|Courtesy of Greenbelt Alliance.|
For those of us who call the Bay Area home, it can be easy to forget just how lucky we are — that we get to live, work, and play in an attractive, vibrant urban setting whose visual appeal is all the more enhanced by the region’s dramatic topography and inherent natural beauty. The panoramic vista of bay, parkland, and downtown high-rises from Skyline Boulevard in Oakland on a crystal-clear autumn day grows no less breathtaking upon repeated viewing. Nor do Marin County’s largely pristine hillsides, as viewed from atop San Francisco’s Nob Hill, in the middle of one of the country’s densest neighborhoods outside of Manhattan. The Bay Area’s abundant parkland and open space is an irreplaceable resource, and so much the better that it can be so easily accessed and enjoyed from the cities. But decades of non-planning have compromised some of that irreplaceable resource, as automobile-dependent sprawl has pushed the fringes of the Bay Area ever more distant from the namesake body of water that lies at its center. In 1930, 63% of the Bay Area’s population was located within the city limits of San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley; by 2007, just 19% lived in those three urban core cities. Within that span of 77 years, the collective population of San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley increased by about 30%; but the population of the entire region increased almost 350% in the same span of time, reflecting the decisive outward trend that has had a profound effect on the landscape and travel patterns in the Bay Area of today.
By promoting the construction of compact infill development near transit nodes over remote residential subdivisions, we can reverse the sprawling trend by giving more people a real choice between living a suburban lifestyle, epitomized by the two-way solo auto commute, or living a more urban lifestyle that is characterized by shorter trips on foot, bicycle, or transit. But building the right type of development in the right places is no automatic guarantee that we will stop building the wrong type in the wrong places. In order to encourage the former and discourage the latter, effective policy and advocacy are needed on both ends of the stick, and Greenbelt Alliance, one of our personal favorite local organizations, happens to excel at both. Greenbelt also recently released an excellent report, “Golden Lands, Golden Opportunity,” prepared jointly with ABAG and the Bay Area Open Space Council. The report presents conservation priorities for each Bay Area county. The realization of these goals would help create a continuous system of land that minimizes the extent to which sprawl interrupts the natural environment. Doing so would help protect the region’s natural riches for future generations, in spite of the challenges posed by projected population increase and continued pressure to build new exurban development. The report’s recommendations are as varied as the natural resources it seeks to protect, which include watersheds that are critical to California’s water supply, open space, the agricultural land that supports the region’s local food movement, urban parks, regional trails, recreation areas, and wildlife habitats. The report (link to 6 MB PDF), complete with beautiful maps and photography, is well worth a read.