Changing American Suburbs Into Nurturing Neighborhoods

Dan Chiras suggests changing American suburbs to make more of a community than sterile neighborhoods.
By Dan Chiras
June/July 2002
Add to My MSN

EcoVillage at Ithaca is a cohousing community in New York.
EcoVillage at Ithaca is a cohousing community in New York.

Content Tools

Related Content

Puyallup Speaker Spotlight: Ann Larkin Hansen

Ann Larkin Hansen of Storey Publishing will present four workshops on sustainable farming and bugs a...

HOMEGROWN Life: The Language of Animals

As fall wanes, HOMEGROWN Life contributor Dyan spends time observing and learning from the language ...

Size Matters: Americans Moving to Smaller Homes

The American Institute of Architect’s Home Design Trends Survey confirmed what Natural Home predicte...

Losing the Plot, and Getting the Flock out of There

Leaving the rental home we had lived in for three years in Carmel Indiana, to move back to Kangaroo ...

Changing American suburbs into vibrant, connected neighborhoods.

The classic American suburb is an assemblage of homes connected by concrete and asphalt highways to offices and malls. This arrangement fosters a dependency on the car and discourages strolling, walking or mingling with neighbors. One of the social costs of this car culture is isolation and loneliness. Homes and yards are often sequestered behind privacy fences, making isolation more prevalent; many suburbanites enjoy little contact with neighbors. Returning home from work at night, commuters tap on their automatic garage door openers and are swallowed up into the inner sanctum of their homes, not to be seen again until morning, when the ritual reverses itself.

As new suburbs pop up ever farther from the workplace, suburbanites spend more and more of their lives in their cars. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the average American commuter now spends 443 hours a year behind the wheel — the equivalent of 11 work weeks — often bumper to bumper on crowded highways, breathing exhaust fumes and polluting the air with noxious chemicals while waistlines expand and blood pressures rise.

On the environmental front, the seemingly endless expansion of the suburbs is devouring open land. Verdant fields, lush forests, rich wetlands and productive farms that once fringed our cities and towns are replaced with housing developments that memorialize them in name only: Meadow View, Indian Forest, Running Springs. Today, Americans lose about 1.3 million acres a year to development — much of it clue to the construction of new houses, highways and shopping centers.

Changing American Suburbs: The Suburban Revolution

Do the suburbs truly spell the end of an authentic civil life? With a little effort, I believe they could be transformed in ways that nurture the human spirit, becoming vibrant communities instead of just places to sleep. Suburbia can become Superbia!

Using cohousing (see "Cohousing," on page 57 of this issue) as a model for environmentally, economically and socially sustainable living, my colleague at the Sustainable Futures Society, Dave Wann, and I have developed a list of 25 ideas (see "Nurturing Neighborhoods," in this issue) to help people transform suburbs into places they're proud to call home. The list begins with easy measures, moves on to bolder steps and then reveals the most daring actions to create a lively community that is as good for people as it is for the planet and our pocketbooks.

The Benefits of Superbia

These measures will take time and effort, but can create tight-knit, more environmentally and economically sustainable communities from the failing suburbs. Changes in the suburbs will help foster a sense of genuine belonging and personal security. Those who dare to take these steps will benefit from shared resources and live more economically. After a difficult day at work, imagine sitting down to an already prepared meal with your neighbors in the common house. Instead of doling out your hard-earned money to a fitness center, imagine safely walking or jogging in green spaces you helped establish in your neighborhood. Imagine the delight on children's faces when they harvest their first organic tomato from their community garden.

Superbia is truly a win-win-win proposition: People benefit, the environment benefits and the economy edges a little closer to sustainability.

Dan Chiras is co-director of the Creating Sustainable Suburbs Project.

Previous | 1 | 2 | Next

Post a comment below.


Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 66% Off the Cover Price

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Lighten the Strain on the Earth and Your Budget

MOTHER EARTH NEWS is the guide to living — as one reader stated — “with little money and abundant happiness.” Every issue is an invaluable guide to leading a more sustainable life, covering ideas from fighting rising energy costs and protecting the environment to avoiding unnecessary spending on processed food. You’ll find tips for slashing heating bills; growing fresh, natural produce at home; and more. MOTHER EARTH NEWS helps you cut costs without sacrificing modern luxuries.

At MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet’s natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. That’s why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.00 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.00 for 6 issues.