Saturday, January 2, 2010

Still No Fat Lady Singing

Almost two years ago, after watching the documentary The End of Suburbia, I wrote and published a series of blog posts (which were later republished at in which I argued that the suburbs would not only NOT become future slums, but would become thriving, self-sufficient walkable communities - the very thing Kunstler says again and again that we need to build, only without the French-esque sidewalk cafes with their wrought tables and canvas awnings.

It's not so much that I wish the suburbs to continue to exist, but rather that since they are here, we should begin adapting them to fit into what will be our future. Kunstler says that the suburbs are the worst misallocation of resources in the history of mankind, and I won't disagree with him, except that, now that we have them here, I think abandoning them and building something new would be a worse sin than what we've already done in our rape and destruction of the landscape. If we abandon the suburbs, than all of the damage we have done will be for naught, and that would be a much greater tragedy, in my opinion.

That's the argument that I made two years ago, and the one that I still maintain two years later. We *can* and *should* modify our suburban landscapes to include microfarms and small businesses, and our suburban McMasions with our quarter-acre lots are perfect places for both.

I have a 1500 sq foot house, and I have a "nano"farm, complete with chickens, ducks and rabbits. I also have a home-based business. I'm a Virtual Assistant and a Notary Public. My house isn't large, but I do have a dedicated home office space.

In a low-energy future, my career as a VA will likely end (without a computer I can't do my job), but I can still serve my community as a Notary, and here in Maine, not only can I witness signatures, but I can also perform wedding ceremonies. In addition, I've always wanted to own a bookstore, and if I didn't need my "office" space for my computer set-up, it could be transformed into a bookstore. It even has it's very own door to the outside. Most suburban homes are larger than my house and have plenty of "extra" space that could be turned into any number of different businesses. We are only limited by our imaginations.

What's funny is that two years ago, I got a lot of flak in my comments section (when the posts were on this blog) about my vision. Many of the people who commented said, in essence, that my vision sounded lovely, but was impractical, and likely impossible with current zoning restrictions, to which I didn't disagree, entirely. The operative word here is current, and in our future, those zoning restrictions will be changed, or they will simply be ignored. We simply will not have the luxury of living apart from our work, like we do now.

In fact, the unemployment rate is between 10% and 20%, depending on the figures one believes, and the total number of cars on the road in 2009 was even lower than 2008 (remember that year with the $4 per gallon gasoline prices?). People just aren't driving anymore, some because they no longer commute due to being unemployed, others because they've had their cars repossessed when they spent the car payment money on things like food and housing, and others because, well, there's just no where to go these days with shopping as a hobby no longer an option. More folks are just staying home.

Home for approximately one-third of the US population is the suburbs.

So, here we are in 2010, and I said in 2008 that we should be staying in the suburbs and transforming them to fit our needs.

Apparently, I'm no longer the sole voice for saving the suburbs. There was a whole contest devoted to the redesigning of our suburbs, and the second place winner designed the type of suburb I described in my vision of our future suburbs.

I still think this is what we'll see in the future (without the night club or high end boutiques ... at least where I live, where we will, likely, opt for more practical businesses, like consignment shops, small grocers, repair shops, etc.), and while entrepreneurbia isn't my idea, I think it's very cool that the things I suggested we would see in our future have been fleshed out by someone else.

And to those people who nay-sayed against me ... well, the fat lady still isn't singing, although in my future, she may be the one hired to sing at the weddings I perform for my neighbors ;).


  1. Hey, Wendy, got a question for you/idea to kick around, related to beekeeping. But I don't seem to have an email address for you. Would you mind leaving it in a comment on my blog? I'll delete the post once I see it there, so your info won't be available long.

  2. I think that with a 10% unemployment rate that there is probably a small but significant number of people running businesses from their home. Because these business are functioning in the informal economy there is no measure. But it could be part of a natural evolution to entreprenurbia.