We need a new city that is affordable, walkable, environmentally friendly

We need a new city that is affordable, walkable, environmentally friendly

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Sushant Rao started this petition to People of the United States

America needs a new city. Imagine if we didn't have to spend hours stuck in traffic on commutes, but instead we could walk down a tree-lined street to get to work. Imagine if homes were affordable, how much more vibrant our communities could be, as we’d have more to spend on our local economy. Imagine if we could be part of the solution to climate change instead of contributing to it, by using electric powered buses, bikes and our feet. Imagine the benefits of a city that was built from the ground up without requiring cars for our daily travel needs. 

The Problem: 

  1. Climate Change - Climate change is real and transportation is still the leading cause of carbon emissions. According to a report by the U.S. Census Bureau, 86% of Americans currently drive to work. Even in the San Francisco Bay Area, a region that prides itself of being environmentally forward, only 23% of people use public transportation. Compare that to Manhattan, where 82% of people use public transportation. Consequently the environmental footprint of Manhattan is about one-third the typical American city. The fastest growing cities in America are Dallas, Houston, Atlanta and Phoenix. They are cities centered around cars, and most growth in those cities is suburban. A city planned around electric bikes and sidewalks would not only reduce commute times, but it would be cheaper on the wallet - both our own and that of the cities’. Transportation is the second biggest expense after housing, in fact the average family spends 1 in 5 dollars on transportation. Besides direct costs from creation and maintenance of roads, cities also incur costs from the loss of productivity due to traffic congestion. Dense urban cities can contribute to improved health, reduced social isolation and increased personal wealth. We need more cities like Manhattan, and not like the others. But Manhattan is unaffordable, where the average rent for a 2 bedroom apartment is $4,000. So we come to our second point - affordability.  
  2. Affordability - While low-income groups are hit the hardest, affordability is not just a problem affecting those living at or below the poverty line. Innovation, creativity and social welfare depend on our cities being affordable. Think of the entrepreneur, artist or teacher who switches careers in order to make rent. Society at large depends on such individuals to function. Because Housing is a basic requirement for living, it underpins every expense - from restaurants to plumbers. Affordable housing is part of the solution, but it has flaws. Most affordable housing gets built in low-income, high-minority neighbourhoods. This serves to entrench people in intergenerational poverty, as studies show children who move to better neighborhoods earlier in childhood have better outcomes as adults. To qualify for affordable housing in NYC, a family of four would need to make between 36k - 52k in annual income. The average teacher’s salary in NYC is 65k, they wouldn’t qualify for affordable housing. Furthermore, reports show there is a 1000-1 chance of landing an affordable apartment in NYC, with that number rising every year. We need housing that is naturally affordable and not subsidized by governments, so affordability is available to all income groups. 

The Case For A New City: 

A big contributor to unaffordability in big cities is rising land acquisition costs. One recent study by the University of Illinois found that, in 2017 the average price for an acre of land across all urban land was $511,000, while in New York it was a whopping $123 million for an acre of land in a centrally located area. Even at $511,000 that breaks out to over a $100,000 for a fifth of an acre needed to build a single family home. Cities are opposed to upzoning. State Bill 50 (SB 50) of California, was legislation that would allow for building high density homes around public transit. It was shot down in mid 2019, when the housing crisis is at its peak and when reports show that California is short of 3.5 million homes. The opposition was mainly suburban home dwellers worried about a change in the appearance of their neighborhoods. If we wait for cities to enact laws that will change zoning laws we might be waiting for a very long time. To address both these issues, it would be easier to create a new city, that if successful could be used as a template for other cities. 

The Solution: 

Build a new city on uninhabited land, that is public-transit and bike friendly, and zoned for mixed use. A city like NYC, where one could truly live a car-free lifestyle, but is affordable and welcoming to all people.

The Plan: 

How would such a city be funded? The city would be financed through a mix of crowdfunding by residents, the state where the city would be built, real-estate developers and companies that would be willing to move to this city. In my plan, small and medium-sized businesses would be approached with a plan of the city, in order to convince them to move. Companies, especially in high-cost cities are struggling to find people to fill their roles because of the high cost of housing. They could elect to move and contribute a small down payment. States interested in attracting thousands of knowledge workers could contribute by building key infrastructure. Typically states make deals with large corporations - 8.7 billion in incentives was given by Washington state to Boeing and 1.2 billion in tax credits was offered from NYC to Amazon. Small and medium-sized companies don’t have much leverage individually, but collectively, states might be willing to collaborate to attract the next generation of companies. Real-estate developers could build model homes in big cities, to attract residents. And residents could put down-payments to pre-purchase condos from real-estate developers. This plan is not set in stone, but a framework to bring this discussion to the forefront. 

If you are tired of waiting for our governments to take action, if you want to live a lifestyle that is in tandem to your values, if you ascribe to housing as a human right, and want our society to grow in a manner that is sustainable to the planet.  please sign this petition.

I leave you with this quote by Enrique Peñalosa, a well known urbanist -  “As a fish needs to swim, a bird to fly, a deer to run, we need to walk, not in order to survive, but to be happy.”

Photo by Alex Talmon on Unsplash

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