I wrote an article in defence of suburbia.
But what are the greedy masses of suburbia using to pay for all their consumption? Surely they must be creating some things of their own in order to fund consumption. And what of the creative types in the inner-city, who Stubbart and Farrelly identify with? Are they not doing some consuming also? In fact, some studies suggest the inner city, with its increasing affluence, is little better in terms of resource use than the lower density suburbs. Criticising urban development makes little sense if your criticism of people’s choices does not address the context that limits choice, and the ways in which we are connected. In terms of sustainability, we’re all part of the problem.
Stubbart is writing about New York, by the way, a place where average apartment rent is now three times the national average in the US and where homelessness is exploding to record levels in spite of national trends being in decline. This challenges another aspect of suburban dread. The right’s snobbery towards suburbia is matched by that of the left, who once worried suburbia was a way to remove yourself from working class and immigrant populations and who now fret that it is a breeding ground for racism and political apathy.
As academic Graeme Davison described, suburbia came about through a combination of evangelicalism, sanitarianism, romanticism and class segregation. And with the collapse of old forms of political engagement, obsessively wondering about and misunderstanding the views of those in the suburbs has become a preoccupation for the political class. But far from being a xenophobic monoculture, Australian suburbia is increasingly home to immigrant populations and a more diverse mix of incomes and occupations than can be found in the inner city. Stubbart believes she is exposed to a carnival of people from all walks of life in New York, but like other big cities facing housing affordability crises, what she may increasingly find are people exactly like her.