Welcome to the neighborhood
If you asked me to describe my vision of Hell, it would probably look a lot like Cranberry Township in Butler County. Nothing but strip malls and franchise restaurants at the crossroads of a couple of highways far (by my standards) from the nearest city of any consequence. What's worse, you can't walk anywhere; if you suddenly run out of milk, you're getting in your car to get some more, whether you like it or not.
Well, now it seems that the people who live there aren't quite as keen on the place as they used to be. The Trib tells us that Cranberry and a handful of other suburban communities are trying to develop walkable Main Street business districts, in some cases building them from scratch or implementing new building requirements to foster walkable communities. It's a welcome development, but the smug, self-righteous part of me is laughing, because the residents and local officials who now bemoan these congested, sprawling communities are the same people who made them that way in the first place.
It's not that I expect everyone to want to live in cities, and I certainly can sympathize with the desire to flee crumbling infrastructure, high taxes and instititionalized corruption. (Not to mention failing schools.) But the best that cities have to offer--intimate, walkable and yes, high-density neighborhoods--can be replicated elsewhere, and on a smaller scale, if we so desire. We used to call them small towns, and they once were considered the heart of this nation, before shopping malls and Wal-Mart choked the life out of them.
But we can have them again, and it only takes a few simple steps. Allow for mixed-use development and multi-family dwellings. Build sidewalks. Install streetlights. Drop minimum frontage and parking requirements. If Wal-Mart wants to build a new store in your community, fine. Let them. But don't give them a penny in tax breaks, and make them pay for at least some of the additional infrastructure their mammoth store is sure to require.
Go visit places like Oakmont and Ligonier. Spend some time on Washington and Beverly roads in Mt. Lebanon. Hang out in Aspinwall. Just see what you've been missing.