On Sunday, The New York Times levied a one-two punch against the exurban way of life. An article in the national section presents a brief look at life in the exurbs, characterizing them as bastions of conservative politics and places where community and family life are sacrificed for long commutes and cheap houses.
America is growing at its fastest in places like this, at the margins of some of its biggest cities, in the domain of the automobile and the master-plan subdivision, far from the urban centers that spawned them.
They begin as embryonic subdivisions of a few hundred homes at the far edge of beyond, surrounded by scrub. Then, they grow — first gradually, but soon with explosive force — attracting stores, creating jobs and struggling to keep pace with the need for more schools, more roads, more everything.
And eventually, when no more land is available and home prices have skyrocketed, the whole cycle starts again, another 15 minutes down the turnpike.
But in the meantime, life here is framed by hours spent in the car.
After this bleak assessment of life in the fast-growing exurban communities, we come to a magazine piece that looks at the effects of this car-dependent, energy-consuming lifestyle. This article notes that the environmental movement’s successes at hiding the visual effects of resource depletion in the United States, combined with our voracious and expanding appetite for energy, have pushed environmental degradation into the third world:
We demand clean beaches and untouched wildernesses at home but live in an energy-intensive fashion that leads other countries to sacrifice their waters and forests. This disconnect is easily explained. You don’t need to alter your lifestyle much to help protect baby seals or punish Kathie Lee for supporting sweatshops, but you might need to suffer inconveniences — like higher gas prices, energy-conservation efforts and new taxes for alternative-fuels research — if better energy policies were adopted.
Starts & Fits’ ideal solution is simpler to say than to do: We need to reinvest in our cities, so that they are places where people want to live as well as work. Shorter commutes and smaller homes will lead to less energy use.