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August 10, 2006

When Green Just Isn't

For the first month after I saw the Al Gore movie, I did a lot less driving, trying to do my part to curb greenhouse emissions. But then my doctor asked me to water her garden while she is out of town, which requires a daily ten-mile round-trip drive. I almost said no, for that very reason, but I needed the job. So for the past week, I have been driving back and forth to her condo, which is in a bland subdivision on the southwest side of town. It just amazes me how much grass there is in that part of town. Each subdivision is neatly landscaped, as is the empty space between each subdivision. It would almost be pretty if it didn't look so blatantly fake. The grass is real, but it sure doesn't grow like that naturally, and it makes me so sad to think about all the resources that are wasted on that grass: the water and fertilizer to keep it green and the gas to keep it mowed. Not to mention all the extra driving that people have to do to get from one place to another when houses and businesses are so spread out. You couldn't even walk around there if you wanted to because there are no sidewalks!

Suburban sprawl just makes me sick. I was lucky enough to grow up in Santa Monica, where the streets are laid out on a grid. Everyone lives on a rectangular city block. I had never even heard of a subdivision until I went to college, and the word "cul-de-sac" was totally foreign. I never lived someplace where it took more than five or ten minutes to walk to local businesses or a bus stop. I don't know why people think that suburbs are ideal for child-raising: as a child, I loved being able to get where I needed to go without having to depend on a parent to drive me. The other day, David and I drove past Northville High School, which is a beautiful modern building surrounded by a parking lot and beautifully-manicured grass and about a million equally well-manicured subdivisions. It looks pretty nice. But there is no way to walk to that high school. The houses are spread so far apart that nobody lives in walking distance, and even if you did live close enough, there are no sidewalks! The only way to get there is to drive. Seeing that school made me feel so lucky to have gone to a high school that was set right into the city. I could walk to the mall in ten minutes or walk to the liquor store to get my Hostess cupcakes during the lunch period. I rode to school on the city bus and walked to my beachside job after work.

The point is that the kind of medium-low-density development that characterizes the part of town where my doctor lives just doesn't serve any purpose. Suburbs spreading the houses out just enough so that the only place you can go on foot from your house is your car, but not enough to actually leave valuable open space between developments. It turns the whole world into a large lawn. If development were concentrated in urban spaces, we would have livable cities, with enough density for people to quickly get where they need to go, and it would preserve the countryside for the animals, the farmers, and the misanthropes.

Posted by eklanche at August 10, 2006 10:22 AM


I am a fellow lawn-sprawl (and suburban sprawl) hater. I would much rather see trees or meadows or even second-growth "wasteland" than manicured lawns - they're like green asphalt. The most uninteresting landscape imaginable. Even agricultural fields are more fun.

Have you seen this book? A Field Guide to Sprawl - pretty interesting when you apply it to Ann Arbor (supposedly such an eco-conscious place).

Posted by: sdunavan@verizon.net at August 10, 2006 12:32 PM

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