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Sustainable Urban Planning, or The Saga City Project

“Climate change can be dealt with in many ways. Part of the solution lies in technical innovations and everyday actions. However, the best way to overcome together the barriers we cannot overcome individually is to bring about significant changes in the way we plan urban development, in order to align it with the challenges we now face” says Saga City’s website.

Saga City is the latest project of “Vivre en Ville" (vivreenville.org), an organism with a mission to improve urban environmental life style through sustainable urban planning. Regarding the issue of climate change, urban planning is crucial to significantly reduce {{LNK|greenhouse gas emissions|https://www.wizness.com/wizness/go.asp?u=/pub/NP&nid=422&lngWiz=EN}} and be efficient at it. A lot of forethoughts and coordination is necessary, for a change to be possible and work. And this is what {{LNK|Saga City|http://sagacitymovie.org/}} - a program dedicated to “promoting better practices in urban planning and sensitize the population on the issues at stake” in Quebec - invites us to learn about, through {{LNK|the story of the city of Colvert|http://sagacitymovie.org/}}.


One striking thing about America is how spread out cities can be: long empty avenues to connect neighborhoods, sometimes no side walk, and a bus every hour. This accounts for what SAGA CITY calls {{LNK|the vicious circle of automobile dependency|http://sagacitymovie.org/admin/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Vicious-Circle-Automobile-Dependancy.001.jpg}}: with so much space between houses, jobs, public services and businesses, cities clearly depend on cars. And since we got cars and can’t do without them anyway, we use them for almost every move we make, even those we could use public transportation for, or just walk. Since this directly impacts public transportation activity, the service is made minimal, and often unattractive. As traffic increases, we need more infrastructures and technology to support it. Inevitably, more greenhouse gases end up being released. All of it is tangled together, and significant changes can only be reached through reviewing the way we have been used to think about cities conception.

The SAGA CITY project has foreseen and tackled these issues, and their answer is {{LNK|sustainable urban planning|http://sagacitymovie.org/2011/02/integrated-approach/}}. And they provide simple, efficient long term solutions as you can see both in the video and {{LNK|on the website|http://sagacitymovie.org/}}. The Saga City Project challenges common perceptions by insisting on {{LNK|the advantages of residential density|http://sagacitymovie.org/2011/02/density/}}, and focusing on how it contributes to reducing GHG emissions but also lowering travel distances and energy consumption.

First, they propose to create a “{{LNK|beneficial proximity|http://sagacitymovie.org/2011/02/diversity/}}", by reducing urban boundaries, and have “a variety of different activities (residential, commercial, institutional…) taking place in the same area” to limit travel needs, and provide a friendly living environment. Second, they suggest moving a few big employers downtown to bring more people and therefore more businesses and activity, so that the main streets can go live again. Third, they support the development of alternatives to car transportation, by creating a pedestrian-friendly environment. This implies {{LNK|strong investments in public transportation|http://sagacitymovie.org/2011/02/public-transit/}}, the encouragement of car sharing, & the implementation of bike rental systems. They also list the benefits of developing soil and vegetation into “{{LNK|green, comfortable and affordable living environments|http://sagacitymovie.org/2011/02/soil-and-vegetation/}}” as they:

• « Improve air quality
• Are efficient windbreakers
• Mitigate the heat island effect and generally lower summer local temperatures
• Contribute to rainwater retention and filtration
• Are sound absorbing
• Capture CO2
• And of course, better the overall living environment »

All steps of city planning as they hear it can be found {{LNK|on the project’s website|http://sagacitymovie.org/}}; and the video about Colvert illustrates quite clearly how city planning can in the long run, succeed and go far beyond public expectations.

Still, this requires willingness of the public to commit to changing the life they have been used to. And this seems without a doubt, to be for the best. Now, would you be willing to make a change?


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