Saturday, January 29, 2011

Is Suburban Living a Matter of Trade-offs?


A few weeks back, my friend Nate gave me the heads up on a story from USA Today about a study that concluded that walkable communities have happier people.

It seemed logical enough so I went off to calculate Tiverton's own Walk Score. Guess what? My fears were realized when our score came back: Zero. Zilch. Nadda. Our community is not walkable according to this tool.

It makes sense. Aside from areas like North Tiverton, Main Road and the Commons in Little Compton, there is little in the way of sidewalks and other alternative transportation infrastructure to get your human-powered transportation on. Sure, you don't need nice neat sidewalks to head out for a walk, but between the craziness of back-road drivers and the lack of destinations, there is little incentive to leave the car at home.

When talking it over with my wife, we launched into a broader discussion about the trade-offs of suburban living in the Sakonnet area:
My Wife: "The suburbs are all about trade-offs."
Me: "Yes, but..."
My Wife: "You don't have sidewalks, but you do have a big yard to garden."
Me: "I know. I do like that."

My Wife: "And we have good schools. And the ocean. And..."

Me: "Agreed. But we should be able to have it all..."

And so it went. If life is about navigating the give and take of everyday living then shacking up in the burbs certainly presents you with some challenging terrain.

Here are a few more supposed trade-offs that come to mind:
  • More open space versus having all your shopping needs fulfilled in town
  • Yards for kids to play in versus having to head to the community playground or park
  • Having the ocean at your back door versus being landlocked on an urban island
  • Farms and farmers bolstering our local food infrastructure versus shipping all our food in from miles away
I'm sure you could think of many more. But does it have to be that way?

Could suburban living ever be transformed to one of true sustainability -- both at the individual household level and the collective community level? What if very real and tangible scenarios -- like steep rises in the cost of gasoline -- forced us to redesign how we went about our day-to-day? Should we be proactively planning for these things through something like a Transition Initiative or wait and cross that bridge when (note: not 'if') we get there?

What do you think? Were there conscious trade-offs in your decision to live in the burbs? Do you wish anything could be different? Is the Best of Both Worlds a pipe dream?

Be well,

P.S.: If everything sticks to schedule, my new bi-weekly column, Simple Green Living will debut in next week's East Bay Life section of the Sakonnet Times. Be sure to check it out and let me know what you think. Thanks!

[image: andygeek]