To the editor:
I have read a handful of letters in this newspaper arguing against the Suzuki development on sustainability grounds. Preserving trees is important for Bainbridge’s character, but this is a narrow view of sustainability. If Bainbridge were to close its borders today, with no future population growth, then the anti-development approach would be sustainable. As long as our population continues to grow, though, we need to look to denser forms of housing.
The least sustainable way for Bainbridge to grow is to continue converting large rural lots into cul-de-sacs of single-family suburban homes. Compared to apartments or townhouses, single-family homes are more resource-intensive to build and maintain, and require a more car-dependent lifestyle. The difference is that we think of large, detached, single-family homes as a family neighborhood — an acceptable default — whereas multifamily housing is seen as threatening or out of character.
Our two largest contributors to carbon emissions are buildings and transportation. When we build denser housing with shorter commutes, we address both. A townhouse with shared walls loses less heat, which means less coal burned and fewer dams. If a Bainbridge worker has to live in Silverdale, they are driving an hour each way, five days a week, which is exponentially worse for the environment than clearing a handful of trees.
Sustainability is a complex issue that unfortunately is used to argue against development of any type. In truth, the clustered development Suzuki proposes is a far more sustainable model for suburban growth. By building smaller, with shared walls, and eliminating driveways, Suzuki has a smaller, denser footprint, which allows us to preserve the majority of the site as forest. This is a perfect microcosm of how we should develop — smaller, denser housing near the core that allows us to accommodate population growth and preserve rural land. It’s all about striking a balance.
The challenge is to accept that Bainbridge will continue to grow and change. More low density sprawl is not a sustainable path. If we aren’t open to trying new ways of living and building, then we are doomed to repeat the mistakes that got us in to this climate crisis in the first place.