We know sprawl is bad. During the last 50 years, low-density, auto-dependent development has emptied our cities and towns, chewed up farmland and open space, increased traffic congestion and contributed mightily to global warming.
We have the antidote: traditional towns. These higher-density communities place houses, stores and workplaces on small lots, in close proximity, conserving land and allowing people to walk or take public transportation to many of their destinations.
But to attract residents and businesses, they have to look good.
This Thursday, the Community Design Center of Pittsburgh and other partners will conduct a workshop in Mt. Lebanon -- one of the loveliest communities in Pennsylvania -- to demonstrate how the design and placement of buildings can raise property values, protect the environment and enhance our quality of life.
Mt. Lebanon is a classic example of good design. With 33,000 residents on six square miles, Mt. Lebanon is more densely populated than such mid-sized Pennsylvania cities as Erie, Bethlehem and Scranton. It has a traditional downtown and several small shopping plazas woven into residential neighborhoods. It can support public transportation.
The author of this essay goes on to suggest that his community (Pottsville) and others consider "a conservation district to cover the entire downtown and every residential area of our borough. ... The conservation district forbids the demolition of any building with historic value unless the owner can demonstrate that no viable alternatives exist for the reuse of the building. However, if demolition is an integral and unavoidable part of a larger construction scheme that provides a substantial public benefit, the removal of a building may be permitted."Personally, I find the idea of a comprehensive "conservation district" to be creepy, even a little chilling, even though I think that the idea of comprehensive planning is a good idea. Mt. Lebanon property owners have never endured a "conservation district," and yet somehow Mt. Lebanon managed to become "one of the loveliest communities in Pennsylvania." Of course, getting Mt. Lebanon to where it is today didn't come without a price (the township accepts only a modest amount of economic diversity, and almost no racial or ethnic diversity), and its "lovely" status is under constant challenge (the ever-changing plans for the Kossman Property at the intersection of Castle Shannon and Mt. Lebanon Boulevards, for example). It's interesting to see what others discern in the Lebo example.