Cities vs. Suburbs

I don’t hate the suburbs.

No…really, I don’t.

SurreyFarmI know that’s a common perception about those of us who are “city folk,” or anyone who’s interested in urban studies, urban planning and sustainability.

If you believe the stereotypes, we’re all city folks who hate green grass. And cars. (And HAPPINESS itself!)

But I have an appreciation for suburban living. I spent eighteen years in the suburbs. My suburban housing plan was about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh. It was called Surrey Farm, but unlike its idyllic sounding name, it was built on reclaimed mining land. It had green grass, tennis courts, a baseball field and a small playground.

It had its good points (it was a beautiful, serene atmosphere) and its bad points (small town life, and the microscope one lives under in a small community, is not for everyone). But I have a lot of love for the community where I grew up.

The divide between “urban” and “suburban” in our country can be as pronounced as the one between liberals and conservatives, partly because each geographic group is seen as a political symbol.

The last election talked a great deal about the urban vote for Democrats and the suburban vote for Republicans and Romney.

I’m not “anti-suburbs”. But as a country, we need to think very deeply about further suburban expansion. And we need to be wise and prudent about managing the suburbs we have already built.

At the top of the list is a need for awareness about the real cost of suburban expansion – not only to us as individuals but to our communities and governments. howpeopleliveinthesuburbs16

At first, a move to the suburbs seems like a cheaper choice – for companies and for families. But at some point, gas prices, energy costs and the costs of infrastructure expansion and repair will make that upfront savings disappear.

We’ve marketed the suburbs as a paradise for years, and it may well be the right choice for some people.

But all of us need to be far more clearheaded about the true costs and true benefits of life in the suburbs. And we need to be VERY realistic about what the suburbs have cost us already – and what the cost to our way of life will be if they continue to expand.