Suburban Sustainablity

11 thoughts on “Suburban Sustainablity”

  1. Hi Johnny, I watched Kirsten’s video regarding your “garage” home. I resonate with your approach to housing, consumption and time. In fact I am soon to begin building a 700 square foot house in Tasmania, Australia. I am curious to know, do you still live in the same house? Have you extended it?

    1. The Hawaii cottage has been given various small upgrades and furniture changes over the years, but remains pretty much the same. I never lived in Hawaii full time. The cottage has always been a vacation home and a possible retirement destination.

  2. I like this. You’ve been promoting this suburban homesteading idea as a viable future for suburbs for a bit now and I see it as an option, even if most suburbanites don’t yet.

    I tend to think suburbia will move in two directions — the homesteading, more independent, quasi-rural future you suggest, but also a more urbanized future for some. I think economic and/or social disruption will cause the change, but access to the city will define the path each suburb will take. Those with decent public transit, commuter transit or even interstate highway access to the city will probably choose the urbanizing path, while those without that will take the homesteading path.

    In either case, contemporary suburbia doesn’t stay the same.

    1. Exactly. People often comment that suburbanites are just too busy commuting to work and driving their kids around to grow a garden. Supermarket food is ridiculously cheap. Energy is just too cheap to worry about conservation or home generation. I reply… Sure, at the moment that’s true. At the moment. Give it thirty years. Urbanization of the suburbs is already underway in many locations. De facto ruralization (contraction) is already underway in other locations. All in good time my pretty. All in good time.

  3. Great post. Per the impoverished public space part, I love the front yard patio/porch revival. Kill the thirsty lawn and get some neighborly interaction going. Pair that with a parking lot Piazza, some bike lanes and voila! El Centro at Target Plaza. Errr… something like that:

    1. Thanks for the link. Cool video. I’ll have to take a trip out there and do a blog post on the project as it moves forward. Stay tuned.

      The office parks, shopping malls, and tract homes of San Ramon are 1) Some of the best examples of this kind of high value suburban development in the outer Bay Area and 2) My idea of Hell.

      I remember reading about the development of Bishop Ranch in Joel Garreau’s “Edge City” from 1992. The developer is a sophisticated Iranian who wanted to do a super high quality project. When asked if he would be living in Bishop Ranch he paused and said, “Oh no. I’m a city person. I’ll be staying in San Francisco.”

      Renzo Piano does great work. It looks like his proposed piazza will be a breathtaking combination of Renaissance Italy and an American parking deck. It’s better than a surface parking lot for sure. But it may turn out to be one of those upscale lifestyle centers that suburbanites complain about because they don’t like the added density, but city people hate because it’s still a soulless office park with some shops hot glued to the edges. Perhaps this kind of thing is one of many intermediate steps that might eventually mature into a great place over another century. Florence, Sienna, and Venice weren’t built in a single generation either.

  4. The problem with sustainable lifestyles is they are work. In most households, both adults work outside jobs with some sort of commute. When they get home they have their child/children in every sport/club imaginable. They are very busy and don’t want to grow their own food. It is easier to get fast food or package meals. The American lifestyle would require a huge change to become more sustainable.

    1. All true at the moment. But keep in mind, the whole thing about an unsustainable arrangement is that sooner or later it won’t be sustained – the system will crash. At that point people will have no choice but to reinvent how everything is organized. I suspect this will play out differently in different locations over a long period of time. How did your great grandparents live compared to your current lifestyle? People adjust based on changing circumstances.

  5. Great article, having lived in a more rural traditional (farming) community, with a town less than 5 miles away (bikeable) and can attest that in the right place you will find much of the vibe of the city happening just a bike ride away, yes the choice is much reduced, but often that’s a good thing. What would happen in an extended crash, to everyone who has little equity in their mortgage, will they even still own their own homes, and then make the transition to a more sustainable suburb? IF the world had time, to get the accommodation issue on a more solid basis (20 years of large mortgage installments?), then maybe the utopian vision you portrayed would be viable.

    1. I’m not big on utopian visions. Necessity will push things in one direction or another over time. The most likely catalyst will be political and economic upheaval – probably in the form of war that will disrupt supply chains etc. Every few generations the slate is wiped clean and things are reset at a different level with new rules.

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