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Thread: The Suburbs are the cause of ALL of America's problems.

  1. #1

    The Suburbs are the cause of ALL of America's problems.

    Sure I am being facetious but let's examine the statement a little closer.

    The Suburbs are the cause of ALL America's problems. Maybe that statement is not so crazy.

    Trade deficit:

    1. Most Walmarts are in the Suburbs. Most of the products they sell are from China, a communist country and long time nemesis of the US. I read recently that Walmart sends a few hundred Billion $ to China each year (or was that each month?)

    2. Gasoline. Another huge part of our trade deficit. Guess what? this money is is also going to our enemies in the middles east and increasingly to our other arch nemesis Russia. The suburbs do not function without mass quantities of gasoline.

    Terrorism:

    1. See gasoline above.

    Pollution:

    1. See Gasoline above

    Global warming:

    1. See gasoline above.

    Technology:

    1. We are increasingly falling further and further behind in many technologies because of America's growing social and political conservatism (and fear). This conservative trend makes us less and less willing to take risks. we shun new medical procedures, we shun new energy technology and we shun new new environmental technology while fast growing third world countries and europe jump on the band wagon. They will soon be selling those things to us.

    2. Highways...we spend billions of dollars a year on highways instead of on cures to disease.


    Inner city Slums:

    1. Sure these have been around for years and much of the reason for their existence has been hundreds of years of racism. But, with the drastic move to the suburbs the US has seen unprecedented dis-investment in inner cities leaving behind huge areas of our older cities to rot. If our massive investment in the suburbs over the last 50 years had been turned inward toward the city we very likely could have solved many of the problems that create an endless cycle of poverty and ignorance on a scale that does not exist in other industrialized countries

    Well? what do you think? Do you know of any other problems caused by the suburbs?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian illinoisplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by steel
    Sure I am being facetious but let's examine the statement a little closer.

    The Suburbs are the cause of ALL America's problems. Maybe that statement is not so crazy.

    Trade deficit:

    1. Most Walmarts are in the Suburbs. Most of the products they sell are from China, a communist country and long time nemesis of the US. I read recently that Walmart sends a few hundred Billion $ to China each year (or was that each month?)

    2. Gasoline. Another huge part of our trade deficit. Guess what? this money is is also going to our enemies in the middles east and increasingly to our other arch nemesis Russia. The suburbs do not function without mass quantities of gasoline.

    Terrorism:

    1. See gasoline above.

    Pollution:

    1. See Gasoline above

    Global warming:

    1. See gasoline above.

    Technology:

    1. We are increasingly falling further and further behind in many technologies because of America's growing social and political conservatism (and fear). This conservative trend makes us less and less willing to take risks. we shun new medical procedures, we shun new energy technology and we shun new new environmental technology while fast growing third world countries and europe jump on the band wagon. They will soon be selling those things to us.

    2. Highways...we spend billions of dollars a year on highways instead of on cures to disease.


    Inner city Slums:

    1. Sure these have been around for years and much of the reason for their existence has been hundreds of years of racism. But, with the drastic move to the suburbs the US has seen unprecedented dis-investment in inner cities leaving behind huge areas of our older cities to rot. If our massive investment in the suburbs over the last 50 years had been turned inward toward the city we very likely could have solved many of the problems that create an endless cycle of poverty and ignorance on a scale that does not exist in other industrialized countries

    Well? what do you think? Do you know of any other problems caused by the suburbs?
    I think that automobile-oriented sprawl induces all of those things, and makes the situation worse. There's also a whole slew you probably did not mention.

    But a lot of it revolves around the government, the apathy of the general public, and money.
    "Life's a journey, not a destination"
    -Steven Tyler

  3. #3
    I think it's a bit too convenient to blame all these problems on suburbia, since after all most Americans live in suburbia and therefore any problem will manifest itself in a suburbian context. Perhaps suburbia is just one more aspect of all the problems you listed which has its root cause in something deeper.

    Highways for example precede the suburban sprawl and are for all intents and purposes a prerequisite to support the sprawl. So why were all these highways built? Because the government had to 'create jobs' with public works projects, and Eisenhower thought they were cool, and different members of congress wanted to work the system to get spending in their district. Federal highway spending is the root cause of ALL of America's problems.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian illinoisplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jaws
    I think it's a bit too convenient to blame all these problems on suburbia, since after all most Americans live in suburbia and therefore any problem will manifest itself in a suburbian context. Perhaps suburbia is just one more aspect of all the problems you listed which has its root cause in something deeper.

    Highways for example precede the suburban sprawl and are for all intents and purposes a prerequisite to support the sprawl. So why were all these highways built? Because the government had to 'create jobs' with public works projects, and Eisenhower thought they were cool, and different members of congress wanted to work the system to get spending in their district. Federal highway spending is the root cause of ALL of America's problems.
    Actually...people began living in the country and commuting to the city long before the highway.
    "Life's a journey, not a destination"
    -Steven Tyler

  5. #5

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    You may not have been here during the multiple page debates about what a "suburb" really is. Is the 23 year old yuppie who lives in dense, "urban" Cow Hollow or Pacific Heights in San Francisco but drives to Palo Alto or South of market (too often in a Lexus SUV) really leading that much less of a suburban lifestyle? (Admittedly, -the rate of car ownership IS lower in San Francisco-and certainly in Manhattan). I's just you can't say "suburbia" is the cause-perhaps "modern lifestyles (urban or suburban) are "the cause."

  6. #6
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    I can not believe that I am about to say this but as a Business Model is Wal-Mart all that bad. (I am feeling sick now knowing what I am about to do). I personally think that it is genius. Granted their stocks only have about a 3% annual increase, but they are increasing at such an impressive rate that it is staggering. Furthermore, they are minimizing their overhead. If you strip all the products off the shelves what do you have? The shell of a very unimpressive building, and a cheep parking lot are all that remains. This give them the opportunity to pick up and leave. They could get out of the retail industry in a very short time. Unlike GM or Ford that are so invested in their product with all their stamp presses and such that they can NEVER get out of the auto industry. So in return they do what ever it takes (including lobbing to both sides of the isle) to create more roads, limit public transportation, and convince people that they need to drive a car.

    I think that you bring up a great point, and most of what you said is completely correct, but I think that that there are other influences such as the direction that consumers drive the market. If we never drove cars and never shopped at Wal-Mart, would we need suburbs? But then again in comes back down to us and our personal choices.
    Not my monkey, not my circus. - Old Polish Proverb

  7. #7
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    The reason that this country buys nearly all of its consumer goods from China is not because of Wal-Mart (although Wal-Mart is certainly one of the principle agents), All other considerations being equal consumers can be depended upon to purchase goods for the lowest cost to themselves. Extremely low labor costs coupled with relatively inexpensive transportation costs (although oil prices look to change this dynamic before too many more years pass) means distributors are assured greater profits than if the same goods were produced at higher labor costs domestically and transported shorter distances. That's capitalism at it's finest.

    [Devils advocate]Why is it a Bad Thing if 25% of the world's population can emerge from crushing poverty? Because of the current regime's politics? Isn't it probable that once a significant percentage of China's population gets bit by the capitalism bug and enjoys a certain level of prosperity the whole country will be affected and insist on a change?[/devils advocate]

    Suburbia like Wal-Mart is a symptom of the underlying psychogy. Not the problem itself.
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

  8. #8
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Mr Hoffa,

    Please excuse our friends in the 'zoo. You have no need to make the cement shoes or send them to the fishes. I think they are under stress from having to deal with Osama. Please understand they do not understand that our plastic crap is better than anyone elses plastic crap.

    Sincerely,

    Detroit Planner
    Last edited by DetroitPlanner; 22 Sep 2005 at 11:08 AM.

  9. #9
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by illinoisplanner
    Actually...people began living in the country and commuting to the city long before the highway.
    True....but not nearly on the scale that began after 1950.

    Also, I think Maister, BKM, and jaws are more on target. I think it is a product of our current lifestayles and choices. I , unfortunately, contribute to the massive traffic flowing around Chicagoland every day because I live in a first ring West suburb, but commute out to 2nd/3rd ring Northwest suburb. And why is the commute from (morning) and to (evening) always worse on the I-94/90 (a major Chicago expressway) everyday? It's becasue of all the people that want to live in the City (commendable), but have to work in the Northwest suburbs (driving 10-30 miles), because that it where many of the region's jobs are.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  10. #10
    Suspended Bad Email Address teshadoh's avatar
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    Is this a chicken & egg arguement? I ask because wouldn't most of these issues be directly related to consumerism? I would suggest suburbia is a byproduct of consumerism, not the other way around, because even some suburban developments (particularly early 1900's streetcar suburbs) can be pedestrian oriented, have a variety of parkspace, & include mixed use.

    But most of these factors, including suburban sprawl appears directly related to the concept of keeping up with the joneses.

  11. #11
    Corn Burning Fool giff57's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by michaelskis
    I can not believe that I am about to say this but as a Business Model is Wal-Mart all that bad. (I am feeling sick now knowing what I am about to do). I personally think that it is genius.
    Buh hahahaha The force is strong in this one.... Welcome to the dark side. Our emperor awaits

    “As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall”
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally posted by Maister
    The reason that this country buys nearly all of its consumer goods from China is not because of Wal-Mart (although Wal-Mart is certainly one of the principle agents), All other considerations being equal consumers can be depended upon to purchase goods for the lowest cost to themselves. Extremely low labor costs coupled with relatively inexpensive transportation costs (although oil prices look to change this dynamic before too many more years pass) means distributors are assured greater profits than if the same goods were produced at higher labor costs domestically and transported shorter distances. That's capitalism at it's finest.

    [Devils advocate]Why is it a Bad Thing if 25% of the world's population can emerge from crushing poverty? Because of the current regime's politics? Isn't it probable that once a significant percentage of China's population gets bit by the capitalism bug and enjoys a certain level of prosperity the whole country will be affected and insist on a change?[/devils advocate]

    Suburbia like Wal-Mart is a symptom of the underlying psychogy. Not the problem itself.
    Well, all 25% are not going to emerge. Or at least, we had better hope not, given global climate change and peak oil. Not that they would be able to live at OUR levels of gluttony.

  13. #13

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    How will we manage decline?

    This thread discussing whether or not "suburbia" is to blame for our problems was interesting

    The deeper question is: if the "Gravy Train" is really over, if the ideal of ever increasing consumerism is about to succumb to JHK's The Long Emergency, then is severe, idealistic, repressive fundamentalism-which provides an alternative to the goodie train of modern western society-the "solution" for allowing our elites to maintain their control?

    As an agnostic (my definition, jordan, not your's), I found this essay by Katrhyn Pollitt fascinating: http://www.thenation.com/docprint.mh...1003&s=pollitt

    Let's say, for example, that the American Empire is just about over. Let's say China and India and other countries as well are set to surge ahead in science and technology, leaving reduced opportunities for upward mobility for the educated, while capital continues to roam the world in search of cheap labor, leaving a shattered working class. Let's say we really are becoming a society of fixed status: the have-nots, an anxious and defensive middle and what George W. Bush famously calls his base, the have-mores. What sort of shifts in culture and social structure would prepare us for this looming state of affairs? A resurgence of Christian fundamentalism would fill the bill nicely.

    Intellectually, scientifically, even artistically, fundamentalism--biblical literalism--is a road to nowhere, because it insists on fidelity to revealed truths that are not true. But religious enthusiasm is not all bad. Like love or political activism, it can help troubled souls transform their lives. And if what we're looking at is an America with an ever-larger and boxed-in working class and tighter competition for high-paying jobs among the elite, fundamentalism is exactly the thing to manage decline: It schools the downwardly mobile in making the best of their lot while teaching them to be grateful for the food pantry and daycare over at the church . . .

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Emeritus Bear Up North's avatar
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    Sorry, folks.....you cannot pin all of America's problems on "the suburbs". If we were to make an accurate and complete list it would take up multiple pages. Here are some of the bigger reasons for America's problems.....

    Racism, white flight.....I can speak from experience on this. When I was about ten (10) years old (1958) my parents moved from an inner-city Toledo neighborhood to a modern ranch house in the suburbs. My dad was a racist. He often said that was the reason he moved (although his personal jump in income during that time certainly made him crave a new construction house). What was ironic was our house in the suburbs was next to and across from Jewish families.....and he didn't like them either! (Likely for me he taught me by example what NOT to be!)

    Personal transportation.....As more and more families purchased cars, we became more and more dependent on them. In smaller metros like Toledo, personal cars became the norm, replacing bus lines. As the 1960's rolled in, one-car families became two-car families. Then three-car families, etc. Our culture praised the car.....movies, music, teen rebellion, marketing. (Boy I wish I would have kept my 1968 Mustang! )

    Shopping Centers TO Strip Plazas TO Malls TO Mega-Regional Malls TO Lifestyle Centers.....Downtowns died in most metros. Sure they had some entertainment, some dining, office buildings, the municipal offices, etc. But suburban and near-suburban folks went to the suburban and near-suburban stores. Which created the need for merchandising giants such as Wal-Mart. (Remember, Wal-Mart just took Kresge's K-Mart formula and improved on it, eventually getting big and powerful enough to dictate terms.)

    The End Of The Single Wage-Earner Family.....In the 1950's the "dad" worked and "mom" stayed home and watched the kids. As advertising mediums such as "the power of television" swept into our homes they sold us on all the "stuff" we had to have. Of course, buying that stuff meant that "mom" went to work, too.

    Television.....With television we were treated to "how the Jones live". So, after seeing that we all wanted to live in a safe and friendly Beaver Cleaver suburb. Of course television also told us about poverty, death, crime, war, hatred.....and all of that was just the Evening News with Walter Cronkite.

    The above-listed items helped create the suburbs. That's all.

    Bear On Maple Street
    Occupy Cyburbia!

  15. #15
    Yes but the suburban mentality is what is creating ALL of the problems in America. Without the mentality that thinks that the suburbs are good, couldn't we be solving these problems.

    I am not talking about what created tthe suburbs. I am talking about the results of our embrace of the suburbs.

  16. #16

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    Quote Originally posted by steel
    Yes but the suburban mentality is what is creating ALL of the problems in America. Without the mentality that thinks that the suburbs are good, couldn't we be solving these problems.

    I am not talking about what created tthe suburbs. I am talking about the results of our embrace of the suburbs.
    The suburbs are America. Without the modern suburb, America would be unthinkable. Suburbia is so ubiquitous that few even think to question it. If you accept this premise, then it's not hard to make a connection between what is "bad" in America with suburbia. You can (as I have) play parlour games attributing every bad American habit or lifestyle to the putative evils of suburbia. Having said this, it's also not difficult to build an argument that America's zeal for building suburbia (permitted by cheap land and cheaper fuel, and backed by military might), and its concomitant willingness to abandon its cities, has allowed it (at least so far) to create the most productive, most dynamic, economy in the world. You can lament the decline of the urban appartment and the corner store (I certainly do), but building McMansions whose inhabitants drive to big box retail surrounded by acres of surface parking has created far more jobs than it has destroyed.

    I know, I don't like it either. And, yes, it has created a host of social ills and has now alienated us from much of the rest of world. But so long as our oil-based economy remains viable, alternatives to the suburban economic model won't gain much traction politically. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out. Isn't life great?

  17. #17

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    What happens if it comes crashing down, as many pundits opine? What holds us together as a nation once the goodies and the suburban lifestyle are no longer available or even widespread? We have no real deeply rooted culture any more (except for the myth of small town America used to sell the faux suburban "replacement") or way of life. We have "lifestyles" and "careers."

    I am exagerating greatly, of course. But, is there a unifying force anymore? Maybe my question just reflects my own angst, of course. REligion may indeed be the only replacement left???

    Kovanavich: Interesting points. My only question would be how we define 'productivity" An American landscape of eye aching commercial strips may be more productive, but does it have much long-term economic value? If half of our productivity is abandoning older neighborhoods and replicating the same thing on an even more wasteful, extravagant, and temporary scale, is the economy that productive?

    It's late. I'm being gloomy. Ignore me. as usual

  18. #18
    Cyburbian dobopoq's avatar
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    Suburbia is a reflection of our need for infinite growth. Aside from cheap oil which provides the backbone, disposabity and planned obsolescence, are what allow us to maintain the illusion that the suburbs are a-OK. Hopefully, Peak-Oil will pull the rug out from underneath it.

    Kovanovich's point about the job creation is true. But that's one side of the coin. People wouldn't need so many jobs and so much income if they didn't think they "need" so many things. But with so much space, we have chosen to value land and property over people and culture. Not only have we segregated racially/ethnically/socio-economically, we have segregated where we live from where we work as if there needn't be any connection. All these economic barometers like "housing starts" and "consumer spending" all reflect an economy based on overconsumption and debt.

    In a sense, this mania for continual building, leading to eventual neglect and decay, reflects that Americans are culturally malnourished. We can't think of anything better to do than build sprawl, because we haven't figured out how to get along in the city. So many different ethnic backrounds, combined with our lust for individualism above all else, is what leads to highways choked full of people alone in their cars surrounded by several hundred horsepower all to themselves. The end result of such materialistic selfishness in all denial of the common good, is they wind up surrounded by people just as selfish as themselves trying to escape the far greater powers of mother nature (i.e. Hurricane Rita at this very moment). And if you don't own a car or know someone who will give you a ride, you don't exist to them.

    BKM:You're right, there is very little that holds us together anymore. It's mostly things. I guess when it all comes crashing down, my hope is that people well learn to develop their sense of community that has been lying dormant and atrophied in their glove compartment, all these decades.
    "The current American way of life is founded not just on motor transportation but on the religion of the motorcar, and the sacrifices that people are prepared to make for this religion stand outside the realm of rational criticism." -Lewis Mumford

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