Production home builders and municipal planners often latch on to trends that appeal to home buyers and present a forward-looking outward image of the community. But sometimes the individual elements don’t add up to a complete rational result. For example, bike lanes suggest a healthy, active, environmentally-friendly lifestyle and look good in press releases. But it’s unlikely that a human will ever be found walking or riding a bike in many of these environments. (Or let’s hope that no one is ever so unfortunate that they’re forced to be on foot in such a place.) I’d like to give these examples the benefit of the doubt by suggesting that they might be part of a larger plan that will flesh out over time, but looking at what has been built in the general vicinity so far isn’t encouraging. Adding bike lanes to existing hermetic subdivisions and high speed arterials isn’t viable. Even if I were younger, more adventurous, and willing to walk or bike miles through this soulless environment I still don’t think it’s safe (especially at night or for women) and it certainly isn’t convenient or pleasant. And being a pedestrian in this setting puts you pretty low on the social hierarchy.
Every once in a while I stumble on a bus shelter in a location that makes me think it might actually be sculpture making sly commentary on contemporary affairs. But no… this is in fact a real transit stop. I tend to side with conservatives who reject public transport as a waste of precious tax payer money when transit is installed in this manner. It’s actually better to have no bus at all in this context than to pretend that this sort of system does anyone any good. It doesn’t.
I want to applaud those who build new homes that generate their own electricity and recycle their own gray water. Read more here. But here’s the thing… These homes are built in remote subdivisions where you need to drive an hour and a half to get to a job that pays more than the minimum wage. In fact every member of the family needs to spend a great deal of time driving (or being driven) to work, school, church, shops and so on. You pretty much have to drive for half an hour to do just about anything. Whatever “green” features these homes might employ they are overwhelmed by the auto-dependence of the location.
I want to be very clear here. Green power, bike lanes, and public transit options aren’t about saving polar bears. And they aren’t about “lifestyle” choices. They’re about creating communities that have a viable economic and cultural future over the long haul. Adding a few shiny bells and whistles to existing low density scattershot development out on the far fringes of our metropolitan areas is a bad way to build long term wealth and happiness for the families who live there. At the moment exurban communities can be lovely places to live for people with the financial resources to support it. But it’s a terribly brittle and vulnerable set of arrangements. The American middle class is under severe stress and these tenuous settlement patterns aren’t going to hold up well over time.