Thursday, June 30, 2011

In praise of suburbs


Nicholas Lemann praises the suburbs and questions the trendy pro-city theories in the June 27 New Yorker.

I lived in the suburbs---Pelham, in Westchester County---for twenty-one years, after which my family moved to an apartment in New York City. We're all intermittently homesick, especially at this time of year, when suburbia feels like the land of fecundity, as green as a jungle, the streets and sidewalks jammed with children playing. Pelham is devoted to a (long) season of life, parenthood. Most people moved there because they couldn't afford to live decently in the city with children, and they claimed they stayed there out of necessity. As time passed, our collective secret became clear. It wasn't just good public schools and one bedroom per child that kept us in Pelham. We actually liked it---liked the houses, the slower pace, the regular unplanned access to each other. And, given the kids, we couldn't have done all the wondrous things you can only do in cities anyway.

The Chronicle confronted the issue recently in a story on "family flight" to the suburbs. Obviously the city isn't for everyone, especially families with young children:

Other cities with a higher percentage of children have larger land masses that include suburban-style communities sprawling outside the downtown core. San Francisco's unique---and tight---geography at the tip of a peninsula means it doesn't have that option. And while high-density housing may make sense for the city overall, it turns off most families.

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38 Comments:

At 11:29 AM, Anonymous Rocky's Pop said...

Fucking leave already.

 
At 6:56 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

No, the city is a good place for an old guy like me. For young famlies, maybe not so much.

 
At 8:38 AM, Anonymous Rocky's Pop said...

I guess it is only a good place for cranky old folks then because you bitch about everyone else who lives here.

 
At 9:20 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, I'm definitely not part of The City Family, the self-congratulatory political circle-jerk in City Hall.

 
At 10:22 AM, Anonymous Rocky's Pop said...

Rob Anderson = 1 person circle-jerk while dreaming of suburbia.

 
At 11:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Rocky's Pop...wow you are one angry dude. LOL, how about you leaving...and take that tude with you too.

 
At 1:44 PM, Anonymous Rocky's Pop said...

Rob usually has the balls to respond in person. Maybe he's been riding a bike?

 
At 2:02 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Okay, you've insulted me witlessly several times now. Either you make an attempt at a substantive comment on the post or your comments will be dumped.

 
At 2:19 PM, Anonymous Rocky's Pop said...

Ok, fair enough, I hurt your feelings.

The problem with suburbia is that it isn't sustainable. The infrastructure costs (along with maintenance) isn't something we can afford to continue. Then add in police/fire service, school busing, postal delivery, etc. And then on top of it all, it really all boils down to cheap oil, which we are running out of (peak oil or not, gas over $4 with stagnant wages isn't going to float too much longer).

People want their cake and to eat it too. People hate to pay taxes (Prop 13, etc), but want all the services.

"as green as a jungle, the streets and sidewalks jammed with children playing"

We could have that here in SF as well. FUF is doing a lot of good work to plant more trees and if we slowed down streets (e.g. bollards to discourage thru traffic) then more kids would feel safe enough to play.

Finally, this pie-in-the-sky piece mentions nothing of the fact that, in suburbia, one has to get in their car and drive to buy any of their day-to-day needs. Want some milk? The store might be .5 miles away but it is a 2 mile drive on busy arterials there and back. Not to mention the huge cost burden owning a car puts on a family.

Suburbia sounds all well and good when it is sugar coated, but this guy was a kid when he grew up in suburbia (along with it being the 60s?). Oh nostalgia...

 
At 7:53 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

You misread Lemann's piece. It's not about nostalgia for his childhood but about having a family in the suburbs in the recent past. The peak oil assumption seems mostly like wishful thinking by the anti-car folks. There seems to be enough left for us to transition to other energy sources, which is what's happening now. (For example, this NY Times reporter got 300 miles from two gallons of gas using a Chevy Volt.)

 
At 9:09 AM, Anonymous Rocky's Pop said...

You didn't read anything I wrote. Thank you jackass.

300 mi/gal still doesn't make it ok that a .5 mi trip is usually 2+ mi because there are no direct connections in most of suburbia.

Also, you ignored my comment about slowing streets in SF to allow for safer access for children to play around them. The new 15 mph school zones won't be enforced and there certainly isn't any physical changes coming to the roadways so nothing will change. If we start narrowing roads, adding bollards to discourage thru traffic, and having actual enforcement for the SFPD then maybe we'll start seeing streets that people wouldn't mind being around.

"the regular unplanned access to each other". That comment really made me laugh. Most people in suburbia go into their garage in the morning, hop in their car, drive to work, drive home and maybe stop at the store, and then drive right back into their garage and close the door. There rarely is any "unplanned access" to neighbors unless the mail box is at the end of the driveway. You want "unplanned access" to your neighbors? Live in a walkable community (e.g. San Francisco).

 
At 10:04 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

You didn't even read the whole Lemann piece, just the excerpts I posted, asshole. The notion that people with families move to the suburbs because their kids can't play in the streets is laughable. It's more about schools and bigger houses for growing children. You make a cliched case against the suburbs, but it doesn't sound like you have any first-hand knowledge.

 
At 10:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

District 5 Diary: Where impassioned, idealistic young urbanists come to flail about in pointless argument with a sociopathic suburban apologist.

Move along, folks. There's nothing to see here.

 
At 11:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We're just hoping he'll get so pissed off his fat encrusted aorta will just give up.

 
At 11:42 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I live in the city, and I like it just fine. But others, especially those with children, can reasonably decide to live in the suburbs. You guys are unable to deal with the substance of the issue, so you resort to lame insults.

Like to hear more about the "sociopath" charge. Paul, is that you?

 
At 12:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hard to believe more than one person thinks you're a nut job.

 
At 12:34 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Easy for you guys to demonstrate that my critics are too dumb to engage on the specifics of an issue.

 
At 1:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like someone tried and you ignored them.

 
At 1:57 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Who, Rocky's Pop's peak oil and anti-car riff? He seems to think he's going pretty deep, but it's the same old crap I've seen in comments here for lo more than six years now. The problem is you guys are nothing but True Believers, too lightweight to sustain a serious argument.

 
At 2:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where's that "appeal" of the bike plan you promised?

 
At 2:47 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The brief will be filed this afternoon.

 
At 3:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As loyal readers, do we get to see it posted to this wonderful blog?

 
At 3:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Waiting with baited breath. I need something to laugh at.

 
At 4:46 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Maybe you can get the Bicycle Coalition to make all of you assholes a copy of the brief. Most appeals are rejected, so the odds are against us. But if we win, it will be more satisfying than even the injunction was---and still is.

 
At 6:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most appeals are rejected because they are frivolous.

 
At 9:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The injunction was satisfying and still is? But eventually it was lifted. So in the end, you didn't get your way, but you are still satisfied?

e.g. it was all about stalling the great bike fantasy as long as possible. Of course, you won that battle and lost the war because the backlash against your quixotic campaign is the primary reason the SFBC is more powerful today then ever. Careful what you wish for.

 
At 8:40 AM, Anonymous bike-nut said...

http://www.planetizen.com/node/50020

 
At 9:16 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I'm satisfied with what the injunction achieved, since it made the city follow the law and do an EIR on the Bicycle Plan. The EIR validated what we predicted: the Bicycle Plan is going to screw up traffic in the city, including slowing down a number of Muni lines.

The whole process also demonstrated how unprincipled---and just plain dumb---the bike advocates in SF are. They were outraged that the most important environmental law in the state was being applied to them, because, like, they are so special,you know.

The bike people and their "progressive" allies in City Hall deviously tried to rush the Plan illegally through the process. The City Attorney's office was particularly nasty and stupid throughout the litigation, throwing up bogus legal obstacles in the run-up to the hearing on the merits of the complaint---making it difficult for us to get documents from city departments, refusing to certify the administrative record we prepared, insisting that the SFCTA wasn't a city agency and therefore its documents couldn't be part of the record, etc. All of that strung out the litigation many months beyond what it should have taken to complete, wasting a lot of taxpayers' money.

As it turns out, the injunction had little impact on cycling in SF, which increased during the injunction, confirming my view that riding a bike in SF has nothing to do with bike lanes or safety---it's essentially a fad adopted by people determined to be seen as hip and with-it.

As the legal process played out, a significant minority of cyclists continued to misbehave on city streets---including Critical Mass---which makes the city's bike people a lot less popular with everyone else in SF than they seem to think they are.

The bike movement is thus now in a particularly risky period, since, even though some of the most important streets in the Bicycle Plan haven't been "improved" yet, they are pushing ahead with screwing up Masonic Ave. and even talking about Fell Street. Might be some overreach there.

The problem facing City Hall: how far can we push the bike bullshit and other anti-car policies without damaging our tourism-based economy? Not to mention annoying the owners of the 461,827 motor vehicles registered in SF.

It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

 
At 10:23 AM, Anonymous bike-nut said...

"It will be interesting to see how it plays out."

As in, every mayoral candidate is pro-bike. You are in for a long ride, Rob.

 
At 10:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oxymoron - significant minority
Moron - Rob Anderson

 
At 10:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The brief will be filed this afternoon" - you going to post this imaginary brief on your blog?

 
At 11:09 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Maybe the City Attorney will give you a copy.

 
At 11:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you are so proud of it, fucking post it.

 
At 1:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aha! In fact I was looking at the M&O case he's going to lose. Let's look at the goods!

 
At 1:21 PM, Anonymous Rocky's Pop said...

Here we go. Sadly, it doesn't link the actual brief, but it appears Rob, CAR et al, didn't get it in on time originally. Maybe the car delivering the brief got stuck in traffic from all the bike lanes going in.

 
At 1:36 PM, Anonymous Rocky's Pop said...

I apologize, this is it. My other link was to some other BS Rob is up to. Hard to keep track of all the shit this guy throws at the courts, someone's got way too much time on their hands.

 
At 1:41 PM, Anonymous Greg Hayes said...

So you finally got your brief in, after all the requests for extensions and delays. With all that time, did you ever find anything Robert?

 
At 1:46 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

We think so, but that's for the court to decide.

 

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