This article was written by Rachel Witt, Executive Director of the South Grand Community Improvement District. Read all the articles in the Lessons & Partnerships in Community & Economic Development series.
The rising cost of gas and services is making life difficult for many people. Americans can take advantage of the situation to reorient their priorities. We need to start living smarter. Such practices to live smarter are how we get to our destinations, zoning ordinances, relocation, and workplace balance.
This might sound simple and question why this logic is not our current reality. It is more complicated by the design of our street grids and priorities in local, state, and federal government. It will take small steps to change the way Americans interact with their infrastructure. The first small step is evaluating what we can do to change our habits, which can be at the local level by changing our zoning ordinance.
When driving to our destinations we will need to be smarter. Changing how we plan out our day will save time, save money, and improve our mental and physical health on getting from Point A to Point B. Also, driving less will benefit air quality. It is time for Americans to decide walking and biking is our new way of life to retrieve goods and services closer to where we live and work. Our health will improve by walking and biking instead of driving. Also, improved transit routes and ridership will make us more efficient with time and hopefully with the new infrastructure funds, some will be used toward improving modes of transit.
Zoning ordinances in the suburbs are designed for single-family homes. Can this be the turning point to finally change our post-World War II zoning of the suburbs where homes are uniform in size, style, and layout? The missing mid-level housing is getting the attention of planning professionals; will this be the time the suburbs decide to allow more affordable housing and embrace the missing middle housing zoning approach? Can we change suburban zoning, switching from only single-family homes to allowing multifamily, garden apartments, and corner stores within our neighborhoods? This new way of life will connect our neighborhoods by getting to know each other besides that early morning or evening dog walk.
Prices of goods and services will not be dropping any time soon. Our comfort depends on how we can cut our expenses. Those living in overinflated cities are selling their homes and moving to more affordable communities to decrease their housing cost. Just here in Saint Louis alone, we are seeing new residents from the East and West Coasts relocating to our region to be closer to family or settling in the livable neighborhoods such as those that surround the South Grand Business District. As a result of relocation, Americans are decreasing their housing cost to have the funds to stimulate the economy with the purchase of goods and services.
The pandemic truly showed us how we can have a workplace balance. Because many offices have changed to allowing their employees to work from home, many people are choosing to relocate to more affordable and liveable communities. Technology has shown that you don’t have to be down the hall to interact with your co-workers to complete a project. The pandemic also taught us all how to use software to meet and collaborate. The workplace balance of the hybrid approach will benefit all. The savings on time, gas, and office space rental has dramatically influenced downsizing or not having office space altogether.
I am intrigued to see what the future of zoning will be. How will our street grid change especially with dedicated bike lanes and buses? How will we design more walkable, bikeable streets? Also, changing the street grid will alter our mental health as well as our physical health. Can living smarter be a better life for all? Did we get it wrong with the so-called white picket fence, large yards, and garages facing the street? Did we create isolation instead of accessibility? Are we willing to adjust how we get to our destinations, zoning ordinances, relocation, and workplace balance? Today, is the time to start living smarter, because if not now, when?
Rachel Witt is the Executive Director of the South Grand Community Improvement District. Graduate from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Geography, minor in Sociology and certification in Nonprofit Management. Master’s in public administration from Widener University emphasis in local government and economic development. Connect with Rachel on Linkedin or Email.