Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"Livable Communities" - Whose Definition?

In my younger days, BC (Before Children), I lived in a city.  I could talk for hours (probably did) about the benefits of living in walking distance of EVERYTHING - work, school, church, shopping.  Such a scenario is the dream that drives the "Livable Communities Act".  This act is designed to change how Americans live (I know, I know - so do all the other legislative initiatives that have been introduced lately).

What's different about it?  It works to combat urban sprawl with a hammer approach - no more coaxing Americans to reduce their use of automobiles, it will FORCE them to comply.
But social engineering is at the heart of the Livable Communities Act where federal planners hope to reduce personal mobility as measured in vehicle miles traveled and shift housing patterns from single family homes in the suburbs to small apartments in cramped central cities.
In a country as large and diverse as ours, some people will prefer the live-work-travel arrangements prescribed for in the Livable Communities Act, which is based on the Smart Growth planning doctrine. However, the vast majority of Americans in red and blue states alike have long aspired to live in suburban homes with a car in the garage.
This quintessentially middle class version of the American Dream has long been derided by elites and environmentalists who recast suburbs as wasteful sprawl and liken automobile use to a destructive addiction. They want to de-legitimize this land use pattern, restrict automobile use and make suburban housing less affordable. The Livable Communities Act is thus a hammer in the progressive toolbox.
So, what's so bad about making extended car trips unaffordable?   Plenty.  Today, I carpooled with my husband; we made 5 stops, and managed to accomplish multiple errands on a single trip.  Why couldn't we have walked?  PLEASE - we live in the South, and the combination of heat and humidity would have wilted us.  Also, it would have wasted our time, extending the length of the trip at least 4 hours.  And, since my husband's back was acting up, it would have caused personal pain and distress.

All those benefits for about $4 for the whole trip (cost of gas and car expense).  Not bad - very affordable personally.

Other Americans do the same every day - they pick up kids, buy groceries (in bulk, not possible if you have to walk/ride a bike), go to church (and, since many of us don't live in walking distance of our denomination, it makes it possible for our communities to be religiously diverse), attend college after work, etc.  None of this would be possible if we didn't use the car.

I rode public transportation for years.  I couldn't understand why anyone would own a car.

Then, my job moved to another city, and I had to take 2 buses and a train trip every day.  It took over an hour each way, and missing a connection made me late.  That romance with public transportation broke up real soon.

Other factors that drive use of cars include the desire to spend more time with family; need to work at a distant job (I'm doing that this year - my school is about an hour away.  Beats being unemployed, and I wouldn't be able to sell my house that quickly); and need for more education while still staying employed.

Not wanting to live in cities is a choice, and not an evil one.  Not everyone can own a cabin in the woods, but most can get some access to nature in their own suburban 1/2 acre.  I remember hearing neighbors' arguments, keeping kids inside to avoid neighborhood gangs, and other problems of living in congested settings.  I live close enough to people to enjoy their company, without living in a box, surrounded by others trying to avoid walking too heavily, listening to music too loudly, not cooking foods that might generate odors offensive to the neighbors, and shushing children who are being - well - children.

I choose to live with some space around me.

Share

No comments: