Where we are, where we need to go
Fantastic read about the New Green Deal. Critical one, too.
But the Green New Deal has a big blind spot: It doesn’t address the places Americans live. And our physical geography—where we sleep, work, shop, worship, and send our kids to play, and how we move between those places—is more foundational to a green, fair future than just about anything else. The proposal encapsulates the liberal delusion on climate change: that technology and spending can spare us the hard work of reform.
This is the foundation of everything, and not just in America. It’s true in your town as well, no matter how big it is.
Noting that more Americans live in suburbs than anywhere else, it adds this:
Sprawl is made possible by highways. This is expensive—in 2015, the Victoria Transport Policy Institute estimated that sprawl costs America more than $1 trillion a year in reduced business activity, environmental damage, consumer expenses, and other costs. Leaving aside the emissions from the 1.1 billion trips Americans take per day (87 percent of which are taken in personal vehicles), spreading everything out has eaten up an enormous amount of natural land.
What’s fascinating about this topic is that 100 years ago, no human being knew what a suburb was. And now we’re all there, driving around like maniacs to avoid traffic jams. And we think this is the only way to live just because we are personally used to it.
Urban sprawl is a 20th century invention made possible by huge investments (I use the word carefully; I think my dictionary is hating me right now) in public funds. Far from making people happy, it’s contributing to social isolation and the misery that accompanies it (ask Robert Putnam). And it may just kill the planet.
Or not. I mean, the planet’s pretty tough. But that’s no excuse for us to do stupid things to it, is it.
Our big problem, today in North America, is that there is too much distance between where people are and where they want to go. Starting with work: If you live far from work, think of how much this costs you personally. A car if you’re like most people (cost of car, interest on car loan, gas, maintenance, insurance, plates, space at home to park the thing, etc.), cost of parking at work, and time wasted in traffic. If you commute by public transit, you’re looking at your monthly bus pass, possibly car expenses as well if you need to get yourself from home to the Park N Ride, and huge gobs of time each way.
Usually the kids are close enough to school that they could walk or scooter over, but for some reason that doesn’t seem to stop parents from chauffeuring them, which I’ll never understand but since it’s not the topic of this post we’ll move swiftly along to: extracurricular activities. Which are usually a fair distance from either home or school and require transportation. Here I’m possibly more guilty than most, as I routinely drive my kids from central Ottawa to Kanata because that’s where the musical theatre or gymnastics program they wanted happened to be.
Then there’s all these other places we want to be: church, grocery stores, movie superplexes, golf course, ski hill, etc., etc., etc. These are not places we occasionally travel to, like Montreal for a weekend or Orlando for the kids’ Disney fix. These are places we regularly go to, in our daily lives.
We spend so much time in transit we don’t even realize how much time we spend in transit. And that, methinks, is the big piece of the puzzle. The one thing we need to change if we are to regain a bit of human happiness and environmental soundness in our lives. Basically we need to de-sprawl ourselves, and centre our daily lives around smaller geographical areas.