News Stories

Why Do We Live the Way We Do?

Why do so many people live in the suburbs? With gas prices set to rise again and the problems that automobiles cause with greenhouse gas emissions, city planners would like to lure more folks back to the cities, so they could set up transportation options like light rail.

Are people drawn to the concept of perfectly matching houses throughout a neighborhood, the "little boxes" as the famous song goes, or is it the slightly sterile lack of urban energy often associated, fairly or not, with life in the suburbs? More likely it's a desire for living space that feels shiny, new and most of all, roomy, that one is increasingly hard-pressed to find downtown.

So what are the impacts of such an "outward" migration? Researcher Jill Grant has studied the impact of the suburbs on communities in Canada, where sprawl began much later than it did in the US. Suburbia really began to take off here when the government guaranteed mortgages with no money down to returning World War II Vets.

Grant says, "The suburbs and the core are affected by the same kinds of pressures and processes, but in different ways. Since ownership of the car became quite common, living in the suburbs or in the countryside and commuting to the city has been easy. Developers looking for places to build new commercial spaces looked to the periphery to find relatively inexpensive land that would accessible to those in cars. Consequently, people and commerce drained from downtown."

But "in many cities the costs (in time and money) of commuting are getting so high that people are rethinking suburban life. We're seeing more interest in rapid transit because people want to reduce their commuting time."

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Art credit: Dreamstime.com

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