Techno-man’s march across the face of Planet Earth has left a series of dangerous, non-sustainable “footprints.” Our buildings and cities are so massive, that many are creating their own mini-weather systems. Others are actually moving the earth’s crust and forcing it to conform with their monstrous weight.
We have put dense populations in deserts, severely compromising aquifers. Our addiction to urban sprawl continues to devour trees, consume metals and stone, turning mountains into blasted ruins, leaving holes in the earth so deep, that they are visible from outer space.
Despite all of the naysaying about global warming, one thing is certain: we have a finite amount of land, and an even smaller amount of land capable of sustaining agriculture. Our addiction to urban sprawl is consuming farm fields, forests and prairie at unheard of rates, even worse—because of the credit crunch and mortgage catastrophe, many of these formerly productive fields are now home to half-finished, abandoned real estate developments, never to produce another crop in our lifetimes.
The era of cheap energy as we have known it is over. This means that we can no longer sustain the long commutes and urban sprawl, which have become legendary. We are slowly being herded back to the cities, as ex-urban living becomes unsustainable, with fuel prices making commutes too expensive to be worthwhile.
According to several studies, the nation’s suburbs are graying at a greater rate than our cities. Researchers say, “America’s suburbs, historically a haven for young families with children, are aging more rapidly than the nation’s central cities as the first suburban generation grows older.” (New York Times, 6-12-07-“Suburbs Are Graying Faster Than Big Cities”)
Young families, working families, no longer see the suburbs as an affordable lifestyle. With gasoline prices rising to historic ceilings, most young workers can no longer sustain the long, expensive commutes from home to work AND pay a backbreaking mortgage on top of school loans.
The new demographics of aging present unique opportunities and challenges, both for the elderly and for their neighbors. While New York, Washington, Boston, San Francisco and Chicago, among others, may appeal to aging suburbanites, smaller cities and metropolitan areas are also marketing themselves as magnets for urban professionals ages 65 to 74, or “suppies,” many of whom are still working and who tend to be healthier and wealthier than other older people. (Ibid)
If current trends hold, suburbs and exurbs will become havens for the elderly, who no longer have to endure and fund expensive daily commutes to work, while the nation’s urban areas will continue attracting young and middle-aged families. One researcher calls the new trend “the Fifth Migration.”
In the 1920s, Mumford argued that after experiencing an initial “first migration” (settlement of the continent) and subsequent “second” (from rural farms to factory towns) and “third migrations” (movement to the central city), the United States would undergo a “fourth migration” of what we now obviously identify as decentralization to the suburbs.
Eighty years later, Fishman contends that we are witnessing the beginning of a “fifth migration,” where suburbanization “is now finally ebbing” and inner cities are being reinvigorated (358). Cities are reurbanizing, according to Fishman, as “density, concentration, and what Mumford termed ‘disciplined cooperation and municipal coordination’” are rediscovered by citizens (361). (Rocco Pendola, A Review of Fishman’s “Fifth Migration”)
American cities and suburbs have a great deal in common with their Australian counterparts when it comes to food security. We simply have not viewed cities as part of the food security equation. Food is grown elsewhere, then trucked in at great expense and the idea of sustainable urban agriculture is a foreign concept to most Americans and Australians alike.Food security based on gardening:
Food security through retention of horticultural production within and close to cities, has barely been on the agenda, while home gardening is largely ignored as irrelevant to the sustainability debate. (Retrofitting the suburbs for sustainability, David Holmgren)And, like many suburbs in the United States, Holmgren says Australian suburbs and sprawl create unsustainable, dysfunctional economies. These problems will only increase as the credit crunch chews up neighborhoods and turns entire subdivisions and city blocks into foreclosure-generated ghost towns.
Along with “sprawl” has developed an increasingly dysfunctional economic situation. We see speculative inflation of land values, capital invested unproductively, declining household (non-monetary) production of food and “backyard industry”, and a massive rise of consumer addiction based on rising household debt. (Ibid)
High fuel prices, unsustainable commutes and higher consumer goods prices will drive many younger families and professionals back to the nation’s cities. However, the new equation is not likely to continue the same urban lifestyle and demographic patters that we see today.
Sustainability, urban gardening, food security based on home grown food, and a less petroleum driven lifestyle will continue to reshape the face of the nation’s cities. Higher prices, static incomes and economic insecurity will restructure the way we buy homes, whether we buy homes, condos or share living space, and how and where we purchase food.
1 | 2