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Want to save working farms, working forests, and Puget Sound, and be happy? Live in a dense city.

2011 March 30
by Tim Trohimovich

< Photo: Futurewise >

Your mother was right, eating vegetables is good for you. Eating locally grown vegetables is even better as they lose nutrients the farther and longer they have to travel. I used to think I was sacrificing when I ate my greens, but well-cooked vegetables taste great.

Cities are like that. They are good for us, but we imagine that living in a city is a sacrifice. Once we get to know them they we realize they can be great places to live and work.

The evidence is clear. Paving over farms and forests results in the loss of jobs, local food, and local fiber. It also increases storm water runoff, polluting rivers, streams, and Puget Sound. That is why Washington’s Growth Management Act, and similar legislation in other states, focuses growth into our existing cities.

And it is working. Peer reviewed studies show Washington is getting more growth in its urban growth areas. The National Resources Inventory shows that between 2002 and 2007, Washington State used half of the new land for each net new resident compared to the United States as a whole. Policies that focus growth into urban areas are also associated with increased physical activity for recreation and increased walking and biking to work.

Surveys show that long commutes make Americans unhappy. What makes us happiest is being able to have dinner with our friends. By living in dense cities, we reduce our commutes and have more time to meet our friends for dinner. So like vegetables, cities are good for us and make us happy. Cities also help ensure our food will be from Washington State too.

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Tim Trohimovich  is Co-Director of Planning & Law at Futurewise, a statewide non-profit organization that promotes smart growth and healthy cities while protecting working farms, working forests, and shorelines for this and future generations.

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