Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Suburbs need not be so bad

Suburbs have taken a lot of heat in the debate over sustainability and green living. Sometimes they are made out as the great enemy of all that is good and eco-friendly.

However, suburbs, specifically the green suburb is really not that bad of an idea. While the vertical structure of the city is extremely efficient in terms of its usage of land for human dwelling, the people in those structures generally do not produce their own food. You still need land to grow food, and then resources to store it, in some cases process and pack it, and then to ship it through gridlock to those efficiently compartmentalized city slickers.

While vertical farming may offer some answers to these problems in the distant future, it's debatable whether this is a practical solution in the near term.

However, the green suburb already exists in some areas. It's not difficult to do at all. By "green suburb," I'm referring mostly to people growing a good percentage of their own fruits, vegetables, and in some cases even staple crops, in their gardens. Every apple or orange that one eats right off the tree in your yard saves a similar fruit from having to be grown, harvested, stored, labeled, transported and displayed at your local supermarket.

Potentially in the green suburb of the future, we might even have a tilapia pond or raise our own chicken eggs in areas zoned as residential-agricultural.

The green burb creates its own ecosystem as well. Maybe not exactly what existed previously but often denser in biodiversity. In many cases, the native flora and fauna, or at least some of species of them, will also have a denser population than before. The green burb becomes a wildlife corridor for many species of birds, insects, reptiles, squirrels, chipmunks and other rodents, and sometimes for other animals as well. The green burb of the future might actually have specially designed corridors for larger animals.

All those trees, bushes and plants, rather than just closely-trimmed lawns, help process greenhouse gases and pollution, if they weren't already doing enough. Plants "inhale" carbon dioxide and, in some cases, carbon monoxide, and exhale oxygen. The more oxygen and the less carbon gases we animals breathe, the longer and healthier lives we live.

Green suburbs are great, but his is not to say that some day we will not be forced to live in vertical structures, and it is a good idea to start designing these in new innovative ways to accommodate those who still want a more natural way of life. But the suburb may have been given a bit of a bum rap. Maybe 50 to 100 years from now when vertical farming and green urban architecture have really advanced that may no longer be the case. But for now green suburbs are a good idea, methinks.

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