Professor Aaron Krall
12 March 2013
Mythbuster: Are Suburbs Really Cleaner than Cities?
The beautiful scenery of American suburbs persuades us that suburbs are cleaner than cities. Since greenery is more visually attractive than brownness filled with mobs of people and congestion, this claim must be true. Well, is it? Edward Glaeser and David Owen attempt to bust this myth through their works, Triumph of the City and Green Metropolis. They defy the myth and claim that suburbs are actually main culprits for increased carbon footprints in the United States. They attempt to provide compelling arguments of why and how cities are much more energy sufficient than suburbs. I support their ideas, because I also believe we can protect the environment more effectively in close proximity than wide sprawl from my own experiences of living in both Chicago and its northwest suburb. Urban lifestyle is a key to conservation. We must make necessary efforts to accept this counterintuitive fact and ultimately bring ourselves back to cities to sustain our planet earth.
Before we discuss why cities are cleaner than suburbs, we must first acknowledge how sprawl began and what made Americans fall in love with suburban lifestyle. According to Glaeser, it is largely due to public policies in the late twentieth century (193). Our government made a mistake by restricting developments in urban centers and encouraging new developments outside of cities. It caused the cost of living in cities to skyrocket, and people got pushed out to suburbs for cheaper housing (191). When there is a large supply of housing built in a particular region, its price of housing becomes affordable. People respond well to this elastic housing supply by moving to into such area to benefit from cheaper housing, and this is how American suburbanization began (190). The emergence of inexpensive automobiles accelerated suburbanization, since people were able to enjoy living in trees and work in the city simultaneously (204). However, our preference for suburban lifestyle has been worsening the pollution and making the environmental issue more difficult to resolve (Owen 9). Most of us have been living in the fantasy of “garden living”. We often think that surrounding ourselves in greenery and clean air helps us to express our love of nature (Glaeser 202, 203). Owen disapproves our fantasy by insisting, “The apparent ecological innocuousness of widely dispersed populations – as in leafy suburbs or seemingly natural exurban areas, such as mine – is an illusion (8). What we have thought and practiced to conserve the environment, ironically, has been producing negative effects. Our love of suburbs requires extended commute time into the city, and more time on the road means more wasted energy (Glaeser 201). This is only the beginning. There is so much misspent energy associated with suburban lifestyle. Living in greenery might make us “feel” more environmental-friendly, but it is increasing carbon footprints in reality. The wide availability of cars and cheap energy here in the United States, as a matter of fact, is the largest contributor to the energy inefficiency. Unlike other densely populated countries in Europe and Asia, we pay a relatively smaller amount of tax on energy. Less cost involved in using energy of which includes all of gas, electricity, and heating led us to become more wasteful than any other countries in the world creating more damages to the environment. A very simple example is found in our daily lives: thinly spread population and associated dependence on automobiles. We must drive to get groceries, to go out to eat, and to go to school in suburbs whereas all of these can be located within a few blocks in cities. (Glaeser 207). Owen adds to this by using numerical data to explain how suburban living consumes more electricity and heating on a per-capita basis (14). It is quite clear that suburbs are not the cleanest place to live...