The environmental case for suburbia


In the years leading up to the coronavirus pandemic, the intelligentsia came to a consensus that sprawling, car-dominated cities were doomed. The future, they said, was in dense, transit-dependent metropolises. The seeming success of compact cities such as San Francisco, Boston, and New York gave this theory credence. And the supposed dangers of sprawl to the climate gave it urgency.

Yet the facts show that sprawling and car-dependent cities have grown more rapidly than dense ones for decades and are far more affordable. The pandemic, meanwhile, showed they will expand even more rapidly in the future. By contrast, the climate-driven demands for density and transit are just the most recent version of a solution that has long been searching for a problem. Advocates will continue to search. In reality, sprawling cities are more environmentally sound than their dense counterparts and will become even more so as technology evolves.

Instead of warring against sprawl and cars, planners and environmentalists should recognize how the green spaces of suburbia, allied to autonomous electric vehicles and green single-family homes, can provide both the affordability and sustainability most Americans crave.

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