Too Rich

Mack has an interesting post about an incident where somebody left their minivan running for over 60 minutes at WalMart.  Lots has been said about this at his place and at MCB. But everybody (including Mack, interestingly) is ignoring the subtext of the post, and the conclusions drawn. He links to an article that lambasts “suburban sprawl”, suburbia, and suburbanites.  Mack seems to agree with the original article.

The irony is so rich you could almost cut it with a knife.

I am a suburbanite. The suburban life is all I’ve ever known.

I have been reading about this subject for years.  Now, the article Mack linked to was high-brow, and lacked some of the usual invective we see aimed toward suburbia and suburbanites.  Yet the subtext is there for all to see:

Suburbanites are to the far left what illegal immigrants are to the far right. 

  • Instead of streaming across the border, we are spreading into the countryside.
  • We are ruining the American (and world’s) way of life.
  • Instead of the right complaining about 12 to a house, the left complains about 1 to a car.
  • Both groups are described like spreading vermin.
  • We (suburbanites) must turn aside from our own culture, and adopt the “right” culture to save America.
  • The left looks down upon our stores, our restaurants, our entertainment, our purchases, our voting patterns. We need to be more like them, and then maybe we’ll be accepted.
  • The left sees this country as their birthright, and “we” are taking it away, and must be stopped.
  • We are generally unclean (driving SUVs) and make a mess of things (global warming).
  • Instead of a wall, “smart planning”, restrictionist coding, etc are what’s advocated to keep “us” from advancing.

I was raised in suburbia.  It’s all I’ve ever known.  The commute, the multiplex, the mall, WalMart are all part of my “culture”.  Many of the left consider themselves multiculturalists; we must accept others as they are, the argument goes, and not make anyone feel bad because they are different.  Demands of assimilation are totally out of  bounds.

I wish they’d apply their own standard to suburbanites.  After all, our strength is our diversity.

Edited to Add: In no way do I wish to convey that Mack, personally, has made these arguments.  This post is a refutation of many arguments I have heard through the years.  Mack’s post just got me going.  Except for being like, a liberal, Mack is an all-around cool dude.  Sorry I gave the wrong impression

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39 Responses to “Too Rich”

  1. Number9 Says:

    James Kunstler is a world renowned idiot. He thought Y2K would be the end. He is a peak oil acolyte. He believes that people should live in cities and cows should live in the country. He is a totalitarian. And of course he thinks Global Warming is the greatest movement since Y2K.

    Yet somehow the weak minded lap up his drivel. He is the author of “Clusterfuck Nation”. Don’t buy it. Read the reviews. It’s only purpose is humor.

    This is what Krazy Kunstler used to believe:

    http://peakoildebunked.blogspot.com/2006/05/305-kunstler-thought-y2k-was-end-of.html

  2. Mack Says:

    Slarti, it boils down to whether or not the surburban lifestyle is sustainable, long term. Just because it’s all you’ve ever known, doesn’t mean it will be all your children ever know. Fuel costs, heating and cooling costs, material costs, etc, may well prove to be overwhelming factors in the way we plan cities of the future. The thrust of the article was: It is ridiculous to assume it’s the right way to live, simply because we chose it.

  3. Ginger Says:

    Slarti, my brother and friend…I left this comment over at MCB, cuz I really want to understand…

    I STILL do not understand how you can think that wasting that much gas and putting that much pollution into the air could possibly be worth arguing about.

    How do you justify wishing that we would be better stewards of our resources as elitism.

    Even the God of the Bible — our Christian God — who I believe in, by the way– asks us to be good stewards of what He has blessed us with.

    I would think this would be a no-brainer.

  4. Number9 Says:

    It is ridiculous to assume it’s the right way to live, simply because we chose it.

    And who should be the decider? People like you? Be honest, you hate rich people. You want to take what they have and play Robin Hood. You assert your motives are pure, all totalitarians assert they are pure. It is about control.

    We have had the Kunstler discussion in Knoxville. One of my favorite anti-Kunstler posts:

    http://www.knoxpatch.com/?p=322

  5. Mr. Mack Says:

    You have had (A) kunstler discussion, not THE Kunstler discussion.

    Hate rich people? By most measures, I am one of them. In fact, by world standards, I live better than 99% of the world’s population. So do about 300 Million of us.

    Control? You keep whining about being controlled. If there is a 5 gallon bucket of water we all drink from, and we look down and notice that 4 gallons are already consumed, am I controlling you by pointing it out?

  6. Ginger Says:

    How DARE you call me a totalitarian. Have you been in a Communist country, #9? I have. In early 1989. I have seen first hand what it means for the all mighty government to control utilities. I stayed with a family in Prague who by the standards of their residents, was actually more well-off, because the father was the symphony conductor of the national symphony. I was staying there when the govermnment decided to turn off the water…just to turn it off because they, on a whim, decided to.

    So don’t call me a totalitarian. You have no right.

  7. Slartibartfast Says:

    Ginger,Mack & 9:

    I was very careful to keep my argument to a cultural one. I am not for wasting gas, or anything else.

    Of course, I’m a conservationist. I happen to disagree with Mack that the suburban lifestyle cannot be reconciled with planet sustainability. I’m not yet so old that I think what “is” is all there will ever be.

    I talk a lot about the “kid in the basement”. We suffer from a lack of imagination. Laugh at this if you will, but Walt Disney had a vision of a suburbia that was self-sustaining and beautiful. We need a few more dreamers with (science and civil engineering degrees) to perfect things like the monorail and the people-mover.

    I’ll say it again, what IS is not all that will ever be. Instead of writing off suburbia, we need to be encouriging young people to think of ways to improve it (without getting rid f it entirely).

    But mostly, I was having a little fun with wordplay 🙂

  8. Number9 Says:

    Ginger, did you write, “It is ridiculous to assume it’s the right way to live, simply because we chose it”?

    No, you didn’t. Reading, it is fundamental. Try it.

  9. Slartibartfast Says:

    9 – I could be wrong, but I took what Ginger wrote in a Christian context.

    We Christians are always asking ourselves “How then, shall we live?”

  10. Kate O' Says:

    The anti-immigrant rhetoric is, by and large, pointed at the individuals; the anti-suburban sprawl rhetoric is, by and large, more abstract, and heavily directed at the corporate motives and cultural motives that dictate sprawling megastores, sprawling housing developments, sprawling multi-lane highways, sprawling malls, and so on.

    I was raised in the suburbs, too, but in spite of my adolescent antipathy towards it, I came to realize my hometown was at least a planned community and actually had a lot of residential advantages newly sprawling suburbs miss out on, such as walkable destinations, old-growth parks and forest preserves with hike and bike trails, a downtown core built around an outdoor shopping center — again, with sidewalks and pedestrian lanes to encourage walking and biking, and so on.

    Many, if not most, suburbs start with no such plan. They evolve as areas of greater population density start to sprawl, where people flee the costs and chaos of the inner city and move gradually farther and farther out, bringing with them the demand for goods and services. Mind you, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with demand for goods and services. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with moving away from the city. I am saying that many of the problems in sustainability seem to come from the sprawl — or organic growth, if you prefer a less negatively loaded term for it — into these areas, meaning that the population growth is gradual and there is little opportunity for planning.

    I actually had great opportunity to witness this in action, as my mother was, until recently, the CEO of a chamber of commerce that served several towns, all suburbs, including my hometown. Some of those towns were experiencing sprawl, and I watched many opportunities arise for these towns to develop proactively, but it was rare that they did so. When a Wal-Mart or Target is looking to set up a new store in a nearby field that hardly anyone’s been paying attention to, that is an opportunity for the townspeople to come together and ask what it will mean. I’m not saying they should necessarily reject it outright, but there are guidelines for the development that may be relevant, and there may be infrastructure, such as sidewalks, bus routes, etc, that it may make sense to invest in simultaneously.

    And here’s where it DOES come back to the people, because sadly, for whatever reason, in the suburbs I’m familiar with, the townspeople seem not to care all that much about good planning. And honestly, in the majority of suburbs, that attitude really shows.

  11. Ginger Says:

    You assert your motives are pure, all totalitarians assert they are pure. It is about control.

    I can read quite well, #9. I was on the Dean’s List in my undergrad studies at University for a reason. But I digress…when you use the word “all” it implies to me that you assume all who are on the opposite side from you in this debate are totalitarian.

    So there.

  12. Number9 Says:

    I’ll say it again, what IS is not all that will ever be. Instead of writing off suburbia, we need to be encouraging young people to think of ways to improve it (without getting rid f it entirely).

    This country could not “get rid” of suburbia if it was a top priority. Where would you put the people? In the cities? Kunstler’s ideas are fantasy. Do you want to live in Mexico City? Or São Paulo?

    Suburbia is here to stay. What Kunstler and his gang want to do is subsidize cities with taxes from suburbia. He also wants to turn suburbia into urban centers. People chose suburbia because they wish to live in a low density area, even if they have to drive to get groceries. Kunstler envisions high density with a store on every corner. Unless that store is a Walmart, it won’t happen.

    Developers love Kunstler. He gives them the excuse to build 7 houses per acre. They love it. The problem is high density overwhelms schools, roads, utilities, stormwater, and sewers. You end up with higher taxes and a lower quality of living. If you care at all about clean air and water you will oppose the Kunstler gang. John Stossel deconstructed Krazy Kunstler on more than one occasion.

    http://www.citizenreviewonline.org/jan2005/29/stossel.htm

  13. Mack Says:

    Slarti, I am not advocating we ‘scrap it.” Thats the thing, man, until we get people like #9 to admit we have serious problems looming, we will never unleash our collective imaginations to ward off what looks like a resource catastrophe. Nay sayers would rather point to something shiny (individual liberty!) than help us toward a manageable way of cooperating with the earth.

    A religion, huh? You mean like the free-marketers?

  14. Mack Says:

    John Stossel! I’ll be laughing my shapely ass off all day over that! hAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

  15. Ginger Says:

    And here’s where it DOES come back to the people, because sadly, for whatever reason, in the suburbs I’m familiar with, the townspeople seem not to care all that much about good planning.

    Case in point: La Vergne, TN

  16. Number9 Says:

    Thats the thing, man, until we get people like #9 to admit we have serious problems looming,

    Planning is the answer. Ever done any? Kunstler’s ideas hurt neighborhoods. You can have walkable planned communities without having high density. Some of these communities have high density at an urban core, which is no problem. The problem occurs when the high density spreads out horizontally. It is pretty simple, don’t do what Atlanta did.

    In Knoxville we are doing exactly what Atlanta did. The result? Higher taxes and reduced quality of life. In Knox County people are resisting the high density mantra. It is hard work. It cost money. Have any of you tried to stop a development or change one? Just curious.

  17. Slartibartfast Says:

    Nine, (I always get confused whether or not I should spell it out) – that’s my original point; put me in either an urban or rural situation, and I’d be miserable. Oh, I’d adapt, like all people do, but I mostly wanted to point out that we our now into a generation for whom suburbia is their native culture.

    I do think that a combination of market forces and government bully-pulpiting (I made up a word!) can lead us to a sustainable suburbia. I don’t advocate government fiat, because, being a former government worker, I know that being a civil servant saps all creativity and imagination out of a person. I would not trust government planners to design a locality, at least a vibrant, dynamic one. I WOULD trust them to commission it, though.

    When I say that market forces could play a part, I look to Atlanta. Is there anyone in Atlanta who is not miserable with the traffic? Do you not doubt that within the next ten years, the greater Atlanta area will lose population due to their poor planning, because people just can’t live that way for vvery long? I believe that when places become unbearable to live in, people move. This is the old “invisible hand” speaking.

    The best example of this phenomenon? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Detroit.

  18. Aunt B. Says:

    Amen, Kate. And I just don’t think it’s fair to compare suburban Nashville to suburban, say, Chicago. Very few folks live in, say, Jackson or Clarksville and commute to Nashville, but in bigger cities, that would seem within the realm of possibility and a lot of folks would.

    Also, how we choose to live, as Kate points out, is not without consequence, even if we choose not to weigh it. For instance, Chicago itself is sitting on what used to be a swamp. Fine. But the suburbs, which stretch out for sixty, seventy, eighty miles (including exurbia) in all directions are sitting on some of the best topsoil in the world, prime farm land we’re doing without so that folks can have their McMansions.

  19. Volunteer Voters » Mirror Image Says:

    […] Shoot the Moose comes at you with an extremely insightful observation: Suburbanites are to the far left what illegal immigrants are to the far right. Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. […]

  20. Aunt B. Says:

    Slarti, Detroit is what it is because white people abandoned it because they didn’t want to have to live with black people. I don’t see how that’s really germane to the conversation.

  21. Slartibartfast Says:

    B, I look at Detroit as a market case in point. Southerners, including blacks, streamed into Detroit in the early 20th century because, let’s face it, many places in the south were hell-holes (especially for blacks) at the time, and Henry Ford was doing some darn fine community planning at the time.

    Now, we can discuss the reasons for the exodus (I don’t totally argue the race angle), but in the eyes of those leaving, Detroit had become the hell-hole. Once again, when a place became unliveable (even if the reasons for that view were grounded in racism), the “market” went to work, and people left.

    That’s all I’m saying. If our communities become miserable places to live, it will sort itself out.

    Although Los Angeles kind of blows my theory, but perfect weather kind of throws a monkey wrench in the equation. 😉

  22. Number9 Says:

    9 – I could be wrong, but I took what Ginger wrote in a Christian context.

    We Christians are always asking ourselves “How then, shall we live?”

    If I misunderstood Ginger, then I am sorry. I did not read it that way. Christians lead by example. They also allow others to lead their lives without shaming them especially when those people are not breaking the law. A law saying you cannot use your property the way you want to is a sign of how bad this has become.

    I don’t expect to hear from someone if I answer a cell phone call in my car and keep the engine running so the AC will run. My car, my gas, my rights. But in Knoxville it is against the law. It is not against the law however to talk on the cell phone while driving. The political correctness of the Global Warming cult gets it wrong again.

    I have had one of the Birkenstock crowd stare me down because I am wasting gas after a twenty minute cell call in my temperature controlled car. When you work in the field the car is your office. I guess I am a planet killer. Will I ever learn?

    William the Pious of “Nashville Was Talking” drags his big boat around behind his big SUV and tells others they need to do more to save the planet. He probably has purchased carbon credits to ease his guilt. That is the way some people roll. Would you consider that to be elitist? Or just hypocritical?

  23. Slartibartfast Says:

    “William the Pious of “Nashville Was Talking”… ”

    I don’t care who you are, that’s funny.

  24. Ginger Says:

    They also allow others to lead their lives without shaming them especially when those people are not breaking the law.

    But #9, can’t you see where calling somebody an anarchist, totalitarian, socialist, jackass…etc…is shaming them?
    Just sayin’… 😦

  25. W Says:

    So what is the alternative to suburbia? 80% urban population and 20% in the country? 70% urban? Where’s the breakpoint? Cramming everyone into a high density area isn’t any more sustainable than sprawl. Just for different reasons.

    Suburbia is a lot more sustainable than a lot of you guys think. The problem is sustainable ain’t convienent. Look at the Music City Star. The potential for ridership there is great, but you have to wait for a train and can’t leave whenever you want. And you might have to walk from the station instead of parking by the door to your office.

    The only reason we don’t have a national network of monorails or whatever mass transit floats your boat is that it’s less convienent for the masses. People want control so they have a car.

    It’s also worth pointing out that from a developers point of view higher density is almost always better economicaly. That’s why houses that came with a 1/2 acre lot 30 years ago now come with 1/10 or 1/4 instead.

  26. Kate O' Says:

    The only reason we don’t have a national network of monorails or whatever mass transit floats your boat is that it’s less convienent for the masses. People want control so they have a car.

    No doubt there’s truth in that, W, but I don’t think the Music City Star is such a great example after all. A single train line is not the same as a reliable, interconnected network of train lines. A hub-and-spoke bus system, such as the one in Nashville, is not the same as a well-researched, well-planned system that can get riders where they need to go quickly and easily. When a mass transit system works, plenty of people use it. Look at New York, Chicago, Portland — anywhere with a strong mass transportation network. There’s ridership. In Nashville, at least, I just don’t think we have the data to confirm or deny the appeal of a mass transit system that actually works for the masses.

  27. Number9 Says:

    Cramming everyone into a high density area isn’t any more sustainable than sprawl. Just for different reasons.

    In the concrete jungle the traffic jam is first at the elevator, then the bus, then the subway, then a different elevator. Some people dig it. I don’t.

    I am perfectly happy in my car listening to some tunes even if the traffic is slow. I tried the other way and it wasn’t for me. When I did live in the concrete jungle I remember the Paul Simon song, “One mans ceiling is another mans floor.”

    Now I can grill a steak and my music doesn’t bother my neighbor while he grills his steak listening to his music. Not everyone digs the suburbs. The great thing is they can live in the city. I just don’t want to have to listen to how evil suburban life is. How the car is killing the planet. How sprawl is the great evil. Sprawl is sprawl whether it is vertical or horizontal.

    In Knoxville we have spent half a billion dollars to “save” downtown. We will spend another half a billion in the next 20 years. Giving subsidies to developers to build housing in places people don’t want to live is not sustainability. The Kunstler movement has many problems. That one billion dollars could have been spent in much better ways. It is the hypocrisy that gets to me. That, and the fact I have to pay for it too.

  28. Slartibartfast Says:

    Let me tell you, if there was a way to hop on a train and get to my place of employment when I needed to, I’d do it in a second. Just because I’d like to save my car for more important things, like driving to Washington, DC next year.

    But, we’d have to tear the city apart to make that happen, because even when the Music City Star starts running from Dickson, the closest stop will probably be miles away from my employer. To make it work would take a “real” in-town subway system. We are talking billions and billions of dollars, and quite a disruption to in town.

    Being in Boston, even with their very old subway system, made me envious. I could never live there, but I was jealous of the fact that a Bostonian can just hop on the subway any old time and get exactly where he needs to be.

    I really don’t know if that’s possible in Nashville, with its curvym meandering streets (outside of downtown). I think it’s worth a try.

    But, in the meantime like 9 said, the commute is just part of my life. Granted, it’s a 10 minute drive at 5:30 in the morning, but it’s a commute nonetheless.

  29. Kate O' Says:

    Yeah, Slarti, I think a good train system in Nashville would be heavily disruptive and is therefore probably pretty unrealistic. But I do think the bus system could use a heavy overhaul. With the right improvements, it could be nearly as effective and convenient as a train or light rail system.

  30. Aunt B. Says:

    We could put the trolleys back in. That would be cool. But making the buses more convenient would probably be cheaper and easier. Which brings up another point. If Nashville wants folks to live and work in the city, they have to have affordable housing in the city. Putting up a bunch of $300,000 condos is not affordable urban living.

    Plus, I still object to this idea that Slarti lives in the suburbs. Don’t you vote for Nashville’s mayor? How does that exclude you from being a Nashvillian? How is urban life in Nashville any different than suburban life?

  31. Slartibartfast Says:

    Plus, I still object to this idea that Slarti lives in the suburbs
    B, we were just discussing this at Volunteer Voters. Because of the whole history with the metropolitan government, it’s very hard to define just what the suburbs are in Nashville. Part of my definition is because I’m old 😉 , and remember when most of outer Davidson county was suburb, and the donut counties were just “the country” .

    Culturally, we’re suburban here in West Meade (at a little over an acre, I probably have a larger lot than most in Brentwood). Like I told Sean, I have a patio with built-in grill, a minivan, a (sort of) mall right down the road, and I commute into Nashville proper every day. Granted, it’s only a nine mile commute, but it’s not like I could hop on the bus and end up at Centennial Park in a few minutes.

    So, I guess I’m less evil than a Murfreesboro dweller who works in Nashville, but only by degrees 😉

    But, Nashville is one of the few cities in the country that has this dynamic of true suburbs within city limits, thanks to Beverly Briley.

    Putting up a bunch of $300,000 condos is not affordable urban living.

    Amen, sister!

  32. Ginger Says:

    Putting up a bunch of $300,000 condos is not affordable urban living.

    Amen, sister!

    Word. What the heck do these people do for a living?!?

  33. Mack Says:

    Ah, finally. KateO chimes in with sound ideas about how to plan suburbia, so #9 can no longer hijack the thread by making my original post about “individual liberties.”

    I merely pointed out the flaws in the system, and never once advocated that evryone live in the “city”.

    BTW, Slarti, I still look at clueless suburbanites as people. Really bad form to compare this PEOPLE that lack proper documentation to be somewhere. I should forward you some of my hatemail to read, particularly the ones that proclaim we are less intelligent, less industrious, and carry infectious diseases. Yup, seems on par with my post about spoiled people.

  34. Slartibartfast Says:

    Mack, after giving it some thought, it was unfair of me to use your post as a launching pad for some things that I’ve been wanting to say for a long time, based on things that were said by others (this goes all the way back to the early 90’s when the Scene started really pushing high-density housing).

    I realise the argument falls apart when we get down to the racial aspect of things, I just thought it was interesting (and a little humorous) that on a superficial level, the two lines of thinking are so similar.

    But I am sorry I associated that argument with your post, and thereby, with you. That wasn’t my intention.

  35. Music City Bloggers » Blog Archive » “Suburbanites are to the far left what illegal immigrants are to the far right” Says:

    […] voice from the wilderness suburbia – Slartibartfast – chimes in on the sustainable energy argument begun in the ‘A lady left her car running’ post below. Slarti speaks out for the […]

  36. Number9 Says:

    so #9 can no longer hijack the thread by making my original post about “individual liberties”

    Mack, how was it not about “individual liberties”?

    Couple things, I have a carbon footprint smaller than the average American with a home almost twice the size. I walk the walk on conservation. You miss my point, high density housing is not environmentally sound.

    I am a Classical Liberal, a modern Conservative, but more importantly a conservationist. A Teddy Roosevelt Republican. I am not a modern Republican. I am an Independent politically. I don’t fit the mold of anything you see often. My friends are mostly liberal. But not wacky Global Warming Western European socialist democrat liberal. I cannot spend much time with that crowd.

    Spend some time with urban planners and you will understand my concerns. You a good person. But you hit a little hard. You have to expect to get some of that back. Not everyone fits into the same size fits all mold you wish to put people into.

  37. Sarcastro Says:

    Pol Pot didn’t think the suburbs were a sustainable idea either.

  38. W Says:

    When a mass transit system works, plenty of people use it.
    Sure Kate, but the only way to get a mass transit system that works is to have plenty of people that use it. You can’t justify the expense unless you know the people will pay to use it.

  39. newscoma Says:

    When I was in Montreal, I used mass transit all the time. I am no economist, but I’m meeting more and more people who cannot afford transportation right now. As I live in a college town, the amount of students who have cars are dwindling and I’ve heard more than one of my interns say they are looking to move to a place with good transportation so they wouldn’t have to invest in a car.
    Just food for thought and an observation.


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