Neuron Culture

I’ve been harping on this for years: To live easy on the earth, live densely — which is to say, in densely built neighborhoods. This Times Economix column describes a study showing just that. Other studies have shown living more densely creates richer social lives and stronger communities. Yet we continue to spread out willy-nilly.

I see this to my dismay here in Vermont, where I live, in Montpelier — the country’s smallest state capital, and the only one without a McDonald’s — in a neighborhood of single- and multi-family houses so densely built that today you couldn’t build it here, or most other places, without getting an exception from minimum lot-size zoning requirements. Yet it’s one of the most popular neighborhoods in town, because you get to know your neighbors — both because you’re close to more of them and because we’re all more likely to walk the 3 blocks to town rather than drive, so we walk by each others’ porches.

Meanwhile, most people who move to Vermont move to the country, the more acres the better; but most buy 10 or 20, and the houses eat up the landscape, destroying the thing they’re moving to, and in short order they find they’re driving into town all the time, and not just for groceries and driveway salt but because it’s too lonely out in the country. And pumping out carbon like crazy. We go to town regularly, too; but when we do, our car stays in the driveway.

One day we’ll get it.


Comments

  1. #1 Dunc
    March 11, 2009

    It’s been a long time, but I don’t actually recall the Lorax saying anything about skyscrapers…

  2. #2 Christopher Mims
    March 11, 2009

    Yours sounds like just about the perfect setup for a freelancer. BTW, did you see the Pew study that says that Vermonters are the most areligious people in the U.S.?

  3. #3 Toaster
    March 11, 2009

    The Lorax just spoke for the Truffula Trees, the Swamee Swans, and Singing Fish, and the Marmaloots…I think. Nothing about skyscrapers; just railing against Thneeds.

    Argumentative: while it is true that more people can live more efficiently in terms of power consumption and gasoline in a smaller area, can those communities be as readily self-sustaining as larger lot tract homes? Theoretically, a motivated suburban or rural-lite homeowner could feed themselves almost entirely from a garden if they’ll plow under all that silly grass.

    Agreeable: Naturally. You don’t see ants or bees building subdivisions. I spent too much time living in an area where the closest business was 1/2 mile away, and that was a daycare center.

    Questioning: What do you then think of the sci-fi concept of arcologies? Conceptualized as massive self-contained structures for work/live/play of tens of thousands of people with infrastructure facilities included.

  4. #4 Eric Lund
    March 11, 2009

    while it is true that more people can live more efficiently in terms of power consumption and gasoline in a smaller area, can those communities be as readily self-sustaining as larger lot tract homes? Theoretically, a motivated suburban or rural-lite homeowner could feed themselves almost entirely from a garden if they’ll plow under all that silly grass.

    Not at modern technology levels, they can’t. It’s not just growing food; you need a lot of other stuff (water supply, hardware, heating fuel, clothing, etc.) to live in anything even vaguely resembling what we would call modern comfort. There are two ways to get that: go with big tracts (suburban tracts are too small; 10 acres is a minimum here in New England) so that each house has its own well can can sustainably burn firewood gathered on the property (but then everybody has to drive to town for their hardware and clothing), or live in a compact village or town, where it doesn’t take as much material as in suburban tract developments to provide the utilities, and the stores can be within walking distance. The latter method was usual in most of the eastern US until the mid 20th century.

  5. #5 David Dobbs
    March 11, 2009

    For someone growing their own food, a 1/2-acre lot like mine won’t work. But most people don’t grow their own food, including most who live in the country. If a city-dweller DOES want to grow his own, he can do so at a community garden — the space for which can exist (as one does a half-mile from my house here in Montpelier) precisely because it’s not gobbled up by 2-acre or 10-acre lots. And in reality, of course, few people grow their own, so the concern, while legit for a few, is a distraction from the more urgent question of what kind of density meets a wider range of human and ecological needs.

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