Derry and Thompson, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from SimonP

In the video below, Dr. Brendan Williams of the University College Dublin School Of Geography, Planning & Environmental Policy speaks about the importance of urban planning for sustainable development. He breaks it down to two issues: the need to regenerate city centers (which have suffered from underinvestment and neglect) and the need to contain the outward spread of the city (urban sprawl). Urban sprawl can be seen as the opposite of sustainability. Its effects include a high dependence on cars (with resulting pollution and dependence on fossil fuel, and loss of time and productivity due to long commutes); high per-person infrastructure costs; high per-capita use of energy, land, and water; and a loss of rural land and biodiversity.

While Williams is in Dublin, this is not an issue local to his city, nor to his country — it is the same issue being addressed around the world. The question is: Can Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania change our economic and development strategies to meet the global challenge or will we be left behind? Williams asks us to consider what our cities will look like in 20 years. What will the consequences of our planning — or lack of planning — be to our environment in the future?

And speaking of urban sprawl, the Center for Neighborhood Technology has a new mapping tool to assess a neighborhood’s average household transportation costs. One of the reasons that people chose housing in the suburbs is because it’s often cheaper than housing in cities. However, they may fail to fully account for transportation expenses — the second highest expense for working Americans. While, typically, housing costs are considered affordable if they consume no more than 30% of income, the index factors in transportation costs into the mix and and comes up with a defined affordable range of 45% of income for both. You can go directly to their Housing + Transportation Affordability Index here.