The 3 "E"s of Sustainability
The objective of the Smart Growth Strategy/Regional Livability
Footprint Project is to figure out how the Bay Area can maintain
its economic vitality and conserve natural resources while allowing
all segments of society to share in the region’s economic and environmental
assets. Planners and policymakers in the Bay Area have found it
useful to distill these concepts into the three “Es” of sustainability
mentioned above: a prosperous economy, a
quality environment and social equity.
Chief among the factors negatively impacting the Bay Area economy
is the shortage of housing. Many workers struggle to find housing
they can afford, while businesses are facing upward pressures on
wage levels, and often have difficulties recruiting employees.
In recent years, new housing construction has not nearly kept up
with the pace of job growth, particularly in booming job centers
such as Silicon Valley, where just over half the housing needed
for expected workers and their families by 2010 is projected to
be built. If current trends continue, the Bay Area economy is projected
to grow by an additional 1 million new jobs in the next 20 years.
Local jurisdictions have zoned for only a little over half the amount
of housing needed to accommodate these workers and their families,
assuming a regionwide average of 1.5 workers per household. This
will leave a staggering excess of 250,000 jobs over employed residents
by 2020, leading to higher housing prices and more long-distance
In part as a result of this inadequate supply of new housing, the
region already suffers from extraordinarily high housing costs.
According to the National
Association of Home Builders, five of the 10 least affordable
places in the country to buy a home are in the Bay Area. The California
Association of Realtors estimates that as of May 2001, just
19 percent of Bay Area households could afford to buy the region’s
median-priced home of $484,000. Renters also face a skyrocketing
housing market. According to the National
Low-Income Housing Coalition, Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo
counties are the least affordable counties for renters in the United
The region, therefore, faces a tough choice: increase the rate
of housing development, particularly near job centers, or take measures
to manage the rate of job growth in the region. The Bay Area’s continuing
dynamism and ability to attract talent and investment depend directly
on the region’s ability to plan responsibly for its future growth.
A smart growth strategy for the region would address the shortage
of housing – particularly affordable housing – and imbalances between
jobs and housing. By doing so, smart growth policies could help
reduce long-distance commuting, traffic congestion and the escalating
cost of doing business in the Bay Area.
The Bay Area has a rich diversity of terrain, bioregions and microclimates.
These natural resources are central to the culture and lifestyle
of Bay Area residents, and are extraordinarily valuable in their
own right. The San Francisco Bay-Delta is the largest estuary system
on the west coast of North America, containing 90 percent of California’s
remaining coastal wetlands, and is a key stop on the Pacific Flyway
for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds. Regional ecosystems
also provide important habitat for a number of endangered and threatened
species, including the San Joaquin kit fox, the Bay checkerspot
butterfly, the California red-legged frog, the California black
rail, the Alameda whipsnake and the California least tern.
Much has been done to create parkland and improve
the Bay Area’s environmental quality. More than 20 percent of the
nine-county region, or about 1 million acres, is permanently protected
open space, accordingto the Greenbelt
Alliance. But past urbanization has dirtied the region’s air
and water, consumed important wildlife habitat, and created toxic
contamination in many areas. Creeks have been culverted and one
third of the Bay’s original wetlands have been drained, diked or
filled. As the region grows more populous, the pressure to build
on open space and agricultural lands will intensify.
Our air, while getting cleaner, occasionally fails
to meet state and federal standards for health. Automobiles and
the refineries that support them also are getting cleaner, but both
remain major sources of air pollution.
A smart growth strategy for the region can consider
ways to limit the environmental impacts of future urban development.
Major challenges include preventing loss of open space and habitat
and reducing air and water pollution. At the same time, smart growth
policies can consider ways to restore natural ecosystems in existing
urban areas and provide new parks and recreational resources.
Smart growth strategies can address the housing, employment
and service needs of low-income residents, and contribute to the
creation of diverse communities. Construction of housing for a mix
of incomes throughout the region will improve access to employment
and shorten commutes. Improvements in public transportation and
mixed-use development along transit lines can enhance job access
and allow low-income residents to reach needed services. Increasing
housing densities in impoverished communities can enable such neighborhoods
to support basic services like grocery stores and child-care.
Such initiatives must be designed, however, to prevent
the unintended consequence of low-income resident displacement.
Regional economic growth since the mid-1990s has led to a wave of
rent increases and evictions that have displaced residential and
commercial tenants across the Bay Area and have threatened the character
and composition of neighborhoods. Planning for regional livability
means investing in low-income communities in ways that protect and
strengthen long-time residents and community institutions. Visit
our Social Equity Video
page to see more on these issues.
Bay Area is simultaneously one of the wealthiest regions in the
world, and a region characterized by growing inequalities. Over
the past decade, the gap between high- and low-wage earners has
widened at the same time that social services spending has decreased
and housing costs have skyrocketed. The most dire consequence of
this growing income inequality is that the number of children living
in poverty in the nine-county region has jumped to nearly 15 percent,
with heavy concentrations of poor children living in the central
cities and poor rural areas (U.S. Census poverty estimates). Moreover,
homelessness has climbed to an estimated 50,000 persons throughout
the region on any given night.
Low-income Bay Area residents face particularly difficult challenges
in finding affordable housing in markets with high rents and low
vacancy rates. At the same time, homeownership remains far out of
reach for most Bay Area families who do not already own.
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