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Think Before You Build: A Critique of Urban Sprawl

January 5, 2014

It is not natural for people to go to work somewhere else. For thousands of years people lived where they worked, or at least lived in the same community where they worked "for a living." Even well into the 20th century, many people owned apartments above their own family business. 

This dynamic has been lost. With the advent of the automobile, people started to see it as more profitable to commute to work and in effect separate their job from their family life. History shows that there are generally three types of communities: the city, towns or villages, and the countryside or rural communities. They all worked together to form a self-sufficient local society. With the car came suburbs, which really are just extensions of the nearby city -- and there is hardly a sense of community there because half of the people who live in suburbs aren't there half the time. Add to that the development of what I like to call subsuburbia, where people sleep in one town, shop in another, work in another, drop their kids off in another and visit their friends in yet another community, and what we have is an utterly segregated society. I thought segregation ended during the civil rights movement. Now I believe it's worse than ever, because now not only are our neighborhoods segregated by class and function but our own lives are segregated as well.

 

We have a responsibility to participate in the community that we live within. If we live in a city, we should partake in the maintenance and infrastructure, the safety and education systems of that city. If we live in a suburban community and have a fair share of land we should use part of that land for the benefit of the local community by planting a garden that can contribute to the local farmer's market, by setting up shop where people can buy products and services, even if it's just firewood that you're selling. 

This isn't communism because I'm only saying it should be done on a local level. For that reason, it's distributism; it's the distribution of wealth by as wide a variety of partners as possible, not a re-distribution of wealth where we all pool our resources into one source, hoping that source distributes it all justly. Nor am I saying any government should regulate this return to local economic stimulus. We the people need to just make it happen naturally.

 

This has all been done before, and the remnants of such a past is still admired by the majority of us today -- like when we visit small towns just to stroll the streets, visit the quaint shops and buy authentic gifts, or even when we visit big cities where great minds come together to build world-renowned museums, skyscrapers and multi-billion dollar corporations -- which should be put in their place, but they do also have their place -- if you know what I mean. 


 Hardly anyone likes urban sprawl, and that is why I criticize suburbia. If our suburbs became more urban, so that they were virtually inseparable from the city they're dangling from, then I believe urban sprawl would subside. But perhaps the biggest flaw of capitalism is that capitalists can pursue wealth at the expense of a small community because money talks; and to a struggling community on the edge of suburbia, new development is awfully enticing -- no matter how many cookie-cutter houses, box-shaped department stores and warehouses that development may entail.

If these developing communities must embrace some kind of development, let it be smart development. Let's find the most practical use for each acre, rather than look for what will make us the most profit. In the end I believe we'll see both ends complement each other.

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