I think suburbia is a great (maybe the great) American socioeconomic achievement, whose virtues far outweigh its vices, and that using the levers of government to encourage families to leave the suburbs would represent a deep betrayal of what I take to be the heart of the American Dream. (Which is a cliche, sure, but also a reality.) When it comes to global warming, therefore, I'm all for telecommuting and fuel-efficient cars and various other ways to reduce our carbon footprint; I'm not for any plan that stands athwart suburbanization, yelling stop. |Ross Douthat|
But what is this great thing about suburbanism that makes it 'the heart of the American Dream'? Ross doesn't specify, but here are a few possibilities:
- Good schools
- The opportunity to own one's own house
- That the house has a yard
- Safe neighborhoods
- A final factor which shall remain unmentioned, but which I shall evoke by asking you to imagine the filling of an Oreo cookie
That's all I can think of. For what it's worth, I tend to think that good schools, lawns, and safe neighborhoods are the main things that pull people out to the suburbs and that except for lawns all of those things are unmitigated goods. But I also think that we could make urban schools better and urban areas safer if we had a mind to. As for owning one's own house, I have to ask: is it really so much less satisfying to own a condo?
Addendum: The trick is to follow the links.
For Kotkin, these are all good things, overall. The suburbs are a triumph, not a torture chamber: They're the place where "we've created the first mass middle class in the history of the world where people own their own land and their own homes," which is an achievement to be celebrated and sustained, rather than denigrated and abandoned. People love living in them: Suburbanites are happier and enjoy a more vibrant civic life than other Americans, and it's not just bigoted whites hiding out in gated communities; immigrants, in particular, are voting for the suburbs with their feet, to the point where the best ethnic cuisine in the country is increasingly served way out in the exurbs. And America's more suburbanized, multipolar cities are democratic in a way that places like New York and Boston and San Francisco aren't, because middle and working-class families can afford to live there, and there's none of the social bifurcation that divides, say, Manhattan between the super-rich and the service-sector poor who wait on them. Suburbs were originally championed as a progressive innovation, Kotkin pointed out, by everyone from Engels to Thomas Carlyle to H.G. Wells, and in spite what Desperate Housewives, Weeds, American Beauty, The Ice Storm, Pleasantville, and a thousand more chronicles of bourgeois anomie would suggest, their expansion remains a sign of progress rather than the reverse.