Discover more from The Carbon Architect
CA29 - Welcome to Hell
How the suburbs have gone from bad to worse.
THE TOPIC - THE SUBURBS
Which areas are worse for the environment - urban areas, or suburbs?
Well, a survey of over 1000 Americans showed that we don’t know the truth.
75% of adults believe houses built farther apart is better for the environment
60% of adults think high-density development creates more traffic
Well, surprise surprise, but they are wrong.
Turns out that the suburbs have much higher carbon footprints per household and contribute a whopping 50% of the total US household carbon footprints. You can see pretty clearly from this map of Seattle just how much living outside the dense urban core increases your footprint.
Let’s take a quick look back at where the suburbs began.
If you had an architecture education you’ll remember the famous town of Levittown, Pennsylvania. Built in 1959 it became the promised land where the air was clear, and there was more space than you could dream of. Rows and rows of single detached homes with sprawling yards, wide streets, and access to zero amenities
When I grew up, the suburbs still embodied many of these things with life seeming a little slower and simpler far from the business of the big city. Fast forward 30 years and that is no longer the case. Where there used to be open roads, there are now traffic jams that last for miles. Where there were wides streets there are now parked cars as people are forced to have an oversized car for every person over the age of 18.
This has mostly come as a result of massive population booms that have been happening across Canada and much of the US. Now instead of building simply single-family homes and the occasional duplex, the suburbs are packed with rowhomes and 5-storey apartments. The problem is that despite this increase in density, the only mode of transportation is the automobile. So instead of 1 acre of land requiring space for 2 vehicles it now requires the space of over 50. Now take that same scale and apply it to your grocery store, your restaurant, and your road network. Talk about chaos.
We’ve been sold a lie, and it’s name is the suburbs.
The real problem is that despite the problem getting worse, we still haven’t learned our lesson. Here in the Greater Vancouver Area, Langley is looking for public input on their latest update to the community plan in the Williams Neighbourhood. Currently, sprawling mansions and farmer’s fields are going to be replaced by rows and rows of townhouses and single-family homes.
The depressing thing is that despite a written commitment to sustainability and promises about transportation and bike focus, it’s all the same old stuff. The segregation of uses, a lack of proper density, and a heavy focus on vehicle traffic.
Thanks for reading The Carbon Architect!
WHY IT MATTERS
The suburbs matter for three primary reasons:
They aren’t going anywhere
As much as I’d love to imagine a world where terribly traffic-infested suburbs don’t exist, that’s not a likely scenario in the near future. Especially with cities like Langley creating mazes of townhouses like they’re free samples as Costco. This problem isn’t going away.
The suburbs have potential
As I mentioned, I live and have lived in the suburbs and we can’t just give up on them despite how easy it might feel. They need to be revitalized and turned into small cities that allow for cycling, walking, and public transportation. Cities and developers need to get more creative with providing solutions that will change the way they function to lower their carbon footprint.
We all need to change, not just the suburbs
I keep harping on this point, but it’s true. WE ALL NEED TO CHANGE. This shouldn’t be a conversation of us vs. them but rather a chance for every person to do better. Yes, we in the suburbs have a lot more work to do, but with each person improving their situation we will make the world a better place.
1 PERSON TO FOLLOW
Pamela Conrad brings a strong ecological background to her projects and works on resiliency and climate change solutions. Her drive to protect the environment stems from her childhood on a farm, education in plant science and regenerative landscape architecture, and experience restoring waterways at the US Army Corps of Engineers. Her focus is on transforming challenged urban areas into socially valued and ecologically performing public open spaces.
1 RESOURCE TO ACT ON
Is straw a viable construction material? Is it flammable? Are there mold concerns? These are all questions that are typically asked about straw and Henning Larsen does a fantastic job of showing and explaining the answers to these questions. They’ve developed a simple guide for designing with straw.