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Suburbia Makes Us Fat, Unhealthy, & Unhappy
by Katy Purviance on 09/02/07 @ 08:58:51 am
Categories: News, Observations, Urban Planning | 694 words | 1156 views

I’ve been a long-time critic of suburbia and its long-distance methods of egress. Anytime a suburbanite wishes to leave its labyrinthine streets, the very design of suburbia forces people to make a choice:

1. Spend a really long time walking or biking through curvy street after curvy street permeated with an eery Stepford feeling, full of abandoned lawns and gaping garage doors. After finally getting out of the housing tract, brave the speedway-style collector street, inhaling carbon monoxide, absorbing the negativity of rude drivers, and trying not to get hit as drivers pull into and out of strip malls and gas stations. Then, repeat, in reverse, to go home.


2. Drive

That’s not actually a choice. It’s a perversion of choice, and it was created by speculative land developers who were not interested in your happiness, your well-being, or your quality of life. They were interested in seeing how much money they could extract from you for the privilege of living in a new McMansion. That’s it.

Thunderhead Alliance has released a report outlining the results of their Bicycling and Walking in the U.S. Study. Shall we review their main findings?

1. A positive relationship exists between the built environment and levels of biking and walking.
2. Where levels of biking and walking are higher, bicycle and pedestrian safety is greater.
3. Cities with strong Thunderhead organizations generally have high levels of biking and walking.
4. Higher levels of biking and walking coincide with lower levels of obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes and higher levels of adults meeting recommended levels of daily physical activity. This suggests that increased biking and walking would contribute to a healthier society.
5. Data revealed that while some cities and states lead others as models for bicycle and pedestrian policies and provisions, all states and cities have a need for improvement.

Trapped in their metal boxes, drivers while away their lives in the same sedentary positions they’ll assume once they reach their cubicle. When they’re done sitting at work, they’ll sit some more in their cars. Once they’re home, they’ll probably sit some more in front of their television sets. Sit sit sit. Their metabolisms would cry out for revolution…if they weren’t so dormant. Habitual drivers send the message to their bodies that they don’t care enough to be healthy - and their bodies comply, slowly building up a collection of ailments with which to surprise them later.

When you walk or bike to work, however, you reap the benefits of twice-a-day exercise. You may still spend eight hours a day sitting at a desk, but by raising your metabolism early in the day, your metabolism burns extra calories for you for hours. You get this again in the evening. You feel great. You lose weight. You have more energy. You find that you’re happier. Kinder. More truly alive.

Then why do people prefer to drive? Why do people prefer to be fat, unhealthy, and unhappy?

Some people propose that people love their cars, that people gladly choose to drive every day. The collector streets and freeways are choked with people who made the free choice to drive. Look at all that freedom of choice, honking and crashing into each other! Look at all those people, freely choosing to stress themselves out, to get angry, to cut off and be cut off.

Car commercials push a fantasy world. Theirs is a world of a single happy [professional] driver, driving skillfully [on a closed course] along beautiful scenery. This world does not exist. It was manufactured to appropriate the pleasure center of your brain, demanding an emotional, unreasonable, illogical response. Buying into this lie helps to perpetuate the [car-dependent] suburban way of life. Indeed, the two go hand in hand and are mutually responsible for development of each.

The aspiring urban planner must not heed the siren call of this established method of development. The aspiring urban planner must dedicate him/herself to a different, more life-giving paradigm in which the human being is given preference over the automobile. The aspiring urban planner must design walkable communities. The aspiring urban planner must always consider the social and health ramifications of his/her designs.

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