Hypocrisy writ large

David Owen’s new book is titled Green Metropolis. It argues that people living in densely populated cities, in many different ways, cause less stress on the environment than people living in spread-out suburbs, and he argues for all sorts of policy initiatives to push people into abandoning the suburbs and moving back downtown.

The book is reviewed in the September 13 N.Y. Times Book Review (click here for the review). The reviewer seems to think this is all very daring and new and thought-provoking, etc. But excuse me: new? Really? Haven’t we been hearing this kind of stuff, like, relentlessly over the last couple of decades? Anyone heard of James Howard Kunstler, among many others, writing to similar effect?

The problem with writers like Owen and Kunstler is that they seem to overlook one very salient point: people move to the suburbs because they like it. In fact, in an earlier era, this exact species of social critic was arguing against urban living with all its societal ills and in favor of all the benefits of suburbia. People like to have spacious homes instead of cramped apartments. They want some grass and gardens and not just asphalt. And so forth. Sure, there are some benefits of urban living they must give up; everything in life involves trade-offs. But people who live in the suburbs do so because they have evaluated those trade-offs and made rational choices.

Now here is the delicious kicker: where do you suppose David Owen himself lives? Yup – according to the review, “Owen and his wife . . . left Manhattan for a leafy Connecticut town more than 20 years ago.” In the concluding paragraph, the reviewer notes, “We all yearn for our own personal space, a little fresh air an elbow room. Owen doesn’t want to give up his charming but energy-inefficient house in rural Connecticut any more than I would (if I had one).”

Owen doesn’t want to give up his – but his book says everyone else should give up theirs.

3 Responses to “Hypocrisy writ large”

  1. Kurt Carson Says:

    Sounds like Gore and his multiple residences and SUVs.

  2. Hittman Says:

    This position also requires an enormous amount of ignorance about how cities function.

    In Chicago, a few blocks away from Oprah’s studios, you’ll find a neighborhood full of wholesale food warehouses. It’s about three blocks deep and a half dozen blocks long. Most of these warehouses are pretty ratty looking, both on the outside and the inside. Some sell meat, others sell produce, others sell restaurant supplies.

    Every morning, starting at 3-4 AM, the streets are jammed with delivery trucks belonging to small businessmen who sell food and supplies restaurants all over the city. The place is a hive of activity, and it’s a fascinating subculture.

    Everything in those warehouses came from outside the city, grown by farmers from all over the world. They were all shipped there by trucks and trains (and occasionally airplanes) so the delivery services could get it to the restaurants so the city dweller can have a snack or a meal at a greasy spoon or fine restaurant. And this immense “machinery” is in place just to keep restaurants stocked. Similar complex processes and subcultures make sure the retail stores are stocked, the streets are kept clear of snow and debris, the water keeps flowing from the tap and a thousand other things all keep ticking along to keep everyone inside the city happy and comfortable. (Here in New York State there are dozens of huge reservoirs that keep New York City supplied with water. Some are hundreds of miles away from The City.) Few of the millions of people enjoying these services know or care about what it takes to keep the city alive.

    Every large city has these warehouse neighborhoods – they need them to survive.

    The fact is cities are a huge drain on our resources, no matter how you twist and calculate the numbers. It would be far more energy efficient and earth friendly to live in smaller villages, only eating things that were grown locally, and not shipping in anything that wasn’t vital to our survival. Of course, then people like Owen’ would have to give up just about everything they enjoy.

  3. spoing Says:

    @hittman’s last paragraph is about the most sensible one I’ve read at this blog so far.

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