Sunday, January 28, 2007

Did we really pave paradise and put up a parking lot? 

In the immortal words of Barack Obama, "the suburbs bore me." But I live in them anyway because they confer great advantages over center cities and are then again not nearly as, well, boring as genuinely rural life. Still, I've long wondered whether our suburban car culture is sustainable or avoidable. The answers, it seems, are "yes" and "no," respectively. The best factoid in the linked article:

In truth, housing in this country takes up less space than most people realize. If the nation were divided into four-person households and each household had an acre, everyone would fit in an area half the size of Texas.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jan 28, 08:33:00 PM:

From the Communist Manifesto:

""The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life."

It's unclear if Marx considers that a good thing or a bad thing.  

By Blogger ScurvyOaks, at Sun Jan 28, 09:18:00 PM:

Bubba, you just have no appreciation of how big Texas actually is.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Sun Jan 28, 11:48:00 PM:

At Manhattan levels of density, we could all fit into Connecticut, leaving the whole rest of the country as farms and parks.  

By Blogger GreenmanTim, at Mon Jan 29, 12:43:00 AM:

AVI - That would be solid highrises on 3.5 million acres. And long Island Sound would be the world's biggest Superfund site. Mind you, Northern Delaware is starting to look that way...  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Mon Jan 29, 06:56:00 AM:

Ah, but Tim, Long Island Sound would also be the only Superfund site! A lot of people might go along with that...  

By Blogger Georg Felis, at Mon Jan 29, 10:15:00 AM:

And we would all be breathing New York Air. No thanks, at least here in Kansas that foggy look we get in the morning is fog. And I still have problems remembering not to leave my keys in my car.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jan 29, 12:21:00 PM:

The suburbs bored me, too, when I was a twenty-something law student -- MCU

p.s. See the novels of Harlan Coben for a portrayal of the New Jersey suburbs, in particular, as paradise.  

By Blogger Tom Hilton, at Mon Jan 29, 04:13:00 PM:

It's not an article, it's an op-ed piece. More to the point, it's an op-ed by people with a very pronounced, which makes it more than just a nitpicky distinction.

Also, anyone who can stand to spend more than 10 minutes at a time in the soul-killing wasteland of the suburbs has no credibility at all. ;-)  

By Blogger Tom Hilton, at Mon Jan 29, 04:13:00 PM:

"...a very pronounced ideological agenda", that should have read.  

By Blogger Unknown, at Mon Jan 29, 05:45:00 PM:

That would make quite a drive to the Piggly Wiggly.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jan 29, 08:04:00 PM:

I live in them anyway because they confer great advantages over center cities and are then again not nearly as, well, boring as genuinely rural life.

There aren't great "advantages" to having a lack of amenities within walking distance and being a longer distance away from one's workplace, and there aren't "advantages" to being forced to drive everywhere the instance you want to step out of your house.

If you want to make the argument "it is cheaper for me to live here for the amount of space I have, and there are better public schools than in more accessible, vibrant metropolitan areas," then that's a perfectly reasonable argument to make and probably an economically rational decision.

If I had $1 million, I'd get a townhouse in Brooklyn Heights with offstreet parking, or maybe I nice house near downtown Newburyport, MA or Portsmouth, NH. Given economic realities, however, owning a single family home is probably much more feasible in a suburb.

This is a lot like arguing that you enjoy the advantages of owning a Ford Crown Victoria to a Mercedes. I'm sure the Crown Vic has certain advantages (think of the leg room!), but essentially it's an economic decision. The truth is that you're giving up some lifestyle advantages of metropolitan life because of the economic issues involved in living out in the suburbs and a desire to have many more square feet of house space than many of us grew up with.  

By Blogger GreenmanTim, at Mon Jan 29, 08:26:00 PM:

Not quite everything else would be farms and parks in the CT build-out scenario. They'd be massive gravel mines needed for construction gouged out all around the Northeast (not cost effective to ship long distances). They'd be huge industrial manufacturing areas far from where people live (unless we can fit all of that within 3.5 million acres of Manhattan-style highrise development. We'd still need ports on the gulf, West Coast and Atlantic seaboard to remain engaged in the global marketplace and to bring all the resources we would be unable to produce locally to the Connecticut residential zone. We would have a lightly populated border vulnerable to smugglers, illegal aliens and terrorist incursion. Plus the national as well as personal security implications of having 99% of our population within an area half the size of Belgium I'd imagine would make this more of a dystopia to readers of this blog than might at first be suspected.

On a less hyperbolic scale, there is merit in clustering denser development in a few places and leaving the rest more open and rural. It's just that we are busily filing in the gaps in between.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Mon Jan 29, 10:33:00 PM:

Greenman Tim, I was mostly just doing a math puzzle, not advocating for a position. I doubt many people would find the City of Connecticut an attractive place to live. I would certainly be trying to live as close to the outside edge of it as possible.

And yeah, the air and sewage would be enormous problems, and we'd likely have to pipe Great Slave Lake down for potable water.

Still, it does illustrate how uncrowded we are by some perspectives. The world is generally empty everywhere except for coastlines and a very few rivers.

th - I guess my soul's been dead for 40 years then. Darn.  

By Blogger GreenmanTim, at Tue Jan 30, 09:43:00 AM:

Understood, AVI, and was not taking it as a serious proposition but an intriguing model with many variables. Nothing to do with my being a Nutmegger, either ;-)  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jan 30, 11:16:00 AM:

Die Stadtluft macht frei. I grew up in the 'burbs, went to college in the Berkshires, and now I'm in grad school in center city in Pihladelphia. Best thing that ever happened to me was moving to the city - I'll never look back.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jan 30, 12:21:00 PM:

Phrizz11, are you raising kids, and sending them to the local Public Schools, in the City of Philadelphia?

No? I didn't think so...

Your time will come to reconsider, believe me. Yes, I've lived in several large cities (and small) as an un-attached male. It's fun and interesting. The dynamic changes when you have children you are responsible for.
Most Public Schools in big cities are, quite frankly and sadly, disaster areas. And I know legions (well, a few, at least)of teachers who would back that up as they heroically march into that situation every day.
As a former mayor of Milwaukee noted, everyone who could or wanted to exercise school choice already has. They moved to the suburbs.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jan 30, 03:12:00 PM:


Your point about schools is valid. For indiviual families it can make sense to move to suburbs for the better schools. We can't blame individuals for making that choice. But think about WHY suburban schools are better. That's not some pre-determined natural state of things. It's not necessarily the free market in action. It's the (unintended) result of a series of policy choices we've made.

Also, that op-ed piece in the Washington Post has some pretty bad distortions that get as close to lying without it technically being a lie. They say that even in the "best case" only 1 in 4 commuters in "New York" take transit. So they obviously want you to imagine that 75% of Manhattanites drive to work. But if you check the actual statistics, the real number of Manhattanhites who drive, carpool, or take a taxi to work is more like 15% (for the whole city it's about 30%). Remember that one environmental benefit of a dense environment is that you sometimes don't need cars OR transit -- you can bike or walk to work.

That 1 in 4 number they cite only works if you're talking about all of New York STATE.

One interesting implication of their data about emissions, rather surprising coming from a libertarian group, is that clean air regulation WORKS.


By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Tue Jan 30, 03:22:00 PM:

I grew up rural. Dirt roads, farms, etc. Cities annoy me.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jan 30, 04:32:00 PM:

I have thought a lot about why suburban schools are good, to at least tolerable, and most big city schools are not.
Race and culture.

Since I was a lad in the '60's, I've seen the same endemic Urban Renewal and interstate highway construction gut old family neighborhoods in cities all over the country, and with the following advent of forced integration, "white flight" to the suburbs. Not pretty, but true.

This has changed most big city public school systems, probably for this generation and more to come. Race and racial parity is probably the single most driving aspect of big city public school administration, which leaves the schools "undefended" against erosion by popular culture. There is plenty of vulgar popular culture erosion in the suburbs attacking student behavior and undermining learning, but the school system (and motivated parents) can sometimes stem the tide and fight the chaos.
Just as a personal aside, if you've read or heard today (jan 30) about the teenage kid getting "tazed" by a cop in a high school because he was running around nude, that happened about two miles from where I live, in one of the high schools in my "suburban" town. The suburbs are not immune to all that garbage. There are plenty of troubled and nutty kids in suburban schools.
In cities, where a great many kids come from single parent households, the single parent (usually a mom, who is heroically trying to hold down a job and be both parents to a kid) doesn't have enough time to fight the culture battles to protect their kids in school.
A lot of kids come to big city public schools in the morning and get subsidized breakfasts or lunches, which are the ONLY meals they will get in a day. It's really sad.
A black woman who used to work for me had two small kids to raise after her divorce, and joined the Army for ten years to get stability with her working life and to stabilize her kids upbringing. Both her kids have grown up now and are really admirable people. But all that's just an anecdote.
Having children is a choice, and I wouldn't criticize anyone for their personal choices for or against it, or where they live.
But I know plenty of African American couples who choose the suburbs for exactly the same reasons; their kid's educations.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jan 30, 11:40:00 PM:

And all this time while DADDY GREENBUCKS the notorius TED TURNER brainwashed kids with such junk as CAPTAIN PLANET,ONE CHILD ONE VIOCE,NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPOLORER,ONE CHILD ONE VOICE he logs,mines,and developes his own proerty he even has a hill bulldozed down so he can view a distence mountian range and the eco-wackos ignore him becuase he gives them money  

By Blogger GreenmanTim, at Wed Jan 31, 09:17:00 PM:

I've never gotten any of it. Damn. What good is a greenwash if the Greenman himself doesn't get a piece of the pie? Maybe I can have a buffalo steak or two from Turner's big ol'personal herd.  

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