Moving America Forward

Moving to the Suburbs? 5 Ways to Survive Urban Sprawl

May 16, 2014
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Moving to the Suburbs? 5 Ways to Survive Urban Sprawl
Scorpions and Centaurs/Flickr
Here’s how to bring some of the benefits of city life to your suburban 'hood.

Living in the suburbs gets a bad rap. Many would say for good reason: People who live in the far-flung suburbs are less socially connected, less happy and not as healthy as those residing in cities. Suburbanites also have less economic opportunity and spend a bigger chunk of their income on housing and transportation (how’s that commute working for you?). As a recent survey by the nonprofit coalition Smart Growth America puts it, metro areas with “more compact, connected neighborhoods are associated with…a better quality of life for everyone in that community.”

We’ve been debating the pros and cons of suburban existence for some 60 years in the United States — ever since the term “urban sprawl” entered the popular lexicon. But if you ask Robert Bruegmann, a professor of art history at the University of Illinois at Chicago and author of “Sprawl: A Compact History,” suburban living is neither an American phenomenon nor a new one. Bruegmann cites evidence of people living in the suburbs during the Ming Dynasty and in ancient Rome — then, as now, sprawl was prompted by the desire for space and privacy. Bruegmann also argues that while sprawl is no perfect solution, its social and economic benefits vastly outweigh its problems.

It’s a lively and ongoing debate, well worth exploring, but meanwhile, half of the American population currently lives in the suburbs, according to the U.S. Census, either by choice or by circumstance, and they’re not likely to be heading back into the city anytime soon. So what can we do now to infuse our sprawling suburbs with the same sorts of social, psychological and economic advantages that make cities so alluring? Below are five ways to bring vibrancy to life in the ’burbs — including some advice on how to deal with the long commute.

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