The Most Livable City: A Vision for a Sustainable D.C.


"We shall solve the city problem by leaving the city. Get the people into the country, get them into communities where a man knows his neighbor, where there is a commonality of interest, where life is not artificial, and you have solved the city problem. You have solved it by eliminating the city. City life was always artificial and cannot be made anything else. An artificial form of life breeds its own disorders, and these cannot be 'solved.' There is nothing to do but abandon the course that gives rise to them."

-Henry Ford

April 27, 2012, Washington, DC: How differently things are shaking out, huh? So much for eliminating the cities that the founder of Ford Motor Company declared the root of our troubles. Today, more than half of the world's population lives in cities and projections show nearly three quarters of people on Earth will be urbanites by 2050. Despite Ford's declaration, it seems people -- most people -- have not abandoned our cities. Perhaps today's cities are neither isolating nor fake nor problematic, but rather full of solutions.

Washington's city leaders certainly think so. Earlier this week, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and his team laid out a vision for making D.C. the most livable and sustainable city in the country. Goals include cutting citywide energy consumption by 50 percent, increasing the number of jobs devoted to green goods and services by five-fold, and guaranteeing that 75 percent of all trips are walkable, bikeable or accessible by public transit. Imagine 1.5 million square feet of green roofs on city buildings. And swimming and fishing in the Anacostia and Potomac rivers. And knowing that a quarter of all food consumed in the District is grown within a 100-mile radius of the city. It's all part of the plan.

"In just one generation—20 years—the District of Columbia will be the healthiest, greenest, and most livable city in the United States," Mayor Gray declares in the blueprint's introduction.

Idealistic and thrilling, the vision describes a place that defies Ford's declarations about the city problem. Instead of solving the city problem by running for the hills, a vision like this one depicts a place that promises the very unity among neighbors and shared commitment to common passions that Ford declared only the countryside could afford. The vision is one that promises savings in energy bills, grocery bills and transportation costs, one where the air is clean and people are healthy. It's not just a pipe dream, either: City leaders point out that already Washington has more per capita green space than any city of comparable size, and the second highest percentage of green jobs in the country, and 55 miles worth of bike lanes.

"I believe we must plan for a city that is sustainable—not just environmentally, but economically and socially as well," Gray writes. "We must continue our investments to revitalize neighborhoods, expand transportation choices, better our health, restore rivers and parks, and improve our schools. By setting ambitious goals for our built environment, climate, energy, food, nature, transportation, waste, water, and the green economy, we strengthen the District’s commitment to the core values of quality of life, economic growth, and equal access to opportunity."

A city like this one sounds like a place you wouldn't want to flee or eliminate. A city like this one sounds like a great place to live an authentic lifestyle -- albeit a lifestyle out of the car.

What do you think of the city's vision? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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