Suburbia Isn’t Exportable

May 3, 2011

From the standpoint of resources, to replicate the standard of living of the American middle class with its sprawling suburbia is not feasible, no matter how desirable. We would need something on the order of 10 more planets to sustain such a lifestyle globally.

Most residents of Tokyo are considered middle-class. Forgetting for the moment the rest of Asia, what would happen if they were able to expand from their small apartments to American-style single-family homes?

To go from 1,000 square feet (93 square meters) to 2,000 square feet would mean to double the materials for construction, double the energy to heat or cool and double the amount of things – furnishings, appliances and electronics – to fill the space. To move further out into the countryside and find space for expansion would destroy agricultural land and in turn create the need for new infrastructure – roads, power lines, telecommunications – that would have to extend to feed this parasitic habitat.

Spacing ourselves out and filling in the space with things in the American manner is terribly costly to society and to the environment. For society, it tells us that happiness coincides with super-affluence, with the act of consumption rather than the art of living.”

– Paolo Soleri, the Italian architect and urban theorist quoted in new Perspectives Quarterly (Los Angeles).

I clipped this from the newspaper about 10 years ago. I keep it on a bulletin board in my office and read it every few months. While I’d rather concentrate on how amazing urban living is and it’s benefits rather than ragging on suburbia, he makes some good points. I do feel like many of us are all finally starting to catch on her in the US and I’m excited about what this is going to mean for cities – and my City in particular.