Building Livable Cities

To meet the unprecedented challenge of climate change in New England, we must think differently about how and where we live. Decades of unchecked sprawl have created a car culture that is the largest single contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the region. By contrast, well-planned cities and towns have “location efficiency.” They are compact and easy to get around by foot or bicycle. They have vibrant town centers with retail, commercial, and community services in close proximity and easy access to transit. Because they are densely developed, they require less energy to move people and goods and to heat and cool buildings. To realize the benefits of location efficiency in changing the greenhouse gas equation, we need to make our cities and towns more livable.

Livable communities are also more satisfying to most people than sprawl. Buildings are human scale, with shops along sidewalks. Street trees, planters, and benches decorate sidewalks, and greenways offer bike trails along rivers or old rail lines to connect development. When people walk and bike places, they are more likely to see their neighbors and interact with them, fostering a real sense of community. Numerous studies have shown that these features appeal to human psychology and improve quality of life.

Planning for livability is called smart growth, and CLF has spearheaded such programs in Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. In Massachusetts, CLF established the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance (MSGA) with a group of leading policy organizations to improve the state’s development policies and the quality of life in the state’s cities, towns, and neighborhoods.

Similarly, in Vermont, CLF helped to establish the Vermont Smart Growth Collaborative (VSGC), a coalition that promotes growth and development in downtowns and village centers while protecting Vermont’s open landscape.

Through these coalitions and with initiatives across the region, CLF advocates for smart growth policies that take a more considered approach to land use, housing, transportation, and economic development.

In order for a city or town to be truly livable, it must also be safe from environmental hazards. In communities such as the Lower Mystic River in metropolitan Boston, CLF has joined with community groups to educate residents in neighborhoods bordering the badly polluted river about their rights to clean water. When cleaned up, the Mystic River corridor could be a greenway that provides human-powered transportation, exercise, and access to nature for community residents. To bring such visions to life, CLF is providing legal muscle to help communities hold polluters accountable and win improvements to both water quality and quality of life.