The newest venture into live-work-play is a blossoming community in Vacaville, CA known as Lagoon Valley. Streets are narrowed, vehicles are garaged, speed limits are reduced and enforced, and walking trails abound. It’s not car-free, but it is destined to become known as a Pedestrian-Priority Live-Work-Play Conservation Community.
Euclidian municipal zoning, or sprawl as it is commonly known, has flourished in America for almost a century. Empowered in 1926 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co., the unfortunate result of that decision has been an American land development penchant for suburban, car-centric communities segregated from the essential open spaces, parks, recreational facilities, and goods and services that residential neighborhoods need to be healthy.
Alternatively, live-work-play communities are an extension of the progressive planning ideas promoted by Ebenezer Howard about that same time in the 1920’s. While Howard’s vision was one of small cities planned for live-work-play, the concept can easily be scaled up or down. The idea of residential neighborhoods within a comfortable walk to commercial, recreational, and open space areas is superior to segregated zoning in numerous environmental and social ways.
These days, in almost every small to medium to large sized city in the country, people consistently lament the time they spend in their vehicles sitting in congested traffic. The overwhelming evidence from data studied by climate scientists confirms that patterns of sprawl assist in the creation of more frequent wildfires, floods, extreme periods of heat and cold, more violent storms, and rising sea levels. Emissions that automobiles and trucks contribute to the problem is growing, not receding. Electric vehicles still constitute only a small fraction of total vehicle miles traveled. We are not building and buying electric cars and trucks fast enough, but here’s an even better solution: walk more, drive less.
Walking more only works, however, if you have open space, neighborhood-serving goods and services, and passive and active recreational amenities close by. That’s where live-work-play planning comes in. These communities can overcome segregated zoning and the parochial view that mindlessly jumping in your car to work, shop, dine, exercise, or play, is unsustainable. There are some good models to study and emulate. Unfortunately, we find much more conventional development that results in quantitative, not qualitative, growth.
Beyond the obvious and well-documented health benefits of walking and biking, imagine the socially healthy benefits of interacting with your neighbors (something impossible when driving alone). Feelings of isolation, a by-product of the underbelly of technology, is one of the leading causes of depression, declining health, and mental illness. When people feel safe walking and biking on streets that intentionally prioritize people over cars, particularly in neighborhoods where front porches dominate, traffic can be calmed to a point of near insignificance. When nature, recreational amenities, and commercial services are conveniently close, new and old relationships blossom among diverse groups of people differentiated by age, ethnicity, gender, and experience. These are our healthiest neighborhoods, environmentally and socially.
Communities designed using principles of conservation and neighborhood wellness can result in live-work-play neighborhoods worth living in.