STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
Suburban Technology Should Die a Deserved Death
By Daily Bell Staff - October 01, 2016

Suburbs Will Soar on Wings of Tech … For a few years it seemed that Americans were moving to the cities, but now the trends are toward the suburbs once again. Long-turn trends favor suburbs even more.  -Bloomberg

Suburbs would likely not exist but for zoning and one can well ask if they should exist. They are a large element in the dysfunction of US society and the destructiveness of modern culture.

In the past in the US, towns and cities were “mixed use” with businesses alternating with dwellings. But in modern America – and the West generally these days – people’s living quarters are divorced from their places of employment.

Suburbs encourage a “supported citizen” who could not survive even for a week without an intricate grid of enterprises to feed him and provide necessary resources.

The message is one of learned helplessness and cultural conformity. No wonder so many children move away as soon as they reach young adulthood. Cities, with their mixed panoramas and varied resources are far more attractive and stimulating than the airless homogeneity of suburban life.

Nonetheless, suburbs have their enthusiasts and this Bloomberg article is written by one of them. The author in fact is celebrating technology that he believes will lead to a resurgence of suburbs – including Uber, drones and virtual reality.

Uber for instance will help people negotiate their suburban lives and get to work more more efficiently. Drones will provide goods and services in places where they did not exist before. Virtual reality will make living in a suburb just as interesting as living in a city.

These predictions may well be accurate at least to some extent but it will not change the fundamental destructive reality of suburbs. People living next to people and more people without a single manifestation of urban support – stores, restaurants, service centers, etc. – comprise a powerful statement about how modern society views its “workers.”

More:

Suburbs are sometimes portrayed as ignoble compared to cities, and media centers like New York and Washington attract young, pro-urban writers who trumpet their hometown virtues. But let’s not forget that it is the suburban sprawl of Silicon Valley that has produced many of the biggest recent tech breakthroughs.

Suburbs are also the part of the U.S. that’s leading the way when it comes to the racial integration of school systems … Suburbanization is continuing, most of all, because people want it.

We certainly would dispute these last two statements. Suburbs have contributed a good deal to social separation from what we can tell. And we doubt the affection for these soulless conglomerations is as widespread as suggested. Mixed-use towns are certainly more pedestrian friendly than endless suburbs and having one’s place of work nearby one’s home – or directly below – encourages efficiency and availability.

Conclusion: To the degree that technology supports a suburban revival, we’ll be disappointed. We’d much rather that zoning died a deserved death along with its suburbs. People should be allowed to live where they choose not where municipal government commands.

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  • Charlie Primero

    > Suburbs encourage a “supported citizen” who could not survive even for a
    week without an intricate grid

    But landless cosmopolitans living in high-rise concrete boxes dribbling U.N.-approved amounts of cold water on their heads each morning before telecommuting to their virtual job processing e-forms are totally self-sufficient and free from the whims of government planners.

    I swear, DB has turned into The Onion over the last two years.

    • robt

      The city mouse – country/suburban mouse debate is one that will go on forever, the original Aesop fable having entered the record at least 2500 years ago.
      Anyway, living where you want without arguing about it is preferable and far less stressful.
      Discl: I am a city mouse.

      • gringott

        I was born a city mouse, am now a semi-rural mouse, and wish I was a rural mouse. The older I get the less I like the city.

  • gringott

    The suburbs were partially born by white flight. We have an entire county, teeming with people, who fled the nearby city due to forced racial busing. Before that it was farmland and woods.

    • care4mn

      This statement totally neglects to consider that less than 3% of the Continental US landscape is urbanized. Many who “fled the city” did so to have clean air, a yard, room for children to play and to be away from city smells. Even a bakery stinks if you must live with the odors wafting through the neighborhood daily.

      • gringott

        Yet the migration did not happen until racial busing. All the other factors were in place before “white flight”. Your comment may reflect why some fled the cities [whites] but it certainly does not make “white flight” disappear. It is a historical fact.

  • Praetor

    Sorry, I live in the boonies. When neighbors shot their weapons, the sound takes a few seconds to reach my house, and there has been a lot more shooting going on of late.

    Cities are just experiments in command and control. The burbs are just places for those who work in the command and control center. For sometime the burbs is where the middle class once lived, now they live on a wing and a prayer. When the economy goes down, the burbs will go down hard and won’t survive.

    I once lived in the burbs!!!

    • NietzschesNephew

      it will change and morph, with no one to inspect properties, those 1/4 and 1/2 acre lots will become experiments in high density food and energy production with efficient decentralized solar wind energy pumping water for aquaponics and whatnot. heres to good neighbors!

    • Pseudo Arch

      I’m 23, almost 24, and I’ve spent about each half of my life either in a suburb or rural community. As of now, I’m at about the “halfway” point between the two, in a wooded sub-suburban area with plenty of room, surrounded by home-businesses yet only about 45 minutes from downtown Houston, Texas.

      I say this because, from my perspective, there are lots of different kinds of suburbs. The majority are “typical” and soulless, however many located between the outer city limits and “farm country” are extremely nice to live in.
      Sure, the roads aren’t the best, but you’re close enough to the city to benefit from it, while far enough away to be able to hear yourself think.

  • care4mn

    I respectfully disagree with the premise of this article. in my training and experience suburban living can and should allow growing vegetables, raising chicken, and the owners own fruit trees. Much is made these days of eating locally. How much more local can it be than your own yard? The suburbs can certainly be better designed. Getting rid of zoning laws is a good start. Modern technology and incredible telecommunications make it much easier to work where you are making a central office less important. Suburban city planning guidelines are ridiculously restrictive. The concept of planning is perhaps the most insidious way to prevent property ownership and use by the owner

    • mary

      Except that the suburbs are often run by a bunch of maniacal busy bodies who won’t let you have a garden, or chickens. You have to have a perfectly manicured blue grass lawn or the zoning cops come to get you. Agreed, zoning has to go.

      • Exactly.

      • L_W

        Or a clothesline.
        Many also restrict building materials (not for safety but aesthetics), for example there are some that require 75% brick exterior and similar.
        It’s really absurd.
        On the other hand, there is a thing such as “community standards” which the SC has upheld, meaning people can decide standards for their own community, town, etc.

      • bonnie12

        Usually those rules come as a covenant within an individual suburban development, not as townwide regulations. The solution is to refuse to buy properties in developments that have rules like that – there are always plenty of other, unencumbered houses around. Voting with the pocketbook has worked well for getting a variety of egg choices in supermarkets – it should work also with houses.

        • gringott

          I have no problem with suburban developments that have a HOA or covenant, I call them “suckerburbs”. I just chose not to live in one.

      • care4mn

        Unfortunately, we learned this the hard way. We bought a home in an older first ring suburb of a large city without thinking to review the City Codes (all 12,000+ pages of them). After moving in we learned that we now needed an annual boarding license for our three indoor cats. The limit for household pets being two. We could not store my husband’s project car on our own property and could not leave a vehicle parked on the street overnight without a special permit. There were a number of other issues. Turns out the City Code having not been seriously updated since being written had all kinds of outdated items that create costs to the taxpayer from special permits and licenses to fines and fees.
        Last year I was invited to participate in a City Code Review Task Force. Our group is currently about 75% through reviewing the Code line by line and making recommendations to remove outdated codes, correct language and grammar, and organize the document to much more consumer user friendly. The former leadership regimes of the city did not see the need to do more than fix a problem code after someone complained and could prove that the code was applied in error. We have in fact chosen not to buy in a covenanted development or one with a Home Owners Association. We thought by buying a house built in the 1950’s it would be unencumbered, unfortunately they are few and far from readily available.

    • Without zoning, large-track suburbs would likely collapse.

      • care4mn

        That is a part of my point. Give property owners the freedom to develop and live with self reliance. We already see the inability for government local to federal to maintain infrastructure they have planned and constructed. On the one hand every type of development is currently so regulated that there is little to no opportunity to creatively develop a home business, a sharing garden or proffessional home business.

        • bonnie12

          A lot of towns are now deregulating by passing ordinances allowing home businesses and “right to farm” laws.

          • care4mn

            A step in the right direction.

          • NietzschesNephew

            good stuff

      • bonnie12

        I doubt that very much. As I said before, people will always prefer grass and trees to cement and crowds, even if it has to come along with some inconveniences like a longer drive to the grocery store and to work. And, anyway, when I lived in the city (which I hated doing), grocery stores were even further away and harder to get to than they were when I lived in the suburbs, and now that I live in the country (a state of being toward which I have striven my entire life) it turns out that there are plenty of grocery stores there, too.

    • L_W

      Absolutely.
      Zoning restricts choice.
      The aim should be for greater choices, not fewer.

  • bonnie12

    For once, I disagree with you. It doesn’t matter how many incentives you make, you’re never going to persuade most people to prefer cement and skyscrapers and traffic to grass and trees and birdsong. And that’s a good thing. It shows that the human race hasn’t grown away from its roots and still gravitates toward healthy, natural choices. That said, I think we are generally better off with fewer zoning regulations, because they can so easily be perverted to bad ideologies. The control freaks, who represent only a tiny minority but have conned themselves into thinking they know better than everyone else, are now trying to force an unnatural conception of how to live on everyone else by bending the regulations to force us to live closer together against our will. If more people stood up at public meetings and said that, we’d be better off.

    • We didn’t mean to suggest just city living. There’s country living as well. Suburbs seem a wholly artificial environment.

      • akaGaGa

        Hogwash.

        “Cities, with their mixed panoramas and varied resources are far more
        attractive and stimulating than the airless homogeneity of suburban
        life.”

        This country mouse prefers breathing air that has been filtered by tree leaves, listening to sounds made only by nature, and looking at things that were not made by man.

        The last time I was in NYC was for Operation Sail 2000. I stood, with multitudes of others, in Battery Park as we watched a stealth bomber do a fly-by right over our heads, and was dumbstruck at the spontaneous applause. I rest my case.

        • We were presenting a young person’s point of view. We should have clarified further …

          • NietzschesNephew

            almost seemed like a meme pushing centralization, are you setting up the ski ramp in the shark tank?

    • Arationofreason

      Urbanization, the local equivalent of globalization.

      • GuestAug27

        Well, some cities are more livable (for example, more green spaces per dweller) than others.

        The real question is what is a fair way of utilizing the space we have available. There are close to 8 billion people on the planet. Can we really have every family (including the ones in China, India, and Africa) living on half acre of private land dedicated to their own use? If we do that, will there be enough land for (healthy) food production and enough (non-polluting) energy to move all these people around so that they can interact with each other when they have to or want to?

        Or are we going to say we (in the U.S. and the rest of the “First World”) are special (better?) therefore we are entitled to a much bigger share of the Earth’s resources (land and energy) than anybody else, and we’ll make damn sure we’ll get it even if it means spending $1 trillion/year on “defense”?

  • GuestAug27

    Suburbs are totally unstainable and would not exist if gasoline was $15/gallon. Gasoline is $2.50 because it is subsidized by the U.S. military budget ($1 trillion/year) which is primarily dedicated to securing cheap energy. Without this subsidy, most people would live and work in cities surrounded by farmland supplying them with locally-produced food. Check out the Venus Project https://www.thevenusproject.com/

    • NietzschesNephew

      centralization? go home youre drunk

      • GuestAug27

        What we have now is centralization. Here in New England, we get food from a few sources in mid-West, California, Mexico, and Latin America. Where do are carbon-based fuels come from? Again, from a few very distant, centralized sources. How vulnerable is that to a disruption. On the contrary, local food production is de-centralization as is local energy production from renewable sources.

        • NietzschesNephew

          The venus project is NOT voluntary, its a forced society, you’re advocating something abhorrent to freedom

          • GuestAug27

            Hmm … There are many freedoms. Which freedom(s) that we do have now you think we would not have under the Venus project?

          • NietzschesNephew

            The freedom to opt out of your centrally planned totalitarian nightmare and live in the woods, if I choose. Your model relies on coercion, despicable! Venus project sounds good to people who dont know better, but looking at the rubber hitting the road, it is a socialist nightmare homogenizing ideas and people. What happens the people who dont want your vision? what has happened to any who oppose socialist movements?

          • GuestAug27

            I don’t see any contradiction between the goals of the Venus project and your desire to live in the woods. Please explain.

            As to the centrally-planned, totalitarian nightmare that homogenizes people and ideas, that sounds very much like what I see around me. Just look at all that central planning goes into running a large corporation such as Google, Apple, McDonalds, Shell, or Bank of America.

            And how voluntary is all that? If you don’t give them 50 hours of your time every week, you starve (or live in the woods). And most people’s ideas have been so homogenized that they cannot even imagine wanting something different.

          • NietzschesNephew

            The current system will fall apart, new local ones will take the place, they will grow organically….as for your system, you are being disingenuous, the UN endorsement on your webpage tells me all I need to know.
            I dont have time or inclination to keep this going. Good luck peddling this rehashed totalitarianism, I want nothing to do with it

          • GuestAug27

            I understand the lack of time and inclination 😉 Could you at least tell me the address of the web page with the UN endorsement. I’d like to check it out. Thanks.

          • NietzschesNephew

            its on the link you posted, at the bottom

            guess you dont vet the links you share?

          • GuestAug27

            Damn! You are right. I missed it. The evil United Nations just gave 100-year old Jacque Fresco an award for “city design” and a life dedicated to finding better ways for people to live. You can read more about it here https://www.thevenusproject.com/united-nations-award-given-jacque-fresco-city-designcommunity/

          • GuestAug27

            You said something about the UN endorsement in a comment that has disappeared since then. Do me a favor and tell me where you saw the UN endorsement. I’d like to check it out.

  • Don Duncan

    “People should be allowed…” ?
    If people wait for permission to live their lives, they will remain slaves.
    When superstition is dominant in a society, it kills, it destroys the will to live, especially the belief in institutionalized violence found in all nations. When replaced with a respect for individualism, for rights, humanity will finally have freed itself. Then, and only then can it truly be called civilized. We have nothing to fear from the resulting peace & prosperity.

    • Pseudo Arch

      You are absolutely bonkers if you think we’re at all close to a point at which radical individualism is a sustainable choice.

      • Don Duncan

        1. Point out where I said we were close. 2. What do you think has to happen before “we” are ready? I have been ready all my life, 74 years. I am a born skeptic. I questioned the “Santa Myth” at 4, the “Tooth Fairy Myth” at 7 (as soon as it was sprung on me). And I questioned the “God Myth” at 8, taking 3 months to think about it, hearing only one side at Sunday School, I firmly rejected it. I began to see how prevalent superstition was, being the only atheist, except for my father (who did not influence me in the least because he told me it was too big a decision to be made under duress).
        I soon began to wonder (at 9 or 10) if I was from another planet, another species. No one seemed influenced by rational argument. No one wanted to debate their “faith” as soon as they began to lose. I didn’t know why. Now I know I had chosen reason as my means to truth, not following the crowd, not accepting the threat by authority to “believe or suffer”. I was always calmly, passively, but firmly insistent that my argument be refuted by reason, not force. Others, did not seem to respect the facts, only the social “fact” of traditional belief.

        I view individualism as necessary to survival. But it is a choice. One can reject self direction, self determination. One cannot avoid the consequences, which 100s of millions of soldiers and other collectivists have died proving. Going along to get along will get you killed quicker than “the road not traveled”, and it’s no challenge.

        • Pseudo Arch

          I can understand your position, as you grew up in a time before we were as connected as we are now. However, these days people don’t have to retreat inwards simply because they’re surrounded by morons. With the internet and cell phones the world practically forgets anyone that isn’t plugged in 😛

          But yeah, individualism in the way Satre would describe it is something we should ALL choose.

  • rahrog

    movin to the country
    gonna eat a lot of peaches

  • Sydney

    Thank You for another excellent article. This is truly profound insight into the deliberate ways the social engineers not only dumb use down but promote helplessness. I have been surfing the web for years and can say confidently true and significant insight is routinely found at the Daily Bell. Thank You for a great website!

    • Very kind, thanks.

    • Arationofreason

      If people desire to live in ‘efficient’ cities, who is stopping them?

  • Hippity

    Taxes aren’t any higher in the burbs than the cities. At least, we suburbanites don’t have to live with blighted slums.

    • nailheadtom

      The expansion of suburbs leads to the slum phenomenon in the cities. In many larger cities the inner ring suburbs are becoming the next slums.

  • Burticus

    Poorly conceived and written article, not worthy of the Daily Bell.

    Though I agree that gubmint zoning and artificial abundance/scarcity have interfered in many ways with free market decisions, I certainly don’t want a hawg farm or “borrow pit” next door (or have to sue them, then collect compensation for my loss).

    Attributing population patterns solely to zoning is absurd. For eons, trading centers always melted into supporting suburban and rural farming/ranching/hunting areas of reduced population density. Regarding “cities,” I get a weird feeling (like the Waterworld aquaman on land) when I visit a big cement jungle, totally dependent on the outside world for everything, and wonder “How TF can people live like this?!”

    One can live in a nice suburban compound with big farm-able fenced yard with big dog in the county, a few blocks outside the bureaucratic “city limits,” surrounded by stores and schools and few cullerds, a half hour drive from ocean, woods and urban center (supporting big business where you can make a $#!+load of money), living comfortably and not like hardscrabble farmer or an ant like you city slickers.

    • See our comments below. Large-scale suburban grids are not historical. Cities melted into town and then agrarian/rural area … not vast tracks of houses only. Part of it had to do initially with public transportation but the intrusion of cars and trucks caused nationwide zoning that forbid businesses and dwellings in close proximity. Builders love suburbs, btw.

      ———————————————————————————-

      Here is a further commentary on zoning and suburbs confirming our perspective:

      https://www.nap.edu/read/6038/chapter/9#151

      Are American metropolitan areas too spread out? I think the answer is yes. Virtually every measure of metropolitan density indicates that U.S. cities are more spread out than those of the rest of the world (Mieszkowski and Mills, 1993:136). Much of American suburbanization can be accounted for by more-or-less market-driven factors, and there is a smattering of evidence that some other countries’ metropolitan areas could use some additional suburbanization. These qualifications notwithstanding, I maintain that the peculiarly American system of local land use controls contributes considerably to sprawl.

      • L_W

        If people who choose suburban living had to pay the full cost of that system, it would not be affordable. It should be purely an economic decision, but the economics should be real, not fake

        • care4mn

          There is a term to describe what has happened in that suburbs require infrastructure investments that are expensive and reduce the productive value of the land they occupy. Many suburban areas cannot pay for operations and maintenance of current infrastructure out of property taxes, yet continue to add new projects rather than improving the productivity of existing land use. We need a complete change of thinking. There are potential property tax dollars lost whenever land is used for public buildings, parks, environmental reserves. Is yet another stadium, library, or colossal city center development really the best and wisest use of land?

          • Arationofreason

            Who then is paying for it? The suburban property is the most expensive and taxed accordingly.

          • care4mn

            I disagree, we pay franchise fees, special assessments, increased fees for services and increased regulations requiring permits and licenses. Annual renewal of licenses, fines for code violations that can escalate to over 100% of the original fine very quickly. Each day that the violation exists after citation and notice is given is treated as a separate offense. Property taxes cannot be decoupled from sound fiscal spending as they have been. When was the last time any unit of government conducted a cost/benefit analysis?
            .

      • care4mn

        This is a legacy of the sheer size of the United States. We have room to allow our cities to have suburbs and choices about where and how we live. This is certainly not true of Europe or most of Asia.

      • Arationofreason

        yes, and other than requiring additional transportation sprawl is a good thing at least it is desired by the people who live it. What better measure of the value of suburbia can there be?

      • SayItLikeItIs

        Actually, I hate to disappoint you, but the UK provides the suburban template in the Victorian era.
        Leafy parts of Hull to the north of the city, Southampton is the same, and in Liverpool they would get a short ferry ride across the Mersea (20mins max) as steam power came on line. To this day, the Merseaside is the ultimate in suburbia, albeit mixed with delcine

  • L_W

    Suburbs are popular. A large number of people like living in them.
    I do not see why we cannot have all kinds of housing choices, urban, suburban, exurban, rural … not make it a war between city vs suburb.
    What the hell is wrong with choice?

  • digriff

    Cities are the absolute sewer of the human race, and I regard their dwellers as the sewer rats. The Suburbs are better, the rural area’s the best. I would love to see all cities surrounded by high walls with gates to control entrance and exit. That way, the rats can stay in their nest and not infest the rest of America.

    • Pseudo Arch

      Can you define your idea of what a suburb is for me?
      I know what the official definition is, but I want to know what you personally would define it as

  • Hanzo

    The author of this drivel is a nutbag, period. What a waste of my time this site appears to be.

    • Why? Because zoning doesn’t drive suburbs? We disagree.

      • Hanzo

        No, because suburbs are the social backbone of civilized society, wether you like it or not.

        • Suburbs are built by force. We prefer not to take that position sorry.

          • Hanzo

            Oy. Suburbs are a result of population growth and economic mobility, starting after WW2.

          • You need to read up on zoning.

          • Hanzo

            You need to read up on history. How old are you?

          • Old enough to Google “suburbs” and “zoning.”

          • Hanzo

            Right. Your 1st reply to me, “Suburbs are built by force.” Sorry, that fatuous statement devoid of reason or proof says it all. The underlying theme of your inane drivel is conjecture.

      • Wong Saang Fu

        Suburbs were places where people could escape the hellholes of inner cities, under the domination of corrupt and uncaring governments, and see that their families were away from the crime they were escaping, even if they had to go in and work among it. Note that suburban crime increases when rent subsidies (Section 8) are expanded to cover scattering the criminals among their targets.

  • Wade House

    “Cities, with their mixed panoramas and varied resources are far more attractive and stimulating than the airless homogeneity of suburban life.”

    Really? Are you guys kidding? Who wrote this piece? Are they a Communist or something? I’d love to find out so I can check out their background.

    CITIES ARE SEWERS!!! The are literally; Giant Slave Camps!

    “mixed panoramas” Pot holes, bums, the home-less, street-crime, me-first mentality, pollution, smog, petro-smell, blight, regular break-in’s, noise, sirens, fear, etc. etc.

    “varied resources” get in line and wait, bad attitudes, cronyism, begging city officials to do something about this and that, etc. etc.

    I’ve lived in both places and pretty much hate the city. Many people hate the city. Have you ever seen the early and mad dash to leave a city after work or before the weekend?

    The quieter and far more beautiful suburbs are where it’s at. There you will get your true “mixed panoramas” of large amounts of beautiful woods, lakes, ponds, flowers, birds, squirrels, deer, etc.

    Or you can trade all that for Roaches and Rats!

    Like I said, who wrote this? I would like to know. I don’t want to blame the entire DB Staff for this tripe…I mean article.

    CITIES SUCK! LONG LIVE THE SUBURBS!

    BTW: City stands for Polis, as in metropolis. Polis is the root word of Policy.
    Let me spell it differently…Po-li-ce or Po-lice.

    Cities are slave/worker camps to accomplish the POILCY of others. They sure aren’t created to serve the Policy of the citizens.

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