(well not completely waste-less, but better nonetheless)
Sprawl sucks. It might
be nice if you're settling down (key word: might), but I can't imagine trying to live in my house back in Houston and not going insane. As I explained in my last post, I live in a gated neighborhood full of beautiful, gigantic houses on the outer edges of Houston. Technically, the area is called "Katy, TX," but I stick with "Houston" to avoid confusion. Anyway, the house is nice--five bedrooms, library, two dining areas, gigantic back yard, but it's in the middle of nowhere. Though I'm not entirely clear on what constitutes as an "exurb," it takes me half an hour to drive to my older neighborhood in the suburbs of Houston and about 45 minutes to get into the city (but no one my age really goes there in Houston).
Needless to say, my activities during my occasional visits in Houston are comprised primarily of driving, begging my friends to come visit me, decaying away in my room, and driving. And driving. I mean, yeah, I'm exaggerating the horrors a little; there are some
nice things about being there. The sky is larger, there are a lot of fields and forests within walking distance, we're aurally isolated (I can blast my music as loud as I like during the day), and the spaciousness of some of the rooms in the house is really uplifting. All of this is nice, but personally, it isn't worth the hassles of the home's location relative to everything we need outside the home. It's a five-minute drive to the grocery store (doesn't sound too bad, but that translates into a 20-minute walk across narrow sidewalks bordering speeding cars), a similar distance to the colossal parking lot with the booger of a building they call "Katy Mills Mall" in its center, and there are schools nearby, but it takes driving time PLUS roughly twenty minutes of waiting-in-an-ungodly-line-of-cars time to drop off my brother safely.
The thing is, though, none of this wasted time or gas really bothered me, until I came here; I had accepted that lifestyle as the norm. That said, I did find myself thinking (starting from my younger years) a lot about how much of my life's time was being wasted in the in-betweens. I had a lot of daydreams about teleportation, and how, in a perfect world we'd be spending time exclusively between home and destinations (That isn't to say I didn't forget the beneficial effects of meandering; I think wandering is a natural and healthy thing to do, but I think it should be done with conscious moderation).
Every couple summers, my family would visit our relatives in Korea. There, we spent our time stuffed into a small apartment in the more urban area of Seoul. In the apartment, the bedrooms were much smaller and the "family density" was much higher, so (at the cost of privacy), the family spent much more time together in the living room and walking to places outside. What I really loved about staying there was how I could leave the apartment and walk along the streets through so many people and so many interesting places. There were gift shops, arcades, restaurants, convenience stores, pet stores, parks, and street vendors, all within 10 or 15 minutes of walking distance. I spent so much of my time there just exploring the city through the freedom and flexibility of walking on my own two feet. There was no worrying about turn signals, missing exits, or wasting time looking for parking space; I had found the "perfect world."
The reason I didn't feel completely comfortable in Korea, though, was the language barrier (oh, the irony). It was hard to be as friendly as I wanted to be when I couldn't communicate with people as fluently as I could with English. Also, most natives were pretty quick to notice that I was American, so there was always that subtle barrier. These factors distracted me from the realization that I preferred city life. It was only when I came to New York City for the first time and settled in for school that I realized where I wanted to live. Here it was; an American version of everything that I loved about Seoul's layout with the bonus of being free from my parents' watchful eyes.
After I invested in a longboard (I didn't want to have to worry about parking a bike) for the longer journeys, the city became even more compact, and I marveled at how much more alive
I felt here. The dramatic cut in travel time and gas money made a huge impact on my appreciation for saved resources, ultimately leading to a better understanding of the importance of recycling and earth-friendly processes. Ellen Dunham-Jones says, in her TED talk: Retrofitting Suburbia
, that the average "urbanite" has a carbon footprint a third the size of other … "ites." That isn't hard to believe. I forgot which reading it was, but I feel like my experiences really illustrate a first-hand view of the all the problems of suburban life: reliance on foreign oil, growing rates of obesity (I mean, geez, the size of some humans in Houston), better family closeness in urban homes, the wastefulness of the giant parking lots. These readings really helped solidify it for me.