Commentary – Urban Hyper-density – Why Suburban Living is Evil and How You can Save the World by Moving into the City.

A Country of Cities; A Manifesto for an Urban America is a call for widespread urbanization.

In it, Vishaan Chakrabarti (associate Professor of Practice at Columbia and former Principal at SHoP Architects) presents a compelling argument for the spread of high density urbanism across the United States.

Chakrabarti quantifies the cost of suburban living in terms of the cost of roadways.

Chakrabarti juxtaposes the cost of subsidies for rail against the cost of highways making the case that high density living is a more equitable way to live.

We know that higher density dwellings mean lower carbon footprints, greater access to mass transit, higher availability of jobs and a reduced dependency on cars.

As a former city dweller (I lived in Jersey City for 38 years of my life) I am all too familiar with the pros and the cons of city living.  Now I live in the suburbs of Philadelphia and I have never been happier.

So as I listened to Chakrabarti tell me about the consequences of my chosen way of life, I wondered why more than 83% of Americans choose to live in suburbs.  I also wanted to understand why (according to Chakrabarti) suburban developments were on the rise around the world.

In an article posted  in July 2018 Psychologist Kevin Bennett discusses how city living is connected to almost 2.5 times more incidence of schizophrenia.  Bennett also states that urban living raises the risks of mood disorders by almost 40%.

Bennett tells us that, “The association between urbanicity and risk of schizophrenia has been documented in multiple studies”.  He goes on to state, “Greater levels of urbanicity, measured in overall population or density, are correlated with the incidence of schizophrenia”.

Bennett also shares that, “A meta-analysis of psychiatric disorders in rural vs. urban environments within developed countries found higher rates of mood and anxiety disorders in urbanized areas.”

Another article written in August 2013 by Emily Badger shares how society has changed as we migrated from rural living to urban centers.  Badger points to researcher Patricia Greenfield who has combined studies from psychology, sociology, and anthropology to show how this geographic shift has made human behavior more self centered.

Badger’s article entitled “200 years of Books Prove that City-Living Changes Our Psychology” states that Greenfield’s research spans a collection of over 1 Million books published between 1800 and 2000 which show the rising number of Americans (in terms of a percentage of population) migrating from rural housing into urban centers.

With this migration, Greenfield has tracked sociological changes in language and customs which point to a trend towards individualism.  Her research shows that with the rise in urban living our sense of community has declined.  Greenfield refers to this as “living in a crowd of individuals rather than a community of interdependent people“.

So who is right?

Frankly, it does not matter.

Above all else, I respect your right to choose how you live.

Moving my family out of the city into a rural suburb was a great decision for me.  Personally, I’m happier not dealing with the hustle and bustle of city living.  That is my personal choice.

For others, you may enjoy the ease and convenience of living in a city.  Perhaps you have communal ties you nurture and enjoy.  Maybe, having endless choices for where to go, what to eat, and where to work is exactly the environment for you.

In this article, all I hope to communicate is that when considering where to live, there is more to consider than economic benefit.

While Chakrabarti may be right to point to the American highway system as a form of subsidy for suburban living, he fails to consider other intangible benefits that affect our daily lives.

Having moved from a city to a suburb, I have noted a reduced sense of daily stress (which contributes to my psychological health).  I’ve also noted a stronger kinship and a more friendly vibe from the neighbors in my new community.

As a city dweller I never felt that way.

Of particular note is that Chakrabarti seems bent on promoting his ideals and pushing his agenda.  Why do we need “A Manifesto for Widespread Urbanism”?  Should there be a Manifesto for widespread Suburban Living?

If the point is to promote mass transit and “save” the environment, then perhaps we need to consider the whole picture.  Would the world actually be a better place if it were filled with manic depressive schizophrenic riding on trains?

Where do you live?  Do you prefer city living or is suburbia more your speed?  Tell me your stories.

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