Why I'm an Urbanist

I think some blog readers believe that the opinions I've expressed here about urban policy and urban culture are beliefs that I've held my whole life. I think they want to believe that I was born and raised in Greenwich Village, that I've never driven a car, visited a big box strip-mall or seen a subdivision with my own eyes. It's convenient to think that I simply misunderstand something about suburban culture and life.

The truth is that I've probably spent more time residing in suburbs and living a suburban lifestyle than many of those who share a passion on urban topics.

I was born and raised in a suburb. The suburb, in fact, that is legally responsible for zoning laws that have haunted communities all over America. I grew up believing that it was "normal" for wealth to flow away from cities. That the more miles you put between the downtown of a major city and some neighborhood, the more likely the people living there were to be rich.

I went to high school in an urban area, commuting about 1.5 hours every day for four years via public transportation. I had to wake up at 6am to catch one of two buses that would take me where I needed to go. I thought that having a drivers license would bring the greatest freedom in the world. After all, without one, I really was basically "stuck" in the suburb where I lived. My teenage job was far away from home. I commuted, alone, by car, over 50 miles round trip, every day. The drive took about an hour an a half. I thought this was completely normal. When I told people at work how far away I lived, many of them would respond with, "oh, that's not too far".

Since then I've lived in both cities and suburbs. I lived in some walkable neighborhoods and car-dependent neighborhoods. I've lived car-free in some places and in others I've needed on a car for everything from commuting to college to going out for a cup of coffee.

Go through the archives on this blog and you'll see that there was a time when I believed that electric cars, alternative fuels and technologically-advanced vehicles would solve the world's problems. There are few issues I've had such a major change in opinion as that one.

Ultimately, my opinions about urbanism stem from the fact that I've experienced a number of places and spaces. I'm not merely preaching the one lifestyle that I've always lived; nor am I stuck in the "grass is always greener" mindset. At the same time, when people bring up the fact that different people value things differently, I can't help but think back to my own past, when I "valued" certain things because I hadn't lived the alternative and because everyone was telling me that what I was doing was the right thing.