Increasingly our society has become divided between rural and urban. Truth be told that the solutions to most of our problems (economic disparity, political divide, environmental challenges) cannot be found in the traditional mainstay of American aspirations. The idea of owning a house to raise a family; a car for mom, dad, and the kids; a freshly cut green lawn. This vision is unsustainable, and presents a dangerous fantasy from which we squander resources, impoverish our citizens, and breed general discontent among the masses.
The suburbs have become emblematic of the ideal American life, and that is truly unfortunate. The appeal is obvious: a home to raise a family, a neighborhood where one can feel secure, breathing room from the city. While there is an argument to be made for the suburbs as a “nesting ground” on which to raise a family, they are a luxury that has been made a necessity in the eyes of many. To that end, the Federal Government has subsidized suburban living and home ownership through the mortgage deduction. The result has poor implications on the environmental and social fabric of our nation.
By necessity, suburbs are inefficient uses of space. The phenomenon known as “urban sprawl” is widely known. Homes spread out, taking up large tracts of land. As this progresses, forms of public transportation become harder to use effectively, and in order to effectively transit to-and-from work, school, and any other location that daily life necessitates for an individual, a car becomes a necessary item to own.
As this sprawl increases, the car becomes increasingly necessary, and as the family size in one household increases, thus the number of cars needed for daily transit increases. The result is families with multiple cars, driving further miles, and taking up large amounts of land. The environmental impact from this is considerable. This land must be developed, multiple cars must be driven, and the large sizes of houses mean that heating, cooling take up more energy than they would in a smaller area. Further development of lands to build suburban housing builds over previously untouched lands, creates an increasingly costly infrastructure to maintain, requires in many cases, the usage of multiple motor vehicles to a single household.
On top of this, the distance one must travel to find a job increases necessarily as a result of increasing sprawl. Given that in general, large amounts of land will be used solely for one purpose in suburbs (housing), businesses must be spread out, meaning that cars become the only viable form a transit to them. Thus one must travel further to work, to attend school, or to shop or engage in leisure activities. As such one finds that commuting is a much heftier task, taking from up to fifteen minutes to an hour for many individuals in the suburbs.
Given the isolationist thinking that guides many individuals in how they choose to live, it can hardly be surprising that political tension is at all time highs. It is far easier to distrust those you do not live amongst or interact with on a regular basis in any meaningful way. So simple to vilify that which we do not know. Indeed the current setup, where we live and interact simply with those who are most like us is a greatly harmful thing. “How could we have such racial tensions in our country?” we ask as we enact policies that ensure that only people who look like us, live like us, and make money like us can live in our same vicinity. We live in an increasingly diverse country, where people refuse to interact with each other.
To truly build a stronger, more understanding America, we must begin to bridge the geographic divide between ourselves and our fellow citizens before we begin to bridge any other.