Saying Goodbye to the Suburbs

June 6th, 2012 | Simcha Weinstein | Comments Off on Saying Goodbye to the Suburbs

For most in this country the American dream involves owning a big house with a two car garage and a nice open half-acre to acre lot of grass and flowers. This is what we call success. This is what we call achieving the American ideal. But is this ideal destroying our environment?

Suburbs, or at least the vast sprawl as we know it today, began after the housing shortage in World War II. People were living in very poor conditions due to lack of homes being built. The federal government stepped in and began to pass measures to encourage home ownership. People began to leave the horrible conditions created by the war and the depression and soothed themselves by purchasing large station-wagon vehicles, washing machines, and big houses. After 20 years of growing suburbs in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the loss of our wetlands and forests began to impact Americans and this led to the rise of environmentalism. Now, nearly 60 years after Word War Two, the impact of suburban sprawl is one of the greatest obstacles we face in trying to achieve a cleaner and healthier environment. The land use and natural resources needed to engage in a suburban lifestyle are unsustainable, and rapidly becoming a major problem in the United States.

So what’s the solution? I propose more urban living. And while it’s not realistic to imagine that suddenly millions of families will leave the suburbs for urban life, something really does need to change. At first blush, it may seem counterintuitive to think that lots of people living pretty close to one another is good for the environment, but consider this:

Living in a more densely populated community means living in a smaller space. Smaller spaces require less energy to heat and cool. Smaller spaces take up less land, leaving room for more homes — and perhaps even some parks and farmland. Smaller spaces also require us to limit the amount of “stuff” we accumulate, which in turn limits the amount of waste we produce.

As more people are living closer to one another, more resources can be shared. Neighborhood parks replace large backyards and power and sewer lines can also be delivered more efficiently to densely populated communities. Density also encourages alternative transportation and far fewer cars with far more opportunities for walking and cycling.

According to the Sierra Club, suburban sprawl sacrifices nearly 1 million acres of farm, park, and open spaces every year. One million people living in the suburbs takes up 400 square miles of land. That’s a lot of land, a lot of waste, and a tremendous reliance on the automobile.

With the right planning cities can become a very attractive places to live. Many cities around the world are becoming more pedestrian-friendly. Some excellent examples are European cities like Venice and Amsterdam. Portland, Oregon has also developed a great urban community. We can do this, but it will take a different mindset and letting go of the long time paradigm that we’ve engaged for nearly 60 years when it comes to determining what is the American dream. Perhaps the new American Ideal could be building a sustainable future… or even just insuring that a healthy future will actually exist.

It’s time to re-think the American dream. We need an urban sprawl revolution.