What initially drew my attention to their site was their response to Christopher Leinberger's much-quoted article on the "death of the suburbs". Here's their central point:
Death of Suburbs?I'm not sure where they heard this before, though they seem to be implying a source of information already discredited by their readers. Unfortunately, Leinberger is not totally "anticipating" a residential wasteland. He bases his discussion on extensive observation of home pricing in different types of neighborhoods, on reported vandalism, and on comparative increases in crime in different areas. Apparently, this future is here.
Professor Leinberger anticipates a future where “large-lot suburban McMansions fall into disrepair and affluent buyers flock to walkable downtowns.” By 2025, suburbia will become “a residential wasteland.”
Where have we heard this before?
Sorry, Professor, but we will get over the high prices of energy, or we will adapt to them. But suburbs will not die, for this is where middle income families go to pursue the American Dream - a home with a backyard and nearby ball fields, places of worship, and other amenities. There’s less crime in the suburbs, less congestion, less polution, less . . . er, disease. And suburbs are more affordable than central cities. Much more affordable.
What an interesting statement: "we will get over the high prices of energy, or we will adapt to them". This is very insightful. At least it gives me insight into why there is so much push-back against energy efficient solutions to our situation. But there are two possible reasons for the optimism expressed in that statement:
- Trust in the certainty that technology will overcome the eventual depletion of fossil fuels; or
- Trust that the high prices of energy will go away, and we can continue as before with no change of lifestyle.
Our friends at the American Dream Coalition continue, "But suburbs will not die, for this is where middle income families go to pursue the American Dream - a home with a backyard..."
I have to admit it, though. Yesterday I was sitting on the deck having lunch, thinking of how I enjoy my back yard: its privacy, its leafy green shade, the squirrels, the birds, the bunnies. It would be hard to give up the traditional suburban back yard.
But at the same time, I think of Little Shop of Horrors, that quintessential high school musical, where the heroine Audrey poignantly expresses, in the song "Somewhere that's Green," her wish to fulfill the American suburban dream. She ends up consumed by the man-eating plant "Audrey II". Is this an allegory? Does it foreshadow how the American Dream has turned into the American Nightmare? Giant, twisting freeways, choking with endless lines, bumper-to-bumper, of "the greatest invention"?
Continuing that thought, our friends write, "a home with a backyard and nearby ball fields, places of worship, and other amenities." The backyard may be nearby, but almost invariably the ball fields, places of worship, and other amenities are not nearby enough to walk. Every place worth going to is only accessible by car.
I have nothing against cars. I don't hate them - one blogger once accused me of hating cars. But I do hate having no realistic choice other than cars. They consume an unreasonable proportion of people's time and money. People who can't afford a car are locked out of the American dream.
"There’s less crime in the suburbs, less congestion, less pollution, less . . . er, disease. And suburbs are more affordable than central cities. Much more affordable." Query: If suburbs are so much more affordable, why are central cities inhabited by the poor people (disease-ridden criminals!)? That sentence in itself is worth a couple of blog entries dealing with the outdated perceptions and the covert racism. Suburbs are only more affordable if you ignore transportation costs. Clearly, whoever wrote that statement doesn't want us to think clearly.
Also, suburbs are afflicted with one of the greatest epidemics of our time: obesity. Obesity is linked with blood pressure problems, heart disease, diabetes, and who knows how many other conditions. It is brought on by unhealthy aspects of the suburban life: over-dependence on cars, riding-mowers, leaf blowers, snow blowers, over-indulgence in fatty foods, beer, and video games.
If we are not to end up consumed by the American dream, we had better start thinking seriously about what this dream means. And no more ostrich thinking, please.