Lots of people, especially in America, like to have their space. The idea of living in a crowded city freaks them out. But as Kant’s deontological ethics teaches us, it ain’t just about me, it’s about us… or something like that. We must consider whether our actions would be rational or just if everyone else acted as we did. If everyone chose to commute 30 minutes in an SUV from a house that’s too big for them in a neighborhood that ate up green space with blacktop, what would the result be? Sky rocketing rates of lung and heart disease, war and famine, environmental disasters; gridlock on our highways and roadways resulting in lost productivity, physiological, sociological, and psychological breakdowns.
But perhaps that’s too harsh. Perhaps some people who live the suburban life feel they don’t have a choice. Or perhaps they feel it’s a privilege for the hard work they do for the world. And maybe there is room for different preferences in the way we live. Some people like suburbs and some people like the city. Is there anything wrong with that?
Yes and no. It’s important to understand that the suburban life has been heavily subsidized. It’s not something that would have happened as a natural progression. Expensive, long highways to remote locations away from industry and commerce leading to a house is not a particularly logical way to build a community. It took incentives from big money-making industries like the oil industry who stood to make buckets of money to establish an infrastructure that would not only allow but force people to live in the middle of nowhere. And it worked like a charm. So much so, in fact, that to some it now seems that we’re locked into this way of life. As if we’ve gone so far down this very expensive road that really there’s no turning back. We’ve made our bed, etc. etc.
The reason I write that this is something important to understand when deciding if it’s particularly wrong to enjoy the suburbs is because the perception of that way of life is in many ways a false perception. In some ways it only seems as if that’s just the way we do things here in America. As if it’s simply our way of life and raising a family in the suburbs is quaint and lovely and perfectly natural. But that way of life was built on lies. That particular way of life is resulting in a disaster for the planet.
OK, but that doesn’t change the fact that many people like the suburbs. They may ask, “Why should I sacrifice my happiness and that of my family, as well as our well being, because the system is making me destroy the world? The problem is much bigger than me. I’m not putting my family in the middle of a dangerous, scary city just because Washington, the gods, and all the angels in heaven haven’t figured out a way for me to live the life I want to live?”
But guess what. There are alternatives that even the suburban die-hards might find compelling. And I’m going to write about it a little bit more tomorrow.