The End of Suburbia

Peak Suburbia

I hope this guy’s right. There aint much left of San Diego left to cover with crappy track houses and strip malls, but that sure doesn’t stop 'em from trying! On the other hand, another implication is that I may have to trade in the Beemer for a hybrid (or bicycle) pretty soon…

But the whole theory is pinned on oil as the primary transportation fuel source. When alternative fuels become more common does that mean the suburban sprawl starts again.

Althought I just read a report that by 2008 half of the world’s population will be living in urban centers (>500,000 people).

They blame immigrants having too many kids in the cities. But won’t these kids move out to the suburbs when they grow up?

If you’re interested in the topic, check out the same guy…James Kunstler’s… TED talk. His view, in brief:

The liberal wrath against suburbia is kinda commical in a way. Not that suburbs are my favorite places, but they do provide easy land ownership for a lot of people, as well as relative safety and privacy.

I don’t think the suburbs are dead or dying by any means. Over the long haul city centers can shift and office parks spring up in the suburbs. Also, as AC points out, there’s no reason why new fuel sources can’t pop up and negate the OP’s argument.

Try this on for size though: what if things more or less flip flop? The kids of suburbanites, who now are likely to stay single throughout their 20s and oftentimes their 30s to all move to the new downtown highrises for the convenience and access to nightlife, culture, etc, while the Hispanics living in the downtown and close-in suburbs take the family out to the suburbs where there’s more space for big families and such.

Then there’s always the question of whether we’ll all become telecommuters who just live wherever we want.

I didn’t know there was a liberal wrath against the suburbs. Like a huge proportion of americans (and others) I spent most of my life in the burbs, and enjoyed myself. Sure, suburbs aren’t as nice as a hike in the forest, but they’re more quiet, secure and restful than inner city and more convenient than life on a farm.

But I agree with Vay about San Diego. It’s amazing how residential construction works in So. Cal. and similar areas. They don’t build individual houses; they build whole giant neighborhoods of crappy looking houses all at once with remarkable speed. It is sad seeing beautiful wilderness bulldozed at frantic speed to make way for such megadevelopments.

Ok “liberal wrath” was a bit of an overstatement, but still I hear an amazing number of rants against suburbs and the people who live there…they are often quite comical indeed.

Yes, there are any number of silly rants. None of which addresses some of the serious problems posed by building in this way.

Ok, ok, I shouldn’t have called it a liberal rant… :slight_smile:

Anyhow, what exactly are the problems?

Fuel consumption we’ve mentioned, and how much a player that is will of course depend on gas prices, alternative fuels, etc.

There’s also telecommuting, though, which actually seems to bolster suburban/single family living, since working from home is more conventient if you have space for a home office, maybe a porch you can sit on while you type, etc. Granted not everyone can telecommute but it is certainly becoming more popular.

There’s sprawl of course – but then again more recently the trend has been towards “dense sprawl.” It sounds like a contradiction of course, but a recent study showed that greater L.A. for instance was actually more dense as a whole than greater NY, because the suburbs of L.A. were packed much tighter than the NY suburbs.

There are environmental issues of course, but then again dense cities have pollution problems of their own that can be every bit as bad as suburbs – does anyone have any data on this (honest question)?

Yes, somewhere I have a architectural-engineering dissertation (not mine) on the energy costs of suburban, single-family housing. As I remember (not entirely clearly), a freestanding house requires greater inputs of energy and materials to get built in the first place, then an additional 25% of the energy just of row housing on an ongoing basis.

It also, obviously, requires more land, which can be more or less wasteful depending on how tightly packed the development is, and where the house is placed on the lot. Take a typical North American suburban lot. The house is placed maybe 1/3 of the way back from the road. Gives you a nice big back yard (maybe, if it’s not a new monster home on a tiny lot), but a not insubstantial front yard, which is almost never used. The only time you see people out there is when they’re cutting the grass. Silly.

Many of the issues Kunstler raises are political and/rather than environmental: lack of pubic space being prime among them. For example: About ten or 15 years ago, back home, the shopping malls started tearing up and resetting patches of tiles to create giant chess boards with giant pieces. Anyone who wanted to could play a game or three against whoever happened to be around. Great idea; lots of people took it up: mostly middle aged men, but a few younger and older: it was a pretty diverse mix of people. Those patches of floor became social spaces, and would often draw a half dozen or more people who would do nothing more than stand around, talk, and play chess. Naturally, the malls ripped them out. Why? The people using them did nothing but stand around, talk, and play chess: no shopping!

Having social spaces like that, and keeping them, is important to communities.

Sure, having personal space matters. The difference in the size of the apartment I can afford, in Taipei and Taichung, is huge. Here, in Taipei, I have a good sized studio apartment. In Taichung, for 1/2 the money, I had a three bedroom place all to myself. The difference between city and suburb is just as pronounced, but (like living in Taichung) the convenience of the burbs is dependent on having a vehicle. Sure, telecommuting helps (and I do a lot of that), but not when it’s time to get the groceries, go to the store, to school, ect.

Suburban living is inherently more costly in terms of resources and energy: we’ve just priced it so it’s easier on the wallet. But it’s also far, far more costly than it needs be because we’re going about it with so little forethought and planning.

Well you know what they say. Location, location, location.

Here’s the thing. I don’t want to live in row housing or have a tiny front yard. If I wanted that I’d move to London. It’s your opinion that big front yards are “silly.” I like my house being set a good distance from the road, and I like having distance between me and my neighbors.

If suburban living were really draining resources so much then the utility companies would place that cost on the consumer. But as it is I pay very little for power and water. I’m not convinced suburban living is really the poorly planned resource drain you’ve made it out to be. :idunno:

There are other ways of establishing privacy… including increasing the size of the front yard so that it’s functional as more than a buffer. My gripe isn’t with big yards, it’s with wasted space.

I’d also rather not live in row housing or a high rise, but the argument isn’t one of preference, but of facts and logic.

If you compare the volume of resources consumed by various kinds of housing, you’ll see that freestanding homes are resource intensive. The fact that those resources are not, currently, expensive doesn’t defeat the argument against unnecessary consumption. This isn’t substantially different from the argument against SUVs ten years ago. The major difference is that costs are starting to catch up with the SUVs, and it’s a whole lot easier to replace vehicles than it is to rebuild communities. (Having Ford and GM go bankrupt at the same time also has a lesser impact than all of suburbia simultaneously going tits up.)

If we’re going to have 'burbs over the long term, they have to be better planned and managed; or there will have to be fewer of us. (Drop the population back down to <1 billion and these energy problems largely disappear.)

Ok, I’ll take your word for it regarding energy, as it does sound reasonable and although I think energy capacity can be increased, it’s probably better to keep it under control. Anyway, with a society that is increasingly becoming single adults there’s will be plenty of demand for both urban and suburban lifestyles. Another point is that while suburban housing does use more energy, suburbanites are also likely to have multiple people in the house, so it seems they may have a good basis for using more energy.

One of troubles about restrictive city planning is that the developers are the ones with the most incentive to lobby ($$) for their case. Then you have problems when certain people don’t fit into their plans. This happens in all land management situations, of course, but you seem to be suggesting more central control, so it would probably happen to a greater extent. (For an example of what shouldn’t happen see Kelo vs. New London, a supreme court case that dealt with this issue a couple years ago)

Also, I know your last point was partly in jest, but I’m not sure lower population = energy for all, because you of course have to have people working the power plants etc. It’s probably a curve that peaks at some level and then begins to decline, but of course it’s impossible to generate actual numbers.

Yeah, power-tripping or money-grubbing planners are quite capable of screwing things up just as badly as the develop-to-the-horizon-NOW crowd.

And yes, my last point was mostly made in jest. I’m of the opinion that falling birthrates are a very good thing, overall. A major and very interesting challenge in many ways, but a good thing.

One (overly simplified) way of thinking about the energy question, just of the building itself, not the environment (driving, ect), is to look at a (simple design) freestanding house, row house, and high rise: how many outer walls are there to exchange heat with the outdoors? Freestanding house: 4 walls + roof; row house: 2 walls + roof; high rise: 1/2 walls. Of course, insulation and design do wonders. An uninsulated Taiwanese high rise is terribly inefficient, whereas a well-designed, insulated freestanding house can be almost off-the-grid.

Collectively, and often individually, we’re just not behaving in a way that’s all that bright.

And how are we to define “wasted space”? I like the big open space in my front yard, and the bigger open space in my backyard. It doesn’t really matter how big someone’s front yard is, because they’re not going to spend any time out there if everybody can see everything they’re doing. I certainly wouldn’t want any walls or an excessive number of trees blocking out the front of my house.

Yes, let’s discuss your “facts” and “logic.” So far the only concrete fact I’ve seen is that row housing is 25% more efficient than free standing housing. I can buy that. But I’m quite sure other kinds of housing would be far more efficient. An arcology-inspired monolith might be 2500% more efficient…

…but that doesn’t mean people are going to let the Jaboney Central Planning Committee to force them to live in such a place unless the JCPC can supply a damned good reason. And that brings me to your “logic.”

All of this talk about resource efficiency and unnecessary consumption is only relevant if we’re having a resource shortage. You haven’t presented any evidence that is the case. Do you have quantifiable numbers of our current and projected energy resources? Can you make an argument for why we need to increase efficiency by 25% or whatever you’re proposing? Sorry, but your “feelings” aren’t quite enough for me.

And exactly what was that argument?

Sorry, what does this mean exactly? The “costs” of SUVs are “catching up” to the consumer in that gas is more expensive. Are you suggesting SUVs have driven up the price of oil? What are you basing this assumption on? What quantifiable effect have SUVs had on the price of a barrel? Once again, I find your “feelings” an insufficient argument.

Once again, I would like to see evidence this is going to happen.


You’ve been reading too much fred smith.
If you’re unconvinced, that’s fine, but I’ve done homework in one thread today. Should you really want to check up the facts, or past arguments, they’re out there waiting for you. But don’t let a think get in the way of an argumentative fit on my account.

[quote=“Jaboney”]You’ve been reading too much fred smith.
If you’re unconvinced, that’s fine, but I’ve done homework in one thread today. Should you really want to check up the facts, or past arguments, they’re out there waiting for you. But don’t let a think get in the way of an argumentative fit on my account.[/quote]

What is the point of posting if you’re not going to back up your arguments when challenged? Do you really expect us to just accept your claims at face value?

Oh, I don’t know, make a serious challenge and maybe I’ll answer it.

And why wouldn’t you accept my claims at face value? When Tigerman was posting in IP, I accepted most of his legal arguments without challenge. We seldom agreed, but I never had reason to suspect that he’d make things up just for the hell of it. Misinterpret, sure, but fabricate? Nah.

If you don’t buy my arguments, fine: they’re only my arguments after all. But when I suggest that something is a fact, you can probably look it up and decide on its accuracy for yourself in less time than it’ll take to ask me to back it up. I’m not out to snow anyone.

You’ll find lots and lots of people who disagree with my opinions, and more than a few who will find that I’ve been mistaken. I doubt you’ll find any who have ever found me to be dishonest.

If you want a fight, take it up with someone else; I’m not interested.
If you want to thrash out an issue, I may be game.