Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘desuburbification

The Second Great Depression

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The Boston Globe considers what a second Great Depression might look like.

By looking at what we know about how society and commerce would slow down, and how people respond, it’s possible to envision what we might face. Unlike the 1930s, when food and clothing were far more expensive, today we spend much of our money on healthcare, child care, and education, and we’d see uncomfortable changes in those parts of our lives. The lines wouldn’t be outside soup kitchens but at emergency rooms, and rather than itinerant farmers we could see waves of laid-off office workers leaving homes to foreclosure and heading for areas of the country where there’s more work – or just a relative with a free room over the garage. Already hollowed-out manufacturing cities could be all but deserted, and suburban neighborhoods left checkerboarded, with abandoned houses next to overcrowded ones.

And above all, a depression circa 2009 might be a less visible and more isolating experience. With the diminishing price of televisions and the proliferation of channels, it’s getting easier and easier to kill time alone, and free time is one thing a 21st-century depression would create in abundance. Instead of dusty farm families, the icon of a modern-day depression might be something as subtle as the flickering glow of millions of televisions glimpsed through living room windows, as the nation’s unemployed sit at home filling their days with the cheapest form of distraction available.

Written by gerrycanavan

November 25, 2008 at 7:05 pm

Against Suburbs

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I’ve written before about the need for better civil engineering on the national scale in this country, to do whatever we can to reduce and reverse the tremendous damage caused by the short-sighted suburbification of America in the second half of the twentieth century. Via Ezra Klein comes an article at about how what we build influences how we live. One point the article could emphasize more—as Klein himself does in a follow-up post—is the extent to which desuburbification is not a tradeoff or a sacrifice but instead a return to a better way to live. Towards the end, though, it gets there:

Most arguments against land-use change presume that building compact communities is a trade-off; that investing in getting walkable, denser neighborhoods, we lose some or a lot of our affluence or quality of life. What if that’s not true, though? What if the gains actually far outweigh the costs not only in ecological and fiscal terms, but in lifestyle and prosperity terms as well? I think that’s the case.

I believe that green compact communities, smaller well-built homes, walkable streets and smart infrastructure can actually offer a far better quality of life than living in McMansion hintersprawl in purely material terms: more comfort, more security, more true prosperity. But even more to the point, I believe they offer all sorts of non-materialistic but extremely real benefits that suburbs cannot. Opponents of smart growth talk about sacrificing our way of life — but it’s not a sacrifice if what you get in exchange is superior.

Written by gerrycanavan

February 21, 2008 at 2:12 am