of the total water use in the USA)
Support nearby commercial services, businesses, thus reducing car-dependence
Support public transit; make routes fiscally viable
Take pressure off of wetlands, forests, & other undeveloped land, as well as agricultural land
If we had a friend who made a million dollars a year in salary, but was always broke, we probably would not say that friend needed more money. We’d say they need to learn how to manage their money. Volusia County (and many other places) are in that position with water use. We have ENOUGH water; we just need to stop wasting it, and also we need to try to undo the damage we have done to the natural cycle of rainfall, percolation, groundwater replenishment.
In Daytona Beach given our historic annual average rainfall of about 49 inches, my 1,000 sf house’s roof can collect more than 30,000 gallons of rainwater a year! My setup is not optimized, so my tubs and barrels probably collect only a fraction of that, say about 5,000 or 6,000 gallons a year. Even so, it is PLENTY, if used wisely. I have done extensive experiments of living off collected water.
Tucson AZ gets ELEVEN inches of rainfall a year, and yet according to Brad Lancaster (rainwaterharvesting.com; Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands books — I recommend to EVERYONE living in the rich industrialized world, so we can mend our ways), that rainfall is enough to meet the needs of every resident and all municipal functions too.
Rainwater collection does NOT have to be barrels or tubs. Best (most efficient and most economical) collection is to turn the soil into a sponge so the land collects, retains, & percolates its own irrigation water.
Stop making developers and builders provide “landscaping.” We often require developers to put in “landscaping” (mainly ornamental shrubs & sod) to replace the mature trees they cut down. Developers & builders are NOT landscapers, and they don’t know about native landscaping, and the big-box stores don’t know much either. A lot of times they consider landscaping just a burden or afterthought. And from an aesthetic perspective, waxy cartoon plants and dyed orange mulch are a poor substitute for the mature trees and healthy soil that were taken out for the development. So let’s offer another option: Donate to Florida Native
Plant Society (or local chapter thereof), who will then buy plants from nurseries or get them from their own members, and do the planting. Then the developer gets a tax-deduction too (since FNPS is a nonprofit).
Density critics: Stop saying “People won’t get out of their cars.” YOU won’t get out of your car, that is your business. But millions of other people want to be less dependent on private automobile ownership. Also many many people want to be free of the burden of taking care of a whole yard. Density is not the enemy!
Money-crunched everyday person’s friend
Sprawl development is a ponzi scheme; the infrastructure does not pay for itself.
Green infrastructure includes techniques that have been known to indigenous communities since ancient times.
TEK: Traditional Ecological Knowledge
Do we really not want more people here near us? Our friends, our kids, grandkids, aging parents? Do we really not want more customers for businesses to support a year-round economy instead of being a brittle tourist economy? Is that why we are opposing density? OR, is the reason we don’t want density more rooted in the fact that our development patterns are UGLY? If the latter, that is easy to change! Development does not have to be ugly or take up tons of space.
“Not enough water” — Even if not one more person moves here, it doesn’t matter: We STILL have disrupted the water cycle, the natural rain cycle — and we still need to repair it. Even if not one single other person moves to Florida.
Permaculture: a design system for creating SUSTAINABLE human environments. Ecologically, financially, and SOCIALLY. Also, by sustainable we actually mean REGENERATIVE: give back more than they take. Includes both tangible and intangible resources. Food, safe drinking water, biomass, knowledge, skills.