The infill paradox

Last night I stopped by one in a series of San Joaquin Council of Governments “listening sessions,” designed for planners to gather community thoughts about the upcoming revision of our Regional Transportation Plan.

Sounds boring and bureaucratic, but this is an important process. For the first time, the transportation plan will include another element referred to as a Sustainable Community Strategy. The broad strategy will outline how our cities grow in the future, with an eye toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Anyway, last night was one of those deals where they hand out clickers and you press the number that best represents your feeling about a particular question.

The jarring moment, for me, came toward the end.

Question (and I’m paraphrasing): Where should future growth take place?

Almost everyone answered that it should take place within existing cities, as opposed to adjacent to cities, or anywhere (or nowhere). In other words, the group favored infill development.

Next question: What kind of housing would you prefer to live in?

Forty-four percent, the largest segment of the small audience, said they’d prefer living in rural ranchettes. Combine that number with those desiring single-family homes, and you’ve got 63 percent, or nearly two-thirds of the room, desiring what we might call traditional housing as opposed to condos or townhouses.

See the incongruity?

Of course, this was by no means a scientific poll. There were only a couple of dozen folks in attendance. And, as Stockton environmentalist Jeremy Terhune pointed out, there were few young people present. This might “skew” the results, he said, since young people might be more likely to choose to live in higher-density condos or townhouses.

Nevertheless, those two back-to-back questions illustrate the paradox of infill development. Everyone seems to think infill sounds great and environmentally responsible, but when push comes to shove, how many of us will really be willing to live in condos and townhouses?

Just askin’.

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  • Blog Author

    Alex Breitler

    A native of Benicia, he lives in Stockton with his wife, Ann, who forces him to go backpacking in the Sierra Nevada or Trinity Alps at every opportunity. He has been writing mostly about natural resources since 2003, first in Redding and now in ... Read Full
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