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NY Times columnist: Americans prefer sprawl

Posted by on February 17th, 2009 at 2:53 pm

“Amsterdam is a wonderful city, but Americans never seem to want to live there.”
— David Brooks in the New York Times

In his latest piece in the New York Times, columnist David Brooks opines that, while Americans might appreciate the finer points of Amsterdam’s urban life (like bikes and beer), they really would rather have their suburbs.

Citing the economic downturn and recent momentum of ideas about sustainable transportation and livability, Brooks writes:

The time has finally come, some writers are predicting, when Americans will finally repent. They’ll move back to the urban core. They will ride more bicycles, have smaller homes and tinier fridges and rediscover the joys of dense community — and maybe even superior beer.

America will, in short, finally begin to look a little more like Amsterdam.

Well, Amsterdam is a wonderful city, but Americans never seem to want to live there. And even now, in this moment of chastening pain, they don’t seem to want the Dutch option.

As evidence of what Americans really want, Brooks discusses the results of a recent survey from Pew Research Center, which asked: “Where would Americans most like to live — and how do they feel about the place they currently call home?”

From the Pew survey: For Nearly Half of America, Grass Is Greener Somewhere Else

Survey participants weighed in on whether they preferred to live in a city, suburb, small town or rural area; if they liked where they lived now (about half do); what city they’d most like to live in (Portland is in the top 10); and whether they’d prefer to live near a Starbucks or a McDonalds (about even).

“…As if tens of thousands of Portlanders are forced to commute by bike every morning.”
— Ben Fried, Streetsblog

Ben Fried at Streetsblog has already issued a scathing rebuttal, calling Brooks “the nation’s most famous sprawl apologist.”. He points out that the Pew statistics could also be read to show that most Americans prefer to live in cities (emphasis mine):

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…Which won’t stop Brooks and his ilk from advancing a favorite straw man argument at every opportunity: that planners want to take everyone’s car away and force people to adopt a different lifestyle. As if tens of thousands of Portlanders are forced to commute by bike every morning. Or a shadowy cabal put a premium on house values near Denver light rail. Or jackbooted thugs marched Americans to polls at gunpoint last November and ordered them to vote for $75 billion worth of transit-related ballot initiatives.

The sprawl dead-enders can deride “planners” and scream “Amsterdam!” all they want. It’s easy to see why they protest so much: If they ever acknowledged the fact that ending car-dependency is about giving people choices, it might lead to some self-incriminating conclusions about who’s trying to put restrictions on whom.

It’s also worth noting that many of the top ten cities that survey respondents said they would like to live in — Denver, Seattle, Portland — already have, or are working overtime to create Amsterdam-like facilities for public transportation, walk-ability, bike-ability, and of course, good beer.

What do you think? Where would you rather live?

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ScottG
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ScottG

I’m from New England and I must say I never thought I would enjoy living in a city when my concept of cities were based on Boston, New York, and Washington, DC. I did live in Boston while going to college and despised living there during the winters.

However, when I first visited Portland I immediately recognized it had a much better environment than Boston or NYC. In a way I consider Portland to have more of the benefits of cities without as many of the drawbacks – there does not seem to be nearly as much congestion or uncleanliness as I tend to associate with cities.

Now that I’m living here I love it and think that having exposure to better urban planning as is more common on the West Coast would change the opinions of many.

SkidMark
Guest
SkidMark

Coming from Boston, I view downtown Portland as the city and the surrounding neighborhoods in SE, NE, N, and most of NW as surrounding suburbs. They aren’t really dense enough to be urban, and what are suburbs if they are not street after street of single family homes, with corner stores, shopping centers and businesses interspersed?

Jason
Guest
Jason

I’ve seen Brooks write columns on the virtues of suburbia and sprawl more than once since he became a NYT columnist. He lives in the suburbs and claims to like it.

When other people make the same choice you do, it validates your decision and makes you feel better about yourself. Brooks is just trying to create his own validation out of the survey. Maybe conservative columnists are insecure. If you can make an argument against a straw man, that boosts your ego even more.

I can think of better use for the column-inches in the nation’s paper of record.

Kevin H
Guest
Kevin H

One of the great faults of the above Pew study is that it is based on peoples idea of what a city is. A lot of cities in the US are not worth living in because they have embraced sprawl as a defining characteristic. Of course people wouldn’t want to live in a poorly designed city. Of course people who live in the suburbs and only see poorly designed cities don’t want to move there.

Dave
Guest

I would rather live in the country than in the suburbs, personally. I can’t imagine anywhere I would be less happy to live than suburban America.

But in the city is my definite preference.

I highly favor the ideas of dense urban centers, excellent public transit, transportation infrastructure that enables *anyone* to get around well, not just automobiles.

I have no desire to live anywhere near a Starbucks or a McDonalds, a strip mall, or any other kind of indication of urban sprawl.

I think if more people were able to experience European cities (most of which are still very pedestrian friendly, if not bike friendly), they might have a different idea of whether they would like living in a city or not. Of course, some people will always prefer not to live in a city, and that’s fine too.

Statistics are often tricky and it’s easy to take them out of context and make them infer whatever you want.

Bob_M
Guest
Bob_M

David Brooks sifts through statistics to support his outspoken right wing opinions. He states that Americans want to live in places like Denver where they can fill their garages with toys and play on the weekends. He has not seen my garage and does not understand that dense cities make open country closer and more easily accessible, nor does he understand that Denver city planners are trying to make their city like Portland.

nuovorecord
Guest
nuovorecord

He’s overgeneralizing and most certainly not talking about Portland. Similar studies done in the Portland region support our commitment to land use planning, having a spectrum of transportation options and higher density.

Maybe he’s right that most Americans want to live in suburbia. Portland is different.

Paul S
Guest

Brooks spins a few data points and personal anecdotes into a “just so” story about garages full of skis, or a war between McDonalds and Starbucks. Most importantly, he confuses what people say they do with what people actually do.

The data — and the free market — ultimately settles that confusion. What counties suffer the most foreclosures? What locations gain population? Where are house prices sliding the least? How are car sales going right now? What about bike sales? How many miles do people drive?

You’ll find those numbers suspiciously absent from Brooks’ sweeping generalizations.

Early Man
Guest
Early Man

Economists are very skeptical of data based on what people say they want. Data that Portland’s own Joe Cortright has put together suggest that the sprawling burbs are taking the biggest hit in terms of deflated home values. A Brookings report suggests that the unmet demand in real estate is for walkable, urban neighborhoods. As for Brooks, he lives in Bethesda, an inner suburb of DC, that is a 20 minute metro ride from the city center, or a marvelous 30 minute bike ride on the Capitol Crescent Trail. I imagine David’s home value is holding up a whole lot better than those in the outer DC suburbs bearing the real costs of sprawl.

Spencer Boomhower
Guest
Spencer Boomhower

Is this the same David Brooks who said Obama wouldn’t fit in with regular Americans at an Applebee’s salad bar? When Applebee’s doesn’t actually have salad bars?

The guy’s stock and trade seems to be inflating scanty bits of data into broad, over-reaching proclamations about plain old reg’lur folks in the U.S. of A.

That the survey is titled “Grass is Greener” suggests a potential flaw in its results: I would bet a lot of these people are being asked to speculate on what life would be like in a place they’ve never lived.

There’s a grass-is-greener effect when it comes to the ‘burbs, which have been so idealized for so long in popular media, and a fear when it comes to cities, which are so often portrayed as scary.

There’s a hint as to that mild fear-mongering in that he invokes Amsterdam, which his audience likely knows more as the place with the hookers and the weed, and less as the beautiful, livable place anyone who has visited it knows it to be.

Growing up in a rural/suburban part of New England, watching too much TV, I though cities were places where people got mugged. Or treated rudely at best. It took visiting a city, and eventually living in one to see otherwise.

Growing up in a place where it was hard to get around without a car, I really wished I could live in a place like the Mayberry I saw on TV, where you could walk everywhere, and people knew each other. And guess what, my “urban” Portland neighborhood is freakin’ Mayberry. Fewer country folk maybe – and more liberals almost certainly – but it’s basically that kind of neighborhood.

How many people who took that survey would know that?

The folks who want to move to the ‘burbs might be imagining some idyllic place that is every bit illusory as the menacing image of cities I grew up with. And they might not have any idea of the downsides of the burbs: being chained to a car, and being isolated by the high walls (both literal and figurative) that go up between neighbors.

Of course, they might just want a place where they feel their kids will be safe, which is totally understandable. But for my money that’s still be a semi-urban ‘hood like mine, because cars are one of the biggest dangers to kids, and living in a traffic-calmed, 20-minute neighborhood like my own – which offers the option to walk, bike or bus where you need to go – is one of the best ways to keep cars at bay.

fredlf
Guest

Brooks is trying to keep alive the false dichotomy between urban americans and “real” americans. The right wing has done well with this divide and conquer strategy in the recent past, and I see no sign they are willing to give up on the cherry-picked stats, caricatures of progressive ideals and fear mongering that helps keep their base riled up. I would prefer to live in a rural area and/or small town, and I have tried. There was no work and no infrastructure for a poor person with a bike. I chose Portland when I gave up on the rural thing, because its density and infrastructure seemed to me the most livable and provided the most access to both city and country. Clearly, I’m not alone in that preference. Brooks’ stats are so weak, and his case so poorly argued, I doubt he’d get a passing grade in a freshman composition class. He sure wouldn’t have gotten one from me!

Evan
Guest
Evan

Grew up in the suburbs outside D.C. I’ve gone back to visit, but I don’t want to live in either D.C. or its suburbs again. I’m in Pendleton now, and like it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss Portland…at least the parts that are walkable, bikeable, and near transit.

I would not want to live in a place where I was scared to walk or bike to work and to shops, or literally unable. And I especially would not want to raise children in that sort of environment.

Carl
Guest
Carl

If you look at the way Dutch cities are developing, even the Dutch don’t want to live in Amsterdam. VMT there is steadily increasing and large companies are building campuses on highway interchanges just like the US. The sad truth is that even with all those woonerfs and trains and taxes…and beautiful children in bakfietsen…cars and sprawl are increasingly a way of life in even the blond countries we idolize.

I learned that at the Carfree Cities Conference and I still don’t know how to wrap my head around how sad it is. Makes my line of work seem pretty hopeless. And no, I don’t think the price of our current fuel-of-choice will change this.

I guess I don’t mind uphill battles.

Also, 10-4 Skidmark. Once you cross Grand, the east side of Portland feels like a suburb to me, too. I’ve come to accept that my (New England-bred) idea of “urban” is certainly a far more dense one.

Coyote
Guest
Coyote

When I read Shaw’s column, I did not see the point. Was he trying to convince me that I should want to move to the ‘burbs? His analysis of the Pew report is flawed, and what Americans want now may not be what they want when the full depth of this economic change is known.

Jim Labbe
Guest
Jim Labbe

I believe Metro and/or Fregonese Associates did a survey of people’s housing preferences in the Portland Metro Region. If I recall correctly they found that about 1/3 of residents would prefer to live in attached-mixed use developments, 1/3 preferred detached single-family housing, and about 1/3 did not have a particular preference.

That means 2/3rds would potentially live in mixed-use developments. It also suggests- given the current mix of available housing types in the region- there is a lot of pent-up demand for denser living.

Contrary to what a lot of polemicists like to say about Metro forcing people to live in particular places, regional growth management has been about eliminating the regulatory and economic barriers to people voluntarily choosing to live in denser, mixed use housing while limiting subsidies to low-density car-dependent development. Even the UGB does not constrain the land supply but merely determines where on the edge land will- by state law- be supplied housing and industrial uses.

Jim

Coyote
Guest
Coyote

brooks not shaw, sorry

bahueh
Guest
bahueh

nuovorecord is right…reading Brook’s column from a Portland perspective will only lead to what we have here…further disagreement.

Portland is a social bubble folks. It’s hardly representative of other major U.S. cities….so far. It’ll change as more and more people move here, and they will, and they are.

Brooks is talking in generalizations….one’s that are sadly correct by enlarge at this time.

Yes, its changing…very, very slowly…

Enjoy the Portland area during the next 20-30 years…because its going to be filling up fast. The southside waterfront expansion is evidence of that and I think city planners will be coming here to take a lesson on how that all works.

John Peterson
Guest
John Peterson

I like where I live in Portland (SE @ 39/Hawthorne) except for the recent infill in my neighbors backyard. His new townhomes tower over my previously somewhat private backyard. His “high end luxury townhomes in the craftsman style” replaced a vegetable garden and fruit trees and a backyard with a lot of potential. What I’m saying is Portland is already dense enough in many neighborhoods. We do not want to be NYC or Seattle. Let’s respect existing neighborhoods and not enable a bunch of speculators and developers to pave over backyards, side yards, and whatever tiny bits of “urban open space” they can get their hands on.

Opus the Poet
Guest

I live in a middle ring suburb of Dallas that is gradually becoming densified as shopping and manufacturing filter into the housing, and mass transit finds a foothold. I’m fortunate that I’m only 0.42 miles from the nearest bus stop, there are places nearby that require nearly a mile each way to the nearest stop because of the street layout, even though the houses are on the next street over. Nobody said it was going to be easy changing 30 YO neighborhoods.

Actually the street layout is the biggest problem with trying to make these middle ring suburbs more walkable since the paradigm when they were laid out was to make catching crooks easier for cops by giving them only one way in or out of a neighborhood. All the cops would have to do is just wait at the only way in in or out and catch the “bad guys”. Now there is still only one way in or out but no cops to catch the bad guys any more because this is a “bad” neighborhood now as the property values didn’t rise as fast as other places. This still leaves us with the problems of mile long walks to the bus stop that is less than a hundred yards away. I meander on this topic.

JR
Guest
JR

I read the opinion piece earlier today.. and well, this was clearly an opinion piece in the NYT, so it’s not scientific by any means.. I could spend an hour ripping holes in the methodology they employed, but I don’t even have 5 minutes to spend on this. Bottom line is.. the study cited suggests nothing about the way Americans actually want to live. I didn’t hear anything about cost of living.. it’s cheaper to live in the burbs.. while 10 years ago I would’ve said yes to NYC, today I would definitely say no. It’s too damn expensive. People want affordable living first, and secondly, they want all the nice perks of urban life, while still leaving themselves some privacy. This doesn’t even suggest suburbanism.. it’s common sense.

Daniel
Guest

For those of us who have, for years, gasped at the sludge that comes from David Brooks’ opinion column, no suprises here. Read Krugman or Kristof instead.

metal cowboy
Guest

Brooks is tool of the neo cons and a dino of old school way of thinking that got this country into the sprawling mess we see now in many placs…. and I see plenty of it when on my performance and book tours. I always hear from heartyland folks in sprawling indy suburbs that they want to make changes. People that once thought I was a novelty – riding my bike all over…

When gas goes back up to 4 bucks a gallon watch that love affair with the burbs turn ugly, I’m talking and Tina Turner ugly.

bahueh, I respectfully disagree that Brooks is right at this time. I see it changing faster out there than I could have hoped five years ago. Maybe I’m too optimistic but I think the depth and width of this economic crsis is actually a positive for longterm changes and long term shifts in thinking and actions. I see us reaching that 100th monkey, where the tipping point happens – and all the greenwashing advertising for car s and overconsumption begin to sound ridiculous, even to those surburb dwellers. That Brooks would write this article is clear evidence that he sees things changing and he wants to help people hold onto failed ways of livin a bit longer. If he didn’t see his way of life threatened he wouldn’t waste the ink.

metal cowboy
Guest

That should have read Ike and tina turner ugly

peejay
Guest
peejay

I know so many people who have an idealized fantasy perception of the suburban landscape they actually live in. One guy told me how wonderfully walkable his neighborhood (Oak Hills in Beaverton) was, and I put his address in the walkscore site: it was like a 28. People don’t think about what a pain it is to live there, because they just get used to it.

bahueh
Guest
bahueh

metal cowboy….its changing somewhat…and its changing here in PDX..but I’ve traveled all over the East coast and in California during the past year and believe me, its not changing elsewhere…
all I’m trying to say is that currently the suburbs are still a viable option for many..
but yes, as gasoline gets more and more expensive as supplies dwindle over the next 20 years, the suburbs will start to become extinct by enlarge as folks just won’t be able to afford commuting.

I think there will always be some who live on the outskirts of major metro areas…if comprehensive mass transit is realized here, like it is in other large cities (DC, Boston, NYC), the suburbs will always exist to some degree.

I do agree, I think the current economic crisis is a good forerunner for much needed changes when it comes to mass transit in this country…high speed rail, subways, etc….it goes well beyond the promoting of cycling (even though that has its place for a minority of folks). but trust me, you don’t want 4$ gas or the inflation that will come with it..

joe adamski
Guest
joe adamski

Suburban or urban, where can you afford to live? Does the calculus include transportation and access to services? How much time will you spend gathering those things you need to sustain yourself and family? How desireable is ‘community’?
We can talk till we are blue in the face, which is the ‘ideal’. But if it doesn’t work,it doesn’t work.

Recent housing prices seem to show the biggest hit in the furthest out suburbs. A recent trip to San Diego showed 50% foreclousure rates, while older, closer in neighborhoods held value. Adding in extra transportation costs proved to be the deal breaker for many suburbanites.

As far as David Brooks, he proves an old saying: opinions are like a-holes…everyone has one, and mine is the only one that smells good.

Cruizer
Guest
Cruizer

Give me a close-in neighborhood on Portland’s east side with several independent coffee shops nearby — oh, yeah, that’s Sellwood-Westmoreland. How lucky can I be?!

Zaphod
Guest

Ten minutes of real estate research shows housing costing the most per square foot in the high density core and it gets cheaper as you radiate from that point. An oversimplification to be sure but those data tell all that needs to be told.

Spencer Boomhower
Guest
Spencer Boomhower

The problem with a poll like this is that it doesn’t go into why the responses are what they are. Is there a financial imperitive behind the urge to ‘burb, or are the suburbs considered an ideal home to those respondants regardless of cost?

There was a great documentary a while back called “Subdivide and Conquer,” and in it was a segment in which groups of people were given sheets of paper and art supplies, and told to design their ideal neighborhoods. What they settled upon tended to be the standard pre-war American suburb, the kind of suburbia-circa-1920 layout that a lot of us enjoy in SE Portland. A layout, incidentally, that resulted from planning around streetcars. This layout results in neighborhoods that are not too crowded, but not too remote; pleasant and comfortable while also within walking distance of urban amenities.

The streetcars may be long gone, but their influence is felt in a place that makes it easy to simply forget to drive your car for days and weeks at a time.

Lee
Guest
Lee

He asks if Americans will “repent” as if it’s a moral argument. In reality the suburbs are becoming impractical to live in due to increasingly volatile energy prices and worsening traffic congestion we can never build our way out of. At the same time, it is the auto-centric sprawl ethic that makes cities impractical.

With oil exports from all the major producers in decline, we already know the energy required to maintain the suburbs won’t be there even in the near future. The suburbs can’t be saved even if we wanted to, because more than anything else the suburbs reflect a set of priorities, and those priorities are changing by necessity. David Brooks appears to still be stuck in the denial stage, imagining this is some relative moral argument.

Sprawl can only be created and maintained via. cheap energy. Since energy exports from producer nations are in decline, the sprawl that relies on that energy will also be in decline. It doesn’t really matter how much you like sprawl if you can’t get the energy to overcome sprawl’s energy penalty. Cities came about by the necessity of energy conservation, because energy was, and will be, scarce and expensive.

Coldswim
Guest
Coldswim

As a transplant from Forest Grove and having moved and lived in North Portland for 6 years I’d say that Spencer (#10) states exactly how I felt then (fear of the city) and how I feel now (I absolutely love it here!) once I’ve experienced living urban. Yet, I still have to deal with suburban friends and family constantly asking how I can deal with the crime.

There was a coworker talking yesterday about how his car and all the cars on his street over by the PCC RockCreek campus had their tires slashed. I’ve personally had my car broken into (movie theater in Beaverton) and windows smashed (Clackamas River), but have yet to experience or witness any crime where I live. It just goes to show how perception can be so far removed from reality.

e
Guest
e

I’d take Amsterdam over the US any day. Yes, please.

mmann
Guest

I grew up in Gresham, and I have worked as a teacher in Gresham for 19 years. But I moved when I could and have been in Portland for about 10 years. I’m just east of 82nd, so by some definitions above I’m still in the burbs. But I think not. The main benefits of where I live vs. where I work are easy access to transit, parks, schools, stores, coffee shop, restaurants, movie theater, bike shop (opening soon!) all within easy walking distance, streets grids and sidewalks that are pedestrian friendly and make it easier to walk than drive, and perhaps most important, a sense of commitment on the part of my neighbors to this place and each other. Portland is full of neighborhoods like this, and if other cities are not, the could be made so more easily than the burbs ever can.
Gresham, on the other hand, is facing some tough challenges. Like suburbs everywhere, as gas prices go up and businesses close, housing prices fall more steeply than in urban areas. Add to that the “high density” housing (apartments and multi-family rentals) and you have all the ingredients of a slum. For low-income people, the suburbs are becoming all they can afford, and if they need to drive everywhere once they move there, they’ve become enslaved by that expense as well.
Last year I read that the intersection of 162nd & Burnside has become the epicenter of gang activity in the Portland metro area. For schools, poverty rates are calculated based on the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced lunch. The last school I worked at opened in 1993 with a F&R rate of about 17%; it’s now over 50% – the cutoff that allows a school to qualify for federal Title 1 funds. Most Gresham schools, and I believe this is true for the other east county districts as well, are Title 1 schools. It’s sad that this is where we’re heading. I know a lot of people are willing to write off the suburbs as a bad idea just now bearing their inevitable fruit. It would be nice if places like Gresham, which is listed as the 5th largest “city” in Oregon, could become mini Urban areas like the best Portland neighborhoods, but the challenges of remaking places like this – where the very infrastructure seems so unfriendly to anyone not in a car – just feels too daunting for me to have much hope.

Richard
Guest
Richard

Echoing Skidmark in #2 and Carl in #13, Portland east of the river is a vast suburb. It’s connected to the urban core, not a part of it.

Dave
Guest

@Richard: with the important distinction that inner SE and NE have small neighborhoods that are easily walkable and bikeable (often more conveniently than driving, as SkidMark noted), whereas what we consider the proper suburbs are entirely designed around automobile transport and are a mess for pedestrians and bikes, both because of distance and design. I love this post over on Clever Cycles blog that illustrates that:

http://clevercycles.com/?p=128

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

I used to live in Indianapolis. It is a city that has embraced sprawl. Like most cities in the Midwest it’s urban core has decayed and is not the kind of city I wished to live in, thats why I moved to Portland. They are trying to rebuild the inner city and before I left it seemed they were making some progress, but where I lived, within the 465 bypass so “techincally” not the suburbs but close to them. It was impossible to get anywhere without a car. The nearest grocrery was about 8 miles away on heavy car trafficad streets. The road I lived off of was a 4 lane 45 mph road with no shoulders or bike paths. I never road my bike on that road for fear of my life. (the interesting thing is that road is designated as a “bicycle route”) I had to drive my bike to the few dedicated bicycle paths. It wasn’t until I moved to Portland that I even realized the inner city life can be safe and accessable, or at least as safe as one can be anywhere. The main and largest dedicated bicycle path, the Monon Trail (defunct and converted rail line that runs right trhough town), had one cyclist get attacked for his bicycle and antoher cyclist was shot while riding. All this within the year and a half that I lived there! I can’t imagaine that happening here or the outrage it would cause.
If I was part of the survey Mr. Brooks cites prior to moving to Portland I would have been in the “wishing to live in the Suburbs” category. Not that that would have been my ideal, most of the Indy suburbs lack accessable shops without a car, but at least it is better than the inner city currently. There are many factors and emotions to consider with data like this.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

“His ‘high end luxury townhomes in the craftsman style’ replaced a vegetable garden and fruit trees and a backyard with a lot of potential.” — John Peterson (#18)

Welcome to “density”. Those vegetable gardens and fruit trees are some of the main reasons I would rather not live in a high-density urban environment. For those people who get a buzz from the constant activity, noise, stink, and hardness of the urban environment, more power to you.

One doesn’t have to live in an urban center to be close to work and shopping. I can bike to work and to many of the places I need to go, even though I live in the dreaded suburbs. Jobs and job locations change–I could move into Portland one year and get a job in Hillsboro or Gresham the next; then what do I do? What if I work close to home, but my wife works across town, or vice-versa?

It seems like a lot of folks are quick to vilify the suburbs and the supposed brain-dead “neocons” that live there, but I enjoy the quiet and increased privacy of my affordable single-family dwelling, the shade of large Oak trees over the back yard in Summer, the freedom to plant my own garden–or tear it up as I see fit. Chances are I won’t be paving over it or building condos any time soon.

Tony Fuentes
Guest

It was interesting to see this opinion piece in the NYT given this piece they published previously on the sinking housing prices in suburban and ex-urban markets (including the Denver area):

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/25/business/25exurbs.html?_r=1&scp=8&sq=suburban%20housing%20prices&st=cse

Growing up, I live in LA County, the Bay Area, rural NC, and Suburban Virginia.

As an adult, I have only been an urban dweller – Boston, Seattle, and now Portland. I like cities.

I like being about to walk, bike, or take transit for my needs, have access to a variety of cultural opportunities and easy access to the great outdoors (which I do use a car for). Honestly, I don’t forsee a move from Portland unless circumstances just required.

That said, if I was going to could live somewhere else, it would be Yachats, OR. Which is a small coastal town that my family often “escapes” to.

Why not move there now? Mainly because there are no schools in the town and I moved quite a bit growing up – which wasn’t much fun – and don’t want to repeat that with my kids if I can help it.

Ironically, although we drive to Yachats. The car gets limited use when we are there. We rent a house in town and then generally get around on foot to the beach, to the Green Salmon and other local haunts, to the park, to the 804 trail, etc.

So part of the “charm” of this town for us is that we get around the same way we do at home but in a more laid back and stunning setting than our ‘hood in Portland.

Plus the town has a liberal vibe and a lot of local artists and writers, so it there is quite a bit going on culturally speaking for a town of 600 souls.

Randy
Guest
Randy

David Brooks as an urban planning or social scientist? Alice, in Wonderland can do better. Contrary to David’s theories, the future is in smallboxes, not bigboxes.

Tasha
Guest
Tasha

Andrew: I’m from Indianapolis as well-East Side, Warren Central grad. I agree that it is a scary place to bike. I used to live near downtown as well, and biked a bit from there, but still feared for my life every time I got on my bike and oftentimes rode on the sidewalk. It is not a bike or even walk friendly place, as there are barely sidewalks on some main roads (German Chuch?). The south side is getting a tad better and really trying, but is far from acceptable. I know for a fact that my family would rather live in a place where they could walk and/or bike to a grocery store and/or coffee shop. My mom loves Portland when she visits for that very reason. And I do too! We’re super spoiled here. I do sometimes wish I didn’t have to leave my little NE enclave and if I didn’t work downtown and in SE, I wouldn’t! I know people who live in Inner SE who hardly ever leave, because everything they need/want, is right there unless they want to go skiing or away from the city specifically.

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

Tasha- I’m suprised how many Hoosiers I have met out here! I lived on the East Side as well, 56th st near Lawerence Central. I had to drive my bike to Ft. Harrison or Fall Creek trail just to get some exercise. I agree with the SE statement. Thats where I live and aside from work or trips to for downtown fun I don’t leave SE much. I don’t have the chops to ride to/from work out in Lake O (being from Flantland,USA those hills kill me!) so I take the bus, but soon I’ll be transfering to Lloyd Center area and I’ll be riding everyday, I can’t wait!

Tasha
Guest
Tasha

Ah, yes hills! Maybe that’s why I have such a hard time with them, I’m from Flatland! I bike from SE to NE, up the Alameda hill a lot, and on my lazy days, I call my husband to pick me up at the bottom of the hill, whom we have started to call the “Lazy taxi” I feel bad, but there are days when my legs just won’t do it.

Portland’s so much nicer than Indy.

Michael M.
Guest

I used to live in a city (NYC), but now I live in Portland.

I think I would prefer living in a city again. 🙂

E
Guest
E

NoPo is the perfect urban/suburban blend. Single-family homes with yards and trees and vegetable gardens on one hand; on the other, a plethora of bus lines, bikeable streets, and anything you might want within bike/walk distance. We are 2 blocks from the nearest bus stop, 3 blocks from the nearest grocery store, within 1 mile of an array of restaurants, shops, pubs, and movie theaters. Oh yes and parks – probably a half dozen or more within 5 miles, one of which is a wildlife preserve. The best of everything! And so easy to get to my job downtown without a car. 🙂

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

I sometimes wish I had a shirt with “Flatlander” printed boldly across the back so that people will know this is the reason why I am pedelling 2 mph up a hill, huffing and puffing, being passed by old people with walkers and such. I always feel like a chump when some 100 pound girl with dreadlocks on a crusier loaded down with groceries from new seasons passes me east bound on Clinton without even breathing heavy while I’m just plugging away on my old Trek 830. This is not hypothetical, this happens about twice a month, same girl. But she is really, really fast. In my defense…but I’m still a chump.

I agree Portland is nicer than Indy, but I do miss me some Yats!

Neil
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Neil

I agree with SkidMark: except for downtown, Portland is equivalent to a suburb.

I’d prefer to live in a rural environment. I like plenty of space between me and the neighbors. That’s why I’ve never lived in a city and have avoided apartments as much as possible.

Kt
Guest
Kt

I grew up in a rural area. I live in a “suburban” area (I use quotes because I don’t really think Tigard is stereotypically suburban, nor the surrounding areas– except maybe Sherwood).

I live 5 miles from work, no freeways or highways required. There’s one grocery store 1.5 miles north of my house, and one 2 miles southeast of my house. Washington Square Mall is 4 miles from home, there are parks and trails all over the place. And, I don’t have to go that far to find nice rural roads to ride on.

I have never lived in an urban environment, and personally, I don’t want to.

I despise the gunga-plexes that are going up around my neighborhood, with 5000 sqft houses on 6000 sqft lots, tiny or non-existent lawns and the neighbors looming. I like living in my 50+ year-old neighborhood, with large lots, lots of trees, and 2000 sqft ranch-style houses. No looming neighbors, a feeling of space– ah! Lovely!

All that aside: if one must live in a city, Portland would be it. Portland is
not your “typical” urban area, and that’s awesome. I’m glad that the city planners did not go the way of Boston, NYC, LA, etc. We have a much more liveable area, and it’s nice that we’re working on keeping it that way.

That NYT article is a bunch of baloney, one guy’s opinions– with slippery statistics to back them up. You can make statistics say just about anything you want them to– remember, 72% of all statistics are made up. 🙂 Including that one.

There are three kinds of untruths: lies, damn lies, and statistics.

(I hated my stat classes in college– can you tell?)

vincentpaul
Guest
vincentpaul

Ah, KT, I LOVE the “gunga-plexes that are going up around my neighborhood.” (Gunga-plex! What a great word!) Beaverton has so much more potential now to become a real place to live with neighborhoods that feel like neighborhoods, not isolated tracts of nothingness. If we could just get more bike lanes and sidewalks so that we could get to the commercial areas…..

jeneraldisarray
Guest
jeneraldisarray

*Well, Amsterdam is a wonderful city, but Americans never seem to want to live there. And even now, in this moment of chastening pain, they don’t seem to want the Dutch option.*

I’m just nitpicking the semantics of this argument, but how the heck does this support his contention that Americans prefer sprawling suburbs over cities?

Puh-lease.

Does this author contend that, since Americans don’t uproot themselves and move to the Netherlands, they are in favor of car-centric transportation systems? As if our only options are “move to Europe” or “live to drive.”

Also, those statistics are bunk. For all we know, the Pew Research Center gave respondents a choice between “crime-ridden, economically-rundown cities,” “family-friendly suburbs,” idyllic small towns,” and “wild, unspoiled rural areas.” Choice, indeed.

Pete
Guest
Pete

I’ll add my voice to the ones who prefer “bike-friendly suburbs”. I don’t want to live in a city and I want space around me. Not sprawl, space. I live in an ‘idyllic’ small town right now (and the infrastructure sucks) but am moving to the endless sprawl of Silicon Valley, where I plan to keep bike commuting as I did when I lived there over a decade ago. I had been working in Beaverton and found it a fairly nice blend of space and infrastructure. I know many of you will find that shocking.

All this survey shows me is that Americans aren’t statistically happy with the status quo and think the grass is greener on the other side (even the title calls that out). Big surprise. Further, I know many Americans who have moved to or lived in Amsterdam or want to, and most of them don’t even own a bicycle.

Yes, I will miss the good beer here.