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.