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Smart growth

Published: Aug 27, 2013

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The new airport is almost completed, the new transportation corridors are just about fully operational, we have a new sports center, new water/wastewater treatment facilities, and of course Baha Mar will be completed by the end of 2014.

But what exactly does this mean for Bahamians? Will these investments transform Nassau to a world class city? Unfortunately, no.

We have yet to understand the elements of smart growth and continue to implement, even in our well-meaning laws, outdated principles of development. At our peril, we continue to ‘develop’ Nassau as one large area of suburban sprawl with strip malls and fancy ‘new’ big box stores connected by wide new road corridors to facilitate and encourage our dependence on gas guzzling automobiles. Welcome to any town U.S.A.

A number of terms — i.e., ‘smart growth’, ‘new urbanism’, and ‘ecological urbanism’ — define the reinvention of urban planning that is remarkably based on historic (pre-1950s) planning principles.

These ‘historic’ places allowed one to walk to work, school, civic structures, and dining; a time when neighbors could converse easily, as houses had short setbacks, front sidewalks, and smaller roadways. These were times when life did not center on the need for an automobile.

We don’t need to look far for examples. Take any number of Family Island communities on Eleuthera, Abaco, and others that still enjoy a sense of community — even Nassau not long ago.

Even more astounding, The Bahamas has plans from local and foreign consultants implementing these principles that will likely never again be made public (or implemented) aside from one or two newspaper articles.

Do you remember reading about the ‘South Beach Township’? Probably not. And that plan was developed in 2011 to be a model of mixed land use and environmental principles. Schooner Bay receives endless attention, yet why is this not being replicated in New Providence?

Instead, government-subsidized single-family housing continues to be built on green land, land that is undisturbed and in its natural state. The Carmichael Village and Mackey Yard subdivisions, to be built according to the Planning and Subdivision Act 2010, violate some of the most basic principles of smart growth. It is an act that encourages numerous cul-de-sacs, 40-foot road reservations, and limited multifamily and mixed land use planning, all while purporting its commitment to living within the natural environment.

Poor land use planning is a contributor to our current health problems (diabetes, obesity), crime, family structure issues and education. While the western district has a food store and town center, how likely is it that someone from the adjacent community of Charlottesville/Turnberry will actually walk across a busy road into an enormous parking lot to pick up a bag of grocery items? Not likely.

Yet, it is at this very moment of major infrastructure investment that we have an opportunity to think about our future. Downtown Nassau is at a pivotal moment of renewal. Why not incorporate some element of The College of The Bahamas — perhaps a design school — downtown? Why not live downtown, shop downtown, dine out downtown? The possibilities are numerous.

Our most urban areas can be transformed by renewed investment and zoning reforms. Why not have multi-family and single-family homes within the same neighborhood? Our cookie cutter ‘one story center-of-lot’ homes only perpetuate a monoculture of people from the same class, background and diversity.

Why is it that when a young adult graduates college she is unable to return to her community to find affordable housing? Affordable multi-family properties such as condominiums, townhomes and apartments can coexist in a community of single-family homes.

We can move forward with progressive planning only if we, the government and the people, are ready to embrace change and our perception of what it means to have an integrated community.


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