Harping on suburbia can get tiresome, but I guess I’m consistent. When I saw How our housing choices make adult friendships more difficult I couldn’t help but link to it:
Our ability to form and maintain friendships is shaped in crucial ways by the physical spaces in which we live. “Land use,” as it’s rather aridly known, shapes behavior and sociality. And in America we have settled on patterns of land use that might as well have been designed to prevent spontaneous encounters, the kind out of which rich social ties are built.
There’s a huge difference between your primary mode of transportation being walking versus the personal automobile.1 Under the former, running into someone means a chance to catch up, a wave, or maybe a chance to make a new friend with someone you’ve seen around. Under the latter, running into someone might kill you and/or them. Walking seems to meet the needs of community development, so why are we developing most of our cities after the suburban land uses that all but guarantee car fatalities and loneliness? Contrast school years with later years:
Why do we form such strong friendships in college and form so few afterward? …The key ingredient for the formation of friendships is repeated spontaneous contact. That’s why we make friends in college: because we are, by virtue of where we live and our daily activities, forced into regular contact with the same people. It is the natural soil out of which friendship grows.
And, if you’re cursed to live in the suburbs, answer this:
Those of you who are married with kids: When was the last time you ran into a friend or “dropped by” a friend’s house without planning it? When was the last time you had a spontaneous encounter with anyone who was not a clerk or a barista, someone serving you?
Where would it happen? What public spaces are there in which you mix and mingle freely with people on a regular basis? The mall? Walmart? How about noncommercial spaces? Can you think of one?
The problem is how the “normalcy” of suburbia has stunted our ability to articulate what’s wrong with it:
[M]ost Americans only know single-family dwellings and auto-dependent land use. They cannot even articulate what they are missing and often misidentify the solution as more or different private consumption.
I can look at most things and see sets of pros and cons leading to a flawed, but reasonable decision. I can see some of that in the initial decisions that led to the development of the suburbs 60 years ago. But today I can only name the continued development of suburbia as willful ignorance at best, and genuine hatred of humanity at worst. Only the shortest term thinking possible can make a case for this historically irresponsible use of our resources. We all need friends, even if everything else sucks. Suburbia gives us neither.
- These are obviously not the only two options, but public transit still necessitates some walking, while biking affords similar social opportunities as walking. ↩