I’m watching a CNN special on reinventing Los Angeles, and calling on suburbs as dead, time to move on.
But I LIKE suburbs. I like grass. I like trees. I like quiet. I like space – both in my house and between my neighbors. I don’t like my neighbors waking me up with loud sex at freaking 4 am (which I’ve decided is just par for the course in city environments).
I like my own garage. Walkable and mixed use can be great. Done that. I’m never giving up grass and quiet for walkable and mixed use again. And well designed suburbs can give you both.
What I don’t understand is why the suburbs have to die – just because of commutes and smog. Why does being green and sustainable mean I have to live in a hot urban hellhole or drive an hour and half each way? Why can’t I have a green squared suburb – green with grass AND sustainability. Why is density good in and of itself? That’s a false choice.
A large chunk of the professionals I know telecommute and adjust work schedules around commutes, at least sometime. And still get their jobs done. Companies need to get this. If I ever got a real job (not that it’s going to happen), I guarantee you lack of flexible working hours and location would be a deal breaker.
Like with most things in economics, it doesn’t even matter if only a portion of the population can do flex and remote. Just make it possible for 10-20% of the total workforce to adjust, even some of the time, and add that flexibility in. We’ll likely find that we relieved pressure on house pricing, infrastructure, and everything else, benefiting all of us. That’s the flip-side benefit of inelasticity in economics. Small changes in volume can change price fast.
So I submit:
If we have electric vehicles and renewable energy to fight smog. Especially the continued rise of what I call the one-two auto family – one big car and one small one (which is frankly all the first generation of EVs is good for). Flex schedules and flex commutes letting the family adjust cars to the right purpose.
If we have the web and skype and mobile everything on our phones. And cloud computing for all our office stuff.
If ecommerce and on demand continues to grow and change the shopping and entertainment experience. Read flex travel and random amenities in the smallest town – this is what broadband is delivering us.
If we build flex time and telecommuting into the basic employer – employee contract, with employers paying a premium for the 9 to 5 at the office. The employer gets more productivity for less money. And the employee gets their life back and spends less on gas and food.
Then we can have our suburbs and walk them too, or live sustainably, more cheaply, and profitably in small and medium sized cities, and relieve pressure on price and annoyance in the large cities. And not give up our quiet, space and grass.
These are not big ifs. Long live the green squared suburb!