I just came across this great blog post on economic development. In it, Delia Rucker talks about attempting to grow and nurture businesses like growing plants that are native to your area and climate.
I would add that the transportation systems that we put in place should have the same mind-set. There are areas that are conducive to growing high-density, high intensity land uses, along with all of the alternate mode support that is feasible there. Some places just aren't made for that. Here in Central Florida, it's wet, windy and often sandy. Building a second story on most buildings is prohibitively expensive--One retail developer recently told me that he can't build the second story for a price he can reasonably expect to get back in the lease. He can do facade's, but the wind load ratings on a second story make the building far more expensive. Basements and extensive foundations are rare because the sand will collapse on you as you build it. There are lakes in the way everywhere--street continuity is an adventure. Water retention requirements add space to each project, also impeding density. Cost-effective transit will always be a challenge except in the tourist areas where single destinations and clustered origins make highway style transit ideal.
We've made mistakes, but they can be improved with solutions that follow the "right plant, right place" principle. Euclidian residential zoning can be augmented with complementary commercial or institutional uses within walking distance. For the most part we have fairly flat land so there's no excuse for not having a sidewalk or bike path everywhere. There are few hills to get in the way of a digital environment. We have a history of welcoming people into our communities that makes front porch relationships a natural thing--we need to build more porches and encourage people to add them to existing homes. We may not be New York or Long Island, but we can be who we are and that will be good enough.