Quantifying the Effects of Suburban Living

Just about one year ago, I wrote an article about “Sprawl”.  Yes, the word that just a few days ago that I said that should not be used. (See The Polarizing Buzz Words of Development) It was interesting to look back on the article a year later to see that my feelings have not changed.

Sprawl is actually quite a frightening dynamic in development.  Many places that define sprawl appear like the wolf in “Little Red Riding Hood” with a sense of initial elegance.  Of course, you know where that story goes; and if you live in a large city, you have probably seen the well documented effects on subdivisions that started in the past decade.

What, you haven’t read the same articles as me?  Let me direct you to one of the more popular articles documenting the adverse effects of the mortgage problems in the past few years.  The Next Slum; (The Atlantic).

As I wrote in the article a year ago, sprawl is somewhat of a trap that many of us, at one time or another has fallen into.  I assembled the following spreadsheet a few years ago when I lived in suburban Omaha.  The most comical part about it was that my initial assumption was that one gallon of gas cost $2.  Today, we are at about $4 per gallon across the country and conversations have ensued about us being at $5 per gallon by the end of summer.  Two years ago, $2 per gallon was a lot of money (or so it seemed) but the biggest factor for me was time.  I had one child at the time, and time spent away wasted in an automobile was very insulting to me.  It disgusted me that I would not see my wife and kids–because I was driving.

I don’t want to give the impression that suburbs should not exist and no one should live there.  We all choose to live in different places for different reasons.  In many instances, it is due to proximity to something–schools, relatives, work, etc.  Many people choose to live in a suburban location because it has the type of home that they want, or they enjoy the peaceful serenity of the area.  That is great, and I encourage it for those who can afford it and have done their research.

My problem is that many people move into a suburban location blindly, unknowing that their SID taxes are much higher than their friends across the arterial.  Many move with the understanding that they did not get an adjustable rate mortgage, but did not consider the ‘adjustable rate gas prices.’  For those individuals, there should be a disclaimer that says:

Side effects of living in a suburban location can be mild for the first couple years. Future results could include increased stress, obesity, anger, insomnia, alcoholism, and decreased property value. Contact your therapist if symptoms are severe. A hybrid vehicle may cause delusions of cost savings, increased stress and scrutiny from your peers.  If you have questions, please talk to your realtor.”

Okay, that may be over the top, but you have to admit that it is not too far off in a many situations.

If you would like a copy of the spreadsheet used to create the image above, please email me at john@olsonplanning.com.  I am happy to share it with whoever wishes to use it.

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