Suburbanization is defined as “a process involving the systematic growth of fringe areas at a pace more rapid than that of core cities, as a lifestyle involving a daily commute to jobs in the center”. Suburban life is characterized by the icon of the ‘soccer mom,’ whose life is spent in her minivan as she shuttles her child to and from activities, while they await the arrival of the suburban dad, whose commute to work takes him away from the center of family life. When you understand our history, the attraction to the suburbs is clear. We’ve long been driven to own and improve upon land.
Cronon writes of the colonists’ argument for taking land from the Native Americans: “their supposed failure to ‘improve’ that land was a token not of their chosen way of life, but of their laziness” (55). We’re infused with the notion that land is not precious unless someone owns and builds something on it. Beyond that, we have begun to associate owning single-family residences in the suburbs with moral superiority. In Russell Conwell’s popular lecture, “Acres of Diamonds,” he asserts: “drive me out into the suburbs of Philadelphia, and introduce me to the people who own their own homes around this great city…and I will introduce you to the very best people in character as well as enterprise in this city… A man is not really a true man until he owns his own home” ...
We worship the new, the exclusive, and the private. Our sprawl entails new buildings where people flee to avoid looking at the old buildings they abandoned. The cost of such configuration, however, is quite high. It costs not only in dollars and cents, but resources, and socio-culturally as well. Sprawl is costly in terms of dollars and cents. Burchell points out that there is a budget “deficit projected under the sprawl growth scenario” (80). Local governments begin to strain under the burden of maintaining existing structures while providing new roads and services to new buildings. Suburban sprawl is extremely costly in terms of our natural resources. “In the decade between 1982 and 1992, over 13 million acres in the 48 contiguous states of the United States and Hawaii changed from forests, fields, and rangeland to urban use” (qtd. in Pendall 555). There is a finite amount of resources and sprawl does not make efficient use of them. Hayden elaborates on sprawl as “careless new use of land and other resources as well as abandonment of older built areas” (7). Something sprawl takes from the individual is the sense of community. “A cost of development that is truly impossible to measure is how much a neighborhood, town, or city contributes to or denies people a sense of place and community” (Burchell 110). Suburban sprawl creates homogenous spaces that lack character or uniqueness. People come and go in their cars and neighborly bonds are often simply not formed. Part of the reason is that suburban spaces are built around automobiles. Hayden refers to the tract-housing, common to suburban developments, as “automobile-oriented buildings” (8). Rather than being able to