FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – More than 50% of the world’s population now lives in cities and Northwest Arkansas is no different. Cities in the area are growing at a rapid clip, with the region’s population expected to double to nearly 1 million by 2045.
“We have an opportunity to reimagine how we inhabit our cities,” said Noah Billig, associate professor of landscape architecture in the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design. “It’s not a matter of reproducing what we’ve done before — we need to look at things in a more critical, more comprehensive way.”
Billig will outline critical components of tomorrow’s cities in a public lecture, “Sustainable Cities,” which will be offered online via Zoom at 5:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 3. Please fill out this online interest form to gain access to the lecture.
Billig’s lecture will preview the Fall 2021 Honors College Signature Seminar, Sustainable Cities.
LOOKING BEYOND CARS
The U.S. interstate highway system, launched in the 20th century and now extending more than 48,000 miles, came at a price far higher than construction and maintenance: think commutes from home to work, carbon emissions, suburban sprawl encroaching on natural habitats, and a more sedentary populace.
“Our freeways and highway systems are one of the most subsidized systems in the history of the world,” Billig said. “We have to rethink what we’re paying for.”
The need to check traffic jams drives more highway construction, but it turns out that it’s a “build it and they will come” scenario: “Studies have shown that the more lanes you build, the faster they fill up,” Billig said.
Billig envisions denser cities, where parking lots flip to residential developments and aging building stock finds new life as workspaces, restaurants and retail. This sort of development provides amenities like “walkability — access to jobs, the grocery store, the coffee shop, transportation.” More walking also fosters better public health.
CITIES THAT SERVE ALL PEOPLE
To be truly sustainable, cities must meet the needs of all people, and there is work to do on that front, Billig said.
“Due to systemic racism and rising property values, some people have been left behind,” he said. “Environmental injustice is still with us, from pollution and heat island effects to wealth built over generations.”
Solving these issues requires a multidisciplinary approach and can involve small-scale development and unorthodox, “bottom up” solutions where people manage their own neighborhoods and communities.
Perhaps most important: “It’s important to get involved at the local level,” Billig stressed. “Compromise is often necessary, and it’s never easy, but that’s where the action is.”