Mike the Mad Biologist

So What Is Good About Suburbia?

I don’t mean that as snark. It’s a serious question. Suburbanization has to be one of the greatest human influences on the environment. So I was intrigued by this statement by Ross Douthat about suburbanization (bold Douthat, italics mine):

But I don’t think we should make “rebalancing in the direction of urbanism,” as Matt puts it later in his post, a major policy goal; I think suburbia is a great (maybe the great) American socioeconomic achievement, whose virtues far outweigh its vices, and that using the levers of government to encourage families to leave the suburbs would represent a deep betrayal of what I take to be the heart of the American Dream. (Which is a cliche, sure, but also a reality.) When it comes to global warming, therefore, I’m all for telecommuting and fuel-efficient cars and various other ways to reduce our carbon footprint; I’m not for any plan that stands athwart suburbanization, yelling stop.

So I would like to turn it over to you. Do you agree with Douthat? There is one ground rule, however, and it’s important enough to highlight:

You have to make affirmative arguments for suburbanization.

In other words, saying that suburbs are good because urban schools suck is not what I’m looking for–after all, one could improve the urban schools. So what are positive things about the suburbs? Is it “the great American socioeconomic achievement?” And I’ll add something else to twist your noodle: 100 years ago, would towns and small cities have been viewed as “the great American socioeconomic achievement”, , simply because that’s where many relatively well-off (or at least, not poor) Americans lived? Is Douthat arguing from what is, and not what could be?

Discuss.

Comments

  1. #1 Daniel Harper
    July 26, 2007

    A commenter over there makes a decent point that the whole idea of “city” is sort of dominated by the big Northeastern cities like Boston and NY… we’re used to what those areas “look like” and anything else isn’t really a city.

    I live in Huntsville, AL, with about 160,000 people. While this is clearly not anything like NY or even Atlanta (and Huntsville is particularly lacking in so-called “culture”), I certainly consider myself to live in a city, with many of the conveniences that I’d expect to have in a much larger community. That said, I live in an apartment complex with a fairly large courtyard in the back, and there are many suburban developments all around me.

    So a small city can sometimes be the best of both worlds. I intend to stay in the city if for no other reason than to save on gas costs going back and forth to work every day, and because so many people seem “scared” to live in “the city” that they pay twice as much in rent to live in the same apartment in neighboring Madison or (shudder) Decatur.

    So, to get back to the point, positives things about suburbs? Depends on what you mean by “suburb”.

  2. #2 Joshua
    July 26, 2007

    Well. In suburbs, people have yards. In the city, they don’t.

    That’s about it.

    In all seriousness, suburbs are nice and all if you can afford them, but I don’t see any particular reason why they deserve any kind of special consideration or protection. The only thing about them, really, is that American culture has elevated the suburb to a kind of idllyic utopia where everybody knows everybody and you see the mailman at the grocery store and kids wear button down plaid shirts with slacks to school, even though there’s no dress code. The fact that no such thing now exists or ever existed doesn’t stop people getting nostalgic about them.

    That said, they’re somewhat safer places for kids to go and partake of outdoor activities; you can play street football or whatever without, generally, having to worry about some crazy person or cab driver or whatever barreling down the street without watching where he’s going. But there’s no particular reason — aside from the malicious and unfortunately prevalent Corbusier/Brutalist idea that cities should be purely utilitarian in planning and design — that you couldn’t just build a lot of parks for the kids to play in where they could be safely supervised.

  3. #3 bigTom
    July 26, 2007

    A lot has to do with what you feel about egalitarianism versus choice. If you think that semi-well-to-do people who are interested in good schools and a safe environment should be able to choose that, you will think suburbs are good. If you think that allows them to escape the hard realities of society, and thusly not be motivated to help solve them you will say they are bad.

  4. #4 Griff
    July 26, 2007

    The problem is transportation. The automobile has become an expensive necessity for suburban life. This has economic and environmental consequences, that are mostly bad in the long term.
    Griff

  5. #5 writerdd
    July 26, 2007

    I’ve lived my entire life in the suburbs, and I like it. So the urban snobs (there’s no culture in the suburbs) and the rural snobs (I’m so glad I don’t have to live in town like a sardine), can all shut up.

    The truth is, a lot of people don’t want to pack into cities in small apartments, sharing walls with neighbors, having to walk or ride or drive to a park to see a tree. I want to have my own garden so I can grow my own food. But I will never be able to afford to become a farmer. It really pisses me off that snobs from both places diss the suburbs so much. One friend of mine goes on and on about how everyone should live in high-density urban areas and leave the open land for the farmers. Of course, she’s the one who inherited a ranch from her parents. What a selfish attitude. And living in a city, NY for example, is only nice if you are rich enough to have a great apartment with a view of Central Park. I for one am glad my parents moved onto Long Island from NYC when I was little, and I sure as hell would not want to move back into the dumpy apartments that my grandparents spent their lives in.

    So that’s my pitch. The suburbs are nice and that’s why people live here. We can’t all be farmers (even if we wanted to), and we don’t want to live in dingy, old, cockroach infested apartments.

  6. #6 Sara
    July 26, 2007

    Well, certainly everyone is already aware of the negative aspects of suburbia – in particular the drain we tend to be on the Nation’s resources. Many of these are not the fault of the people who live here. For example, why do builders take so many shortcuts in building the homes and neglect to add or give the option for adding green improvements?

    Here are some of the things I love about my own suburban neighborhood.

    It is like “It’s a small world.” I have neighbors from India, China, Russia, Lithuania, Mexico, Nigeria, Nepal and that’s just in the dozen homes nearest to ours. We are all here because we share some common goals so despite our differences in background and the occasional language barriers, we are a friendly community. We know each other, we watch each other’s homes when someone is on vacation, we help each other when someone dies, our children of all ages play together safely and babysit each other. We learn from each other and respect each other’s differences.

    I’ve taught my Nepalese neighbors how to make apple pie, they’ve taught me how to make naan and vegetable curries. When my Russian neighbors lost their son in the Iraq war, there was an outpouring in our neighborhood of support and they didn’t have to cook or clean for three weeks. We learned how others mourn and to give even numbers of flowers for a death. I live next to doctors and nurses, white collar workers, lawyers and school bus drivers, police officers and mechanics. There are so many stay at home moms in our neighborhood that children are free to come knock on our doors and play in our backyards at almost any time of day. We use small traffic cones in the afternoon to block of the cul de sacs so children can ride their bikes and big wheels safely and play basketball in the street.

    Children don’t have to grow up too quickly here. We can walk to all of our schools from pre-school through 12th grade and crime is 46% the national average. Because we have fewer worries of this sort we can concentrate on supporting our children at soccer games, reading Harry Potter books, preparing balanced dinners from scratch for our families at night, educating ourselves about political candidates, or taking up other hobbies. Many of us volunteer our time to help others through outreach programs and churches and hand down our kids’ bikes and clothes to others in the neighborhood. In the afternoons and evenings families go for walks around the block or bike rides to spend time together and to help fight off the roundness of middle age.

    We are a real community, though it’s true we depend on the nearby farmers for food and the cities for cultural events. My neighbors are half Republicans, half Democrats, half Christian and the rest every other religion you can imagine. What bonds us is our commitment to our children, our homes, our neighborhoods and schools, and our desire to create a better future for our children.

  7. #7 Wyatt
    July 26, 2007

    I think it all depends on the city and the suburb. I grew up in an exurb and sometimes felt a little isolated. I lived in small cities during undergraduate and graduate school and loved it. However, I now live in a suburb outside a large city. We made the decision to live in a suburb because, in my opinion, living in a large city is very different from living in a college town. The suburbs provide us with a little breathing room, green space, and peace and quiet. The major problem with the suburbs, i.e., car-dependency, can be resolved with telecommuting and a decent light rail system.

    If I had my way, I would have urban living in a small city. But given the choice between a large city and a suburb, I’ll take the suburb.

    Our suburb does have a small downtown and plenty of walking/biking trails, so I might feel differently if we lived in a suburb that lacked those features.

  8. #8 Michele
    July 26, 2007

    I grew up in a suburb in the 1960’s. It was more like Sara’s (above) suburb. We were close to all our neighbors and we watched out for each other. It was like living in a small town.

    My parents live in a suburb but only know their neighbors who live next door to them. But my parents are also retired and have little in common with the younger families around them. Perhaps it is the neighborhood that they live in; people may be busy with their lives and not inclined to spend too much time getting to know their neighbors.

    I live in a small condo building (4 units) in a city. I have my little garden which is very enjoyable for me. I like being able to walk or take public transportation everywhere. While it may not always be convenient, it works for me.

    I am fortunate to be able to afford to live where I do. I live in a neighborhood where the merchants know the residents and the neighborhood association takes an active interest in what is happening. People on my street know each other and look out for each other.

    My city is concerned about families fleeing to the suburbs. They cite less crime, better schools, more affordable housing and a generally safer environment as reasons for leaving the city. Sadly, these are all valid reasons. Those who can afford to stay, stay.

  9. #9 Mark P
    July 26, 2007

    The bottom line is that suburbs and the car are inextricably linked. You can’t have suburbs without the personal car.

    One of the major problems with suburbs is that they encourage decentralized commerical development, which encourages even greater spatial extention of suburbs, which grow into spread-out complexes of interspersed residential and commercial areas. Defenders of the car talk about choice and personal freedom, but this type of development eliminates choice because in many, if not most, suburban developments, a car is a necessity, not a choice.

    Most of the defenses of suburbs seem to stereotype city residences as either apartments or nothing. That is not the case. There are many urban residential areas in many big cities, like Atlanta for example. But it is true that some apartments are necessary to increase population density.

    By the way, Huntsville, Al, is not a good example of city living. Huntsville is a relatively small city with a relatively compact urban core. It is surrounded by much, much larger areas of suburban development, which is where most of its residents (inside or outside of the city limits) actually live.

  10. #10 Nate
    July 26, 2007

    Something must be good about it, because more and more people choose to go there. A very democratic way to determine what is good.

  11. #11 Markk
    July 26, 2007

    To me a Bad Premise: “In other words, saying that suburbs are good because urban schools suck is not what I’m looking for–after all, one could improve the urban schools.”

    In general right now suburbs are safer, have higher education output, less property crime, and much less violent crime than urban areas. In very many suburbs people leave their doors unlocked and garages open. Big issue – it is quieter.

    OK, you say you can just make urban areas better? Why bother? Make suburban areas more energy efficient – it will be a lot easier. You ask why suburbs are better then urbanized areas but then say – oh and we’ll ignore any reason you say because we could do that to urban areas – that is disingenuous.

    In imagination any place can be a perfect place to live. In practice, people seem to like suburban environments everywhere in the world when they can afford them. That cost is usually a lot less than high end urban living.

  12. #12 Andythebrit
    July 26, 2007

    It depends on your suburb. I live in a fairly suburban neighborhood with freestanding homes and ample backyards, the nearest stores are most easily accessed by car. On the other hand, we also have sidewalks, bike paths and bike lanes, a green belt behind the house and nearby parks. I would hate to live in one of those neighborhoods with no sidewalks that Americans seem to think are a status symbol.

  13. #13 Troublesome Frog
    July 26, 2007

    I generally agree with Douthat. I like the idea that when I buy a home, I get a home that I control. Living in a building that somebody else owns where I have to ask permission before making changes and where I share a bedroom wall with somebody else is not that much fun. Been there, done that. I like the idea of having a yard and a garage where I can work. Essentially, the suburbs allow us to enjoy the American ideal of having a space to call your own while not giving up the conveniences of modern life.

    I live very near San Francisco and I’m putting away money for a small home in a more suburban area. Sure, I could pay a fortune to live in an apartment with no yard and minimal space in a higher crime neighborhood that’s never quiet at night, but why? I live near a train station and can get into the city easily whenever I want. When I’m at home, I want to be home in my own territory, and if possible, I’d like that territory to be safe, quiet and aesthetically pleasing.

    I understand that in an ideal world, we could do away with the crime issues and questionable schools that people associate with urban living, but even if we did, it would still be high density living without much of a space to call your own. Yes, it’s a luxury, but it’s a luxury that a lot of us are willing to pay for and structure our lives around.

  14. #14 Peggy
    July 26, 2007

    I currently live in the ‘burbs and there are lots of things to like: it’s much cheaper than renting the equivalent space in the city, it’s quiet, I have easy access to parks, there is nearby shopping of all stripes, I have a place to park my car, I have no upstairs or downstairs neighbors and urban goings-on are a short drive away. Of course not all suburbs are like that, but not all urban living spaces are convenient to grocery stores and public transit either.

  15. #15 DuWayne
    July 26, 2007

    I live in an urban area and look forward to making enough to move to the suburbs. We are dependent on public trans, but thankfully the light rail in Portland is expanding to the burbs we want to live in.

    The advantage would be that my kid, soon to be kids, could have a yard to play in, where they don’t have to worry about obnoxious kids that don’t play nice. Not to say that all the parks have that all the time, but it would be nice to have a place to retreat, that doesn’t restrict us to our tiny, overpriced, indoor world, with neighbors on every side, up and down.

    I’d also love to live somewhere that’s quiet, at least by one in the morning. I work at home as a songwriter, usually late at night. It is insane that I have a hard time working and my son and pregnant partner have a hard time sleeping, because of neighbors making a racket pretty much all night. The cops help with it some, but ultimately, they add to the noise, trying to stop it. I could live in a better urban neighborhood, but the cost would be several hundred grand more, for what I can get just south of Portland and still stay carless.

    It’s not that the suburbs are always so much better than urban living. It’s just that it’s exponentially cheaper to live in a decent, safe neighborhood. I would love to say that I could eventually be able to afford that kind of urban neighborhood, if I can get a contract with an advertising firm it might just happen. But with a five year old son and another on the way, who both deserve a safe, comfortable place to live, I’m not going to wait. As soon as I have a decent downpayment, we’re out of this crappy neighborhood, heading for the burbs.

  16. #16 DuWayne
    July 26, 2007

    Sorry, Mike. I was trying not be make it a urban negative, but it kind of came out that way. Let me rephrase.

    Suburbs are cheaper, quieter and provide more green spaces. Green spaces that don’t mean a fifteen minute walk, down a dirty, busy street. Rather, just a walk out the door. In our case (or the case of the neighborhood we are hoping to move to) it will also mean that we will still be able to use public trans, though when I have enough money (quite a ways away as the house comes first) I will get a hybrid. I could get another car now, but refuse to get one until I can afford a hybrid. Even then, we will still primarily use public trans, using the car for trips to the surrounding natural areas, trips out of town and our monthly big grocery run. I can stick to it pretty well, as I cannot stand driving in the heavy traffic around Portland. Living within walking distance of the light rail, makes it easy not to.

  17. #17 Mark P
    July 27, 2007

    I think most of the “suburbs are good” comments pretty much demonstrate the tendency to trade future problems for present convenience. A suburban yard and house are nice, it is probably quiet (although city residential areas tend to be pretty quiet at night), your home is more private and … well, everything else involves driving. Driving the private automobile in the US is the cause of a lot more problems than most people realize. I think it’s reasonable to trace much of our dependence on petroleum, and the concomitant reliance on Mideastern oil, with all that means, to the car.

    However, here’s the hypocrisy: I live in a rural area, where we have to drive five miles to the nearest grocery store. On the other hand, my mother lives about a mile from the nearest grocery store and she still has to drive to get there. There is no provision in our small-to-mid-sized town to get an 84-year-old woman a mile to a grocery store other than her own personal car.

  18. #18 Steve Pells
    July 27, 2007

    I live in Edinburgh, which is unusual in that (to generalise) the nicer areas are nearer the centre and the nasty areas are further out. The stereotype of city living (high crime, expensive, tiny, crap accommodation, no greenery) presented by the apologists for suburbia above does not apply to me: my run through the woods starts from the garden gate, and as well as our (little) garden the row of cottages we live in also has a “drying green” which is perfect for children to play in-and they do. We live less than a mile from the nearest railway station, bus stop directly across the road. My local pub is 3 minutes walk (the lack of pubs alone shows that one cannot live in suburbia but merely exist). The only accurate point made was the one about culture – several theatres and cinemas, including two arthouses are within 15 minutes’ cycle of our home, in addition to the university, etc. We cycle everywhere, and indeed not wasting thousands a year on a car improves our quality of life immensely. We have applied for an allotment to grow our own vegetables. When we get it, it will be about 10 minutes’ cycle away. Post office, shops are seconds walk away. The nearest park is about 1 minute walk from the front door. A wonderful canal allows one to cycle or walk right into the city centre without going on the road. It is also a real piece of nature-I reckon we see more species within 5 minutes walk of our house than most suburbanites do because of such habitats. Subdivisions are terrible deserts.

    I grew up in suburbia and know what it’s like. It’s not “green”: those sterile, chemical monoculture lawns do not count.I would go back, but it would take four guys with a van, a bat, a blanket, a roll of gaffer tape and a blanket to make me. In the longer term, car-centric suburbia is probably doomed anyway because of the Peak Oil problem. I won’t mourn it.

    s.

  19. #19 Michael Schmidt
    July 27, 2007

    “I want to have my own garden so I can grow my own food.”

    The garden was the key to the development of suburbia; “Garden Cities of Tomorrow” was an influential book back in the late 19th century, and the garden-city movement is largely what gave us our idea of suburbs.

    “It’s not “green”: those sterile, chemical monoculture lawns do not count.”

    I have everything in the world against chemically-enhanced monoculture lawns (good luck keeping them sterile), but they’re not a necessary component of suburbia. There’s plenty one can do in terms of wildlife-friendly, water-conservative, fertilizer-independent planting. My cover crop of lentils did quite well underneath the apricot tree this year, fed the towhees, fixed nitrogen, and gave me a bit to put in a soup. I didn’t have to “apply” for a vegetable plot, nor wait for one. Car-centric suburbia may be doomed, but suburbia predated the automobile (it came in on the railroad) and will outlive the car, as well.

  20. #20 Ross
    July 27, 2007

    I’m rather curious as to what actual (social) science there is on the psychological impact of living in a city vs living in the suburbs.

    Mark P says: “I think most of the “suburbs are good” comments pretty much demonstrate the tendency to trade future problems for present convenience.”

    My own inclination is to respond “I think most of the “suburbs are bad” comments pretty much demonstrate the tendency to trade mental health for industrial efficiency,” but I don’t have the numbers to back it up. I grew up in an exurb, with a large yard, single-family house, a vast wooded area behind the house, and two beaches within walking distance. You needed a car to work or shop, and school was a half hour away by bus. I found this all rather pleasant.

    Now I live in the city, in a rowhouse. I can walk to the convenience store, and the supermarket is just on the edge of my walking-range. I can walk there, so long as I don’t need to buy anything heavy. I have to drive half an hour to work. I have a hard time sleeping thanks to the noise and light. In the past week, 30 cars in my neighborhood have been vandalized. There are drug-related shootings within earshot several times a year.

    My girlfriend lives in the suburbs. Her place is within walking distance of a school, a supermarket, several nice restaurants, and my place of work. It’s quiet, pleasant, and criss-crossed with a network of walking paths through some very beautiful wooded areas.

    Yes, the suburbs are a “present convenience” — it’s tremendously convenient to me to not be slowly killed by stress and pollution.

  21. #21 Trinifar
    July 27, 2007

    A lot of the discussion seems to be “Gee the suburbs are a great place to live, don’t ask me to change” which is rather missing the point I think. Or rather it is in itself the problem. You want to live in a really nice place that’s safe, clean, quiet, and roomy — we all want that, at least most of us. But to have it you must separate yourself from the office buildings, factories, and farms that give you the produces and services you need. And you have to be distanced from the poor.

    It can be see as running away from problems rather than working to fix them, or yet another variant of “I’ve got mine, take care of yourself.”

  22. #22 DuWayne
    July 27, 2007

    Trinifar –

    Quite honestly, having been poor, for most of my life, I am damn well looking forward to getting away from them. That’s not because there is anything wrong with being poor, or that most of the poor aren’t decent, wonderful folk. Many, even most of them are. The problem is that the very few, can make it virtually unlivable for the rest. Being poor means being virtually powerless to fix anything and very few with the ability to affect change, really give a damn.

    Last night was a great example. My partner was awake until almost 4:30 am, as was I. She couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t work, thankfully our five year old slept through it. The cops were at my building, no less that three times, making this week’s grand total twenty six times – weeks not over yet. We were saved having to home school our son, by the fact that he got into a charter school. His default elementary school had six violent altercations that led to hospitalization last year, along with a kid who nearly died of a crack OD in the hall.

    I am more than happy to try to change things. I go to community meetings. I go to community activities. I am involved with the community end of our community policing. Even when I “run” away, I will keep doing everything I can to affect change, including getting involved in the school system on an advisory board, with the intention of eventually running for the school board. Meanwhile, I have a five year old son and another coming in Dec. I have to do what is best for them, for their futures. Being here is not it.

    I also need to provide for my family. I work at home and need some quiet time to work, there is no reason that I should not be able to get it at night. There is, however, nothing more that I can do to try to get it here. We have a landlord that could care less and the cops can only do so much, only arrest so many people. Call it running away, call it “I’ve got mine, screw you.” I’m done with this crap. My family needs a safe, quiet place to live and grow, I need a quiet place to write music to support my family. This is not it. I am getting to the point in my life where, while I am quite a ways from rich, I am moving into the middle class. I am ready to provide my family with a place away from the drugs on the streets or in the parks, away from the noise and dangerous schools.

  23. #23 Troublesome Frog
    July 27, 2007

    But to have it you must separate yourself from the office buildings, factories, and farms that give you the produces and services you need.

    I think that this exemplifies the air of smug superiority that comes across whenever somebody asks a question like, “Why do you suck and live in the suburbs?” It may surprise you to know that most of the people who live in the suburbs do one thing or another to produce goods and services that keep the country going. In fact, it’s possible that in some small way, an urban or rural dweller has enjoyed the fruits of our labor from time to time. I’m sure that we’re not nearly as important to the nation as rural or urban residents, but I like to think that we suburbanites aren’t just there leeching energy and resources off of the salt-of-the-earth folks who really keep the world running so we can engage in our frivolities.

    Are farmers likewise insulating themselves from the ugly realities of Wall Street? Are urban power plant workers just blissfully isolated from the harsh realities of growing potatoes?

    It can be see as running away from problems rather than working to fix them, or yet another variant of “I’ve got mine, take care of yourself.”

    Let me run down a list of problems that I can think of, and we’ll see what we can do about them:

    1) Lack of space: Probably not solved by more people moving back to the city. Moving into the city necessarily means that I will be living with less living space, no workshop space, and the head of my bed against my neighbor’s living room wall. Any solution to this turns the urban utopia into (gasp!) low-density “sprawl.”
    2) Factories and other unpleasant things near housing: A necessary consequence of (1). If you’re high-density, that means you’re near everything, not just near mass transit, shopping, and cute baby pandas. You’re also near factories, refineries, power plants, and all sorts of other stuff.
    3) Crime: I have yet to hear somebody come up with a clear solution and say, “If only some suburbanites brought their families back into town, people would stop stealing cars out of the parking lot out here.” If you can explain what I can do to solve the urban crime problem by moving to the city (other than having my stuff stolen and making thieves well-off enough that they can retire), I’m all ears.
    4) Poverty: May be marginally fixable by sinking enough money into a region, but of course we’d be guilty of “gentrifying” of the neighborhood and driving the poor people out by driving up prices.

    Clearly, just moving back to the city doesn’t solve those problems. We would need to move back and then make some sort of effort, which raises the question, What are the socially responsible urbanites here are doing to solve those problems right now? What are you doing that would work so much better if I just came back and gave you a hand?

    As I said before, though, even if we solved (3) and (4) completely, (1) and (2) are unsolvable problems that are perfectly valid answers to “Why don’t you live in the city?” Even with no poverty or crime, urban areas lack space. That’s what the suburbs give you that urban life does not. And it’s not a bad thing, provided it’s done in a sensible way.

  24. #24 Jake
    July 28, 2007

    Here are some problems with suburbs. To clarify, by suburb, I mean a large residential/retail area within a city, with no economic base, or a town near a city with no economic base. In other words, where you have to drive somewhere else to find good jobs, typically using a hierarchical street design and dominated by single family homes.

    1. They’re bad for small business. Because of the hierarchical street design, the area’s shopping trips are centralized to a few large stores that are often less efficient and only survive because of the street layout, in contrast to a grid layout with mixed-use zoning, where stores would be smaller, more efficient, locally-owned (so the money goes back to the community, not to a corporate exec’s pocket), would pay employees better, don’t require massive parking lots, and are more competitive.

    2. They have a higher environmental impact than urban space of the same population. Suburbs are too sparsely developed for transit, biking, and walking, and require excessive use of cars. The hierarchical street design also helps squeeze bikes and pedestrians out. The many arterials this layout requires set up large linear sources of smog, decreasing community health. The sheer amount of paved surface causes a heat island effect and problems with stormwater runoff. The destruction of green and rural spaces suburbanization requires reduces an area’s ability to absorb pollution. Needing to drive everywhere eliminates the health benefits of walking or biking and causes more CO2 emissions, while driving up gas prices for other uses and making us more dependent on foreign oil.

    3. The car-dependent layout makes suburbs a bad environment for older children. Older children typically don’t want to just bum around the yard; they need facilities like parks, cinemas, and recreation centers, which are usually too far away to walk. Needing to be driven everywhere reduces their opportunities for social interaction.

    4. When a city’s wealthy/upper middle class population flees the city center, it decreases the focus the city has on maintaining it. That’s why some city centers are run down–because the people with money left. Cities need to focus on stopping suburbanization and make urban neighborhoods attractive, and people need to give up their stigmas against urban areas.

    Written by a lifelong suburban resident who can’t wait to move to an economically self-sufficient small town–the perfect combination of space and urbanism.

  25. #25 Trinifar
    July 28, 2007

    DuWayne,

    I am not interested in minimizing the problems of the poor. Quite the contrary. I hope that people that “escape” to the suburban life don’t forget that the poor don’t choose to be poor, rather that we as a society have left them behind unintentionally or not.

  26. #26 DuWayne
    July 28, 2007

    Trinifar –

    I agree, that unfortunately society has left many of the poor behind. I wasn’t joking about fighting to change that, in large part through the schools. I am a high school dropout, making a decent career that doesn’t require additional schooling. I’m going back to school to study education, since “shopping” for schools for my kids (I’m also studying chemical engineering to hedge my bets). I am already getting involved with our school board’s advisory committee, with the intention of eventually getting on the school board.

    The biggest problem is a very difficult one though. That being a vicious cycle of perpetuated ignorance, pandemic among the poor. Parents who are uneducated and see little value in it. Parents who are babies themselves. It is a challenge indeed, to do very much to change this. Unfortunately, it affects those kids with parents who, while uneducated themselves, see the value of it and do their best to provide it for their children. When their children grow up along side the children of parents who don’t care or even know enough to care, many of them get dragged down too.

    I just can’t reasonably stay where I am. And honestly, even if I could afford to live in the nicer urban areas, I wouldn’t really want to. I come from a lower middle class background and even if I make the money, which is likely to happen if I get a decent contract, I am very fond of those in the range I grew up in. I have done enough work for those in the upper-middle class (remodeling), to know that I wouldn’t be happy in that sort of neighborhood. I know well that not everyone in that income range sucks, but I also know that enough of them do, to know I wouldn’t want to live there.

  27. #27 DuWayne
    July 28, 2007

    I should add, that things might be very different if we didn’t live in Portland, where there is light rail and regular buslines, everywhere except the furthest suburbs, which are a little too expensive anyways.

  28. #28 Markk
    July 29, 2007

    “by suburb, I mean a large residential/retail area within a city, with no economic base, or a town near a city with no economic base. In other words, where you have to drive somewhere else to find good jobs” That ain’t the average suburb. That might have been 40 years ago, but most of the small businesses in the North and northeast have been created in suburbs. The suburbs around my northern city have almost more jobs than the city. (about 60-40 city still). In the suburb I live in personally there are far more industiral businesses than anything else. So I don’t think what you say qualifies. Most suburbs are teeming with strip malls somewhere and small business parks, etc are all over the place. In fact a lot of the big disputes these days are with people in the suburbs trying to keep new business out.

  29. #29 Steve Pells
    July 30, 2007

    Most suburbs are teeming with strip malls

    You shot yourself in the foot here. Or maybe you weren’t clear…Are you really defending suburbs on the grounds that they have strip malls? The most hideous designed* man-made environments on Earth…an appalling crapscape of car park desert edged with weetabix junk buildings crewed by teenaged purveyors of junk food. And you have to drive to them! Many, you can’t even cross the road! (Without getting in your single-figure mpg SUV and driving up to the next exit to turn round). And the same depressing prospect of fields converted to carpark-and-franchise desert metastasises its way along the major highways away from the city until you get insanity like two-hour each way commutes, because if you are not a teenager looking for an exciting career opportunity in the high-speed comestibles supply industry, the jobs are now all two hours away.

    The problem with suburbs is that they promise a piece of the rural idyll to people. That promise is a lie. The combine the worst of both (urban and rural) worlds.

    s.

    *In the sense that they are apparently supposed to look like that. As opposed to, say, a third world slum which may admittedly be more hideous, but at least no one sat down and planned it.

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