Opinion: All sprawled out: suburban growth irksome

Staff Writer

Ask almost anyone who grew up in the fifties or sixties about suburban sprawl, and they’ll probably tell you it was a good thing. Everyone had a cute little house with a white picket fence; a place where they could watch their children frolic over grass instead of pavement and ride a tricycle in the street with minimal danger of getting run over. Since the post-World War 2 economic boom, the suburbs have become a symbol of American prosperity.

At the beginning, it made sense. Conditions in cities hadn’t been so great for the past few decades, and people wanted to settle down somewhere peaceful and spacious. Cheap and abundant, suburbs gave the middle class an opportunity to grow without penny pinching.

Today, if you walk down a suburban street, you’ll be surrounded by ringing silence, empty yards, and underused basketball hoops. Kids don’t go out to play anymore, at least not like they used to. Neighbors don’t socialize. The only function of a grass lawn is to soak up gallons of fertilizer.

What is the point of taking up so much space if we’re just going to spend our days holed up in our houses or at work anyway? Fifty or sixty years ago, families were larger, wives stayed at home and used the house, and neighborhood culture was essential to a child growing up. These special conditions have since vanished.

Today, the need for suburbs has diminished, yet the sprawl is out of control. Each new development takes up more space than the previous. People are expressing their wealth and social status through the size of their property.

The result is miles of forests destroyed, gallons of car exhaust released into the atmosphere, and sprawling neighborhoods so quiet that one can almost envision a tumbleweed rolling through them. Suburbs mix the worst of both worlds: the urban destruction of nature and the rural lack of people.

If everyone in New Jersey lived in an area with a population density equivalent to that of the New York metropolitan area, we would fit in 501.2 square miles, leaving the remaining 8,228 square miles of our state as close to pristine wilderness as we can achieve in this day and age.

This fictional arrangement would be good for people as well as the environment, as cities today are full of vitality. According to the Huffington Post, almost all US cities have a superior economy to that of the country as a whole. Everything is conveniently close together, so people don’t have to ruin the ozone layer while running errands. Boredom is hard to come by because something is always happening.

Above all, city dwellers can’t retreat into their apartments as a suburbanite can do in a large house with a yard. They’re forced to socialize and deal with each other, important skills that the suburbs fail to teach.

The initial glory of suburban living has decayed into a culture of weird hermitage, wastefulness, and repetition. It’s time we start to move closer together instead of spreading further and further apart. At the very least, we can save a couple million trees.

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