Sunday, August 10, 2008

The end of suburbia

"The whole suburban project, I think, can be summarized pretty succinctly as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world."

That's James Howard Kunstler in "The End of Suburbia," a great 2004 documentary about how dwindling oil will inevitably shatter life as we know it in this country. The film points out that all this concrete - laid after World War II, when auto giants ripped up the train tracks that had dotted the country until then - isn't going to do us a damn bit of good when we can't go anywhere.

Kunstler warns us that huge chunks of tract housing will wither and die when people can no longer hop in their cars and drive 10 miles for a gallon of milk. We'll have a nation of ghost towns, followed by reorganization on a massive scale and, eventually, a return to more communal living.

The moral: it might be wise to start growing some veggies. And befriend a bike mechanic.

In the meantime, you can find out just how screwed you are with this nifty little website. It tells you how walkable - and how sustainable - your neighborhood is based on its distance to grocery stores, bars, schools and parks.

My old Chicago apartment rates as a "walker's paradise" with a score of 94, while my mom's house in Bristol, Conn. scores a painful, car-dependent 12. It's a really good thing she gardens.