Most of my friends on social media are former students. They are all Millennials, and they are mostly unaware of my “hobby urbanism”. One of the uses of Facebook for me is observing what a fairly random sample of suburbanites comment, knowingly or otherwise, on issues I see as related to urbanism.
I must say, despite all of the media bluster to the contrary, there is no shift to an increased appreciation of cities. New York and Boston remain popular of course, but I cannot find and have not seen a single case of a former student voluntarily, which is to say without being obligated by financial necessity, choosing to live in a second tier urban environment. Not in Holyoke, or Springfield, Worcester, or Albany, not in Bridgeport, or Providence, or Bristol, or New Haven. They want to live in Glastonbury. They buy homes in Agawam. They love cars. They shop at Costco. They make fun of Hartford.
Three former students just in this last week posted about buying new homes. All of them in isolated, auto-centered, suburban locations. I didn’t see a single sidewalk in their photos. It is a non scientific sample to be sure, but I do not think the paradigm shift toward walkability will truly occur until it is thrust upon them as an obligation because sprawling auto-centeredness has become completely unaffordable. Does that mean $10 a gallon gasoline and home heating at 3 times what the cost it is now? Perhaps.
(It is pretty clear from the reduction in active oil rigs in the U.S. that today’s low gas prices will either lead to tomorrow’s ridiculously high gas prices or economic collapse. Whether that’s on a two year cycle, a five year cycle, or what, I do not know, but people cannot buy petroleum which hasn’t been extracted, and every unit of oil extracted at this stage is more expensive than the last, and that means that oil companies will not drill new more expensive wells unless they believe the return will exceed their investment.)
It’s so strange to witness this for me, by which I mean the continued popularity of suburban living. It’s like watching someone begging to do anything rather than make love to Kate Upton but willing to pay to have sex with an unattractive syphilitic prostitute.
When I see a neighborhood located miles from employment, schools, public space, shops, banks, a post office, or library without sidewalks or public transit, a place where every time anyone from that household wants to leave to do anything they will have to use a private automobile, I see a place without a future and people who will have to dedicate increasingly inordinate amounts of their income just to maintain the fantasy that this is a viable way of life.
They see “normal”.
My son-in-law has an opportunity for employment at this hospital located at the edge of a prosperous coastal town:
Or this one in a poor urban neighborhood in a much larger city:
I know that most fathers would place these three in precisely the reverse order I am going to recommend for the husband of my daughter. I will recommend choosing the job on the bus line, in the densely populated neighborhood, with sidewalks, within walking distance of shopping, a park, multiple schools, and restaurants. Furthermore I will recommend buying a home in this impoverished place.
It could be a difficult decision for them. Every indicator most young people have been trained to associate with prosperity, security, and societal health will lead them to take the job at the location surrounded by green space, and then buy a house as far away from the next house as possible; near nothing, and connected only by ribbons of asphalt to anything else. Convincing them that everything they’ve learned to see as bad is not only good, but the only way of life that has a future if they don’t plan to work the land would be a job for a wizard if it weren’t for the fact that my daughter has been raised to see things differently her whole life. I hope, for the sake of their future, they choose wisely.