I just finished reading an article in the Atlantic Monthly about El Paso’s struggles with urbanization. The article suggests that there’s less demand for new urbanism because – shock! – people actually like the suburban lifestyle.
Of course people like the suburban lifestyle! This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. The problem with suburbanism and why we should promote urbanism isn’t because people actually like an urban lifestyle, it’s because there are hidden, long-term costs of suburbanism that are rarely accounted for. These include environmental costs, social and cultural costs, and basic costs of ongoing community service. Unlike many urban costs, these don’t come out of our pockets today, but come out in the long run.
This is tied to a larger American problem of mispriced goods. Capitalism is a wonderful system, but relies on a few fundamentals, including transparency, competitiveness, and accurate pricing. When goods are not priced correctly, we can’t act rationally. And suburbs are not priced accurately.
No wonder, then, that people love living in them! You get unbeatable convenience, room, and an easy lifestyle for much less than its worth. Unfortunately, our communities will pay the price in the end.