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By Jeff Danner Jeff has worked in both the chemical and biotech industries and is the veteran of thousands of science debates at cocktail parties and holiday dinners across the nation. In his Common Science blog, Jeff aims to make technological and scientific concepts accessible to all.

Chapelboro 2050 Part III: Get into the Zone

By Jeff Danner Posted January 29, 2012 at 11:42 pm

This is the third in my series of columns about how I expect life in Chapelboro to be different in 2050 as a result of reduced energy and resource availability.  If you want to start at the beginning check out “Life on Two Wheels” and “A Farewell to Lawns”.  This week’s entry, as you may have guessed by the title, is about zoning.  
 
Zoning may strike you as boring or insignificant, but it has a strong impact on our daily lives.  Even though zoning is controlled locally, there are consistent themes and patterns all across the country.  As much as we like to tout the uniqueness of Orange County, we generally organize our space like everyone else in that we separate were we live, shop, and work  into distinct and often widely separated areas. 
 
One of the strongest taboos which seems to have developed in suburban America is that, from our front or back porch (on which we rarely tread) it is not acceptable to see anyone working or shopping.  I am not sure exactly why this is.  All proposals to locate retail establishments near my house have been met with overwhelming resistance by my neighbors.  Yet every time I pass Johnny’s on West Main Street in Carrboro I see a peaceful coexistence with the nearby houses and can’t fathom what all the hubbub was about.
 
Isolating the places where we work into office parks and industrial zones increases the upfront investment in new jobs primarily due to the need to extend our utility networks – electricity, phone, water, and sewer – over long distances.   This phenomenon is clearly on display in Orange County which designated three Economic Development Districts in remote locations in 1994 which still stand largely vacant awaiting the necessary utility infrastructure.
 
By 2050, I expect that our zoning practices will have changed dramatically.  I anticipate that we will leverage the existing utility infrastructure which we have already installed for our housing developments to allow for adjacent offices and manufacturing facilities.  Carolina North follows this pattern to a degree in that the cost of installing its utility systems has been partially reduced by delaying the project until the nearby utility networks had been extended and upgraded for the housing boom along Homestead Road.  I’d like to see the Carolina North theme extended by finding a way to collaborate with UNC to provide a facility to house high-tech start-up companies here in town.  Such a project would dovetail well with the goals and needs of both town and gown.
 
Through all three of these Chapelboro 2050 I have been trying to lay out strategies for us to prepare for a very different future.   We can either start to change our priorities now or wait for them to be changed for us in the not too distant future.  If we can come to a consensus and start moving in the right direction now rather than later, the transition will be a much smoother one.
 
Next week I’m planning one last Chapelboro 2050 column before exploring new science and technology issues on preserving what may be our most precious resource in 2050, our soil.
 
Have a comment or question?  Want to disagree?  Log-in below and comment or send me an e-mail to commonscience@chapelboro.com.

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