Driving to oblivion?As I've mentioned before, I choose not to drive. I also choose to live in a small city where it's feasible not to drive. It's true that my town is certainly not paradise for pedestrians, especially in winter. And while walking or bicycling does have its disadvantages, is not, for me, the cross to bear that most imagine.
As a result, issues of municipal planning interest me, since pedestrians are rarely taken into account. I was intrigued to read this article in The New York Times about the exurbs. Exurbs are basically the suburbs of suburbs.
The article profiles Frisco, Texas (also the new home of Major League Soccer's FC Dallas). One resident said that the school system now has more employees than the entire town had residents only a few decades ago.
"Used to be, a drive into Dallas was a 30- to 40-minute event, something you could do on a whim," said one resident. "But now, it takes 20 minutes just to get out of town."
Spending an hour or more in a car (one-way) to go to work is something inconceivable to me. It takes me less than 15 minutes to bike to work. Even in the worst case scenario, on foot on unshoveled sidewalks, it usually takes no more than 45 minutes. And at least I'm getting some fresh air and a little exercise.
There may be economic benefits to living in the suburbs/exurbs, though even those are surely diminishing with the high (for us) cost of gas and exploding cost of living. But what are the costs?
Suburbs and exburbs are, for the most part, places without centers, without focal points. And most are without souls. And it's not just because of cookie cutter strip malls and homogenized housing developments. As a result of all the time spent commuting, people no longer have time for volunteerism or other civic activities.
"We have now a generation of people who would rather say, I'll give you some money instead of volunteering," says an insurance salesman from Frisco. "It's harder to get the year-round commitment, the joining and the being part of something. People are too jealous of their time, because they have to be."
Because this is the life they've chosen.
Kids in such places are almost completely dependent on their parents to get anywhere. So they stay home and play video games or the computer instead of going outside and exercising. Spontaneous baseball or soccer games? Unheard of. Biking around? Too dangerous to go very far. Wait until an organized playdate with friends can be arranged by parents/chauffeurs.
For its faults, when you drive through the center of my city, you know exactly what municipality you're in. Kids can walk or bike to school, to the parks and playgrounds, to the woods. Probably 95% of city residents live within a mile and a half (30 minutes of foot, if you walk slowly) from the public library. It's important that kids have a degree of independence, a little freedom to explore.
A friend of mine from a neighboring town lives virtually around the block from his school. But school policy requires that he take the bus, rather than walk the quarter mile or so. Fresh air and a little exercise? Pft!
This is the irony of the suburb/exurb. People move there thinking it will enhance their quality of life, only to find they have less time and are more disconnected from their community.