Sarah Wolpow

Sarah Wolpow

I have a friend who lives in Eden. While I haul pricey bags of produce to my car, she complains about the persimmons and figs falling on her sidewalk. The problem, you see, is that there are too many to eat, so the walks get messy.

I worry about my kids getting hit by a car; her kids can run for blocks without crossing a single street. This is because houses in her 70-acre development have small unfenced backyards that open onto car-free paths interconnecting the neighborhood.

I know perhaps a fifth of the people living in a two block radius of my house; she knows triple that number. The more walkable a community, the more neighbors tend to know each other.

Storm culverts dot my street. The paths behind my friend’s house are edged by charming streams filled with cattails and nesting birds. So effective is this system that when surrounding neighborhoods flood, her streets are often dry.

On hot summer days, our asphalt roads absorb heat and raise the temperature in town. The streets in my friend’s neighborhood are tree-lined and unusually narrow, making her community up to 15 degrees cooler than surrounding urban areas.

Houses in her development, because of the narrower streets (less paving), very small lot sizes (less land purchased) and natural water retention system (no storm drains), initially cost less than similarly sized houses elsewhere in her town.

Enough money was saved to enable the creation of wonderful community spaces, including several parks, an artificial lake, a large sun-drenched garden area, a swimming pool, a daycare center and a big communal kitchen.

Not surprisingly, property in her development has increased in value far more than in the surrounding neighborhoods. People love to live there. Indeed, it is so pleasant that folks from nearby developments come there to jog, walk their dogs, teach their kids to ride bikes and sneak an occasional persimmon.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

It is important to note that the homes were sized and priced to be affordable for middle class families. The fact that the neighborhood is now highly desirable is a testament to good design rather than to a sky-high budget.

Is my friend a back-to-theearth hippie living in a co-housing commune?

Not at all. She works for chemical manufacturer, Monsanto, and her neighbors are regular people living regular lives with regular jobs.

You may wonder why builders are not falling over themselves to re-create this type of development elsewhere.

In large part, it is because in most towns such development would not be allowed under current building and zoning codes.

The developers who built my friend’s neighborhood, called Village Homes in Davis, Calif., fought a long battle for exemptions from existing regulations.

For example, special permission was needed to build on smaller lots, at higher density, with narrower streets, and to use a natural water collection system.

There is a lot of inertia to changing business as usual. Towns and builders believe the regulations they have in place are working, and it seems too risky to try anything else.

Yet by any number of measures, what we are building now is not working. Our homes are not built to minimize heating and cooling costs, yet many people already have trouble affording heat and air-conditioning. Most people live in car-dependent neighborhoods, yet the price of fuel is already a stretch. Our cities and towns are not equipped to deal with the planet’s rising temperatures or to manage the regional effects of climate change such as increased precipitation, drought and sea-level rise. On that note, New England is predicted to experience a 74 percent increase in precipitation by the end of the century.

As the climate shifts under our feet, developments such as Village Homes are far better positioned than most to handle these upcoming changes. Replace the figs and persimmons with blueberries and raspberries, and there is no reason we could not be creating this type of innovative development here in Maine.

With the redevelopment of the Brunswick Naval Air Station, we have an unprecedented opportunity to create something better than business as usual. The possibilities are not limited to residential areas. All development at the base will need to address issues such as stormwater management, street width, energy use, landscaping, building materials, lot sizes, transportation options, walkability, bikeability and wildlife habitat.

We can build spaces that people love to use, that do less damage to the environment, and that are cheaper to maintain, heat and cool.

We can build spaces that are more resilient to the changes in weather patterns that have already begun to affect us.

This type of development would position Brunswick to thrive into the future, come what may.

Interested citizens should talk to their town counselors and support the formation of a Citizen Advisory Committee that would provide a good forum for local people to be involved in base development decisions.

SARAH WOLPOW lives in Brunswick with her husband and two children. She welcomes correspondence at [email protected]

Comments are not available on this story.