Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Suburbia, Social Cost, Smart Growth

Much has been written in the past few years about the death of the suburbs.  Nevertheless, they remain ubiquitous.  Chief among the anti-suburb writers, James Howard Kunstler, author of The Geography of Nowhere, paints a depressing picture about the effects of sprawl, a condition that arguably destabilizes society by producing alienation and anxiety.  Kunstler describes the problem in The Long Emergency 18-19 (2005) in even bleaker terms:


“As the suburbs disintegrate, we will be lucky if we can reconstitute our existing traditional towns and cities brick by brick and street by street[.]  Our bigger cities will be in trouble, and some of them may not remain habitable . . . . If we return to a human scale of building, there’s a good chance that our new urban quarters will be humane, which is to say beautiful.  The automobile era proved that people easily tolerated ugly, utilitarian buildings and horrible streetscapes as long as they were compensated by being able to quickly escape the vicinity in cars luxuriously appointed with the finest digital stereo sound, air conditioning, and cup holders for iced beverages.  This will change radically.”


The smart growth movement is one attempt, among others, to address the negative effects of sprawl reported by Kunstler.  New Urbanist communities like Playa Vista near Los Angeles, California; I’On in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina; and Rosemary Beach, Florida, illustrate this trend.  Without variances in single use zones, however, most smart growth communities could not be built.  I’On faced years of litigation, for example.  As many cities start to re-evaluate their comprehensive plans, smart growth concepts will likely be embraced, due in part to the success of these projects.  Whether these communities will ultimately solve the problems Kunstler identifies, however, remains to be seen, even as they indicate a good start.


Will Cook, Charleston School of Law


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An interesting topic indeed; however, one wonders if Kunstler's predictions for the future will come to fruition, or if they are based upon an outdated projections for fossil fuel consumption and production. My understanding of the "Long Emergency", is that societies have expanded beyond their natural limitations, do to the massive amount of "cheap" oil our civilization experienced over the last century. This oil allowed for the roads to be built, cars to run, food to be imported from afar, food to be grown using fertilizers made using fossil fuel, etc. Knustler sees the end to this as a result of oil becoming too expensive to acquire; as a consequence, the suburbs (our way of life) die.

Recent joint ventures centered in Charleston, SC, have developed and implemented technologies that convert ALL forms of waste (save concrete, and steel) into sweet crude oil and natural gas. Everything from plastic, to aluminum, to sewage, are converted and leave no byproduct, except for that which we formerly thought took tens-of-thousands of years to produce: Oil and natural gas! The venture already has an exclusive 25 year agreement with the state of Hawaii to consume (if you will) all of the state's waste and convert it to fuel. They also have begun buying the contracts to many other waste sites in the forty-eight contiguous. This should provide us all with great hope for the future, as we can turn all our waste into gold. Ah, American Ingenuity.

Prophecy is difficult, especially in regards to the future. ~Mark Twain

Posted by: James | Oct 9, 2009 11:29:31 AM