QUESTIONS FROM A YOUNG ARCHITECT

There is something I mentioned in a previous post and I wanted to come back to the topic of urban sprawl…. We have all heard it and are increasingly aware of the problem we face. Gas continues to go up in price and I believe that we should see the density start to rise again in our major cities. But many of us will continue to say that the time we spend in the car and the amount we spend on gas is just part of the daily grind. I think that train of thought will begin to change, or I can at least hope that it will change.

Speaking for myself, I don’t like to waste my time and I don’t know many young people who do. Currently, I live forty-five minutes from the office where I work.  That means I spend between an hour and half and two hours in my car a day with traffic. Take that over a week, and that’s between six and half to ten hours. Over a month that means I will spend approximately twenty six to forty hours in my car, that’s nearly a week of work every month I am missing out on while sitting in my car.

Let’s say for the sake of this article we keep the math simple, and say I make ten dollars an hour. So in a month I waste nearly four hundred dollars in my time, and another two in the gas I burn on my way to and from the office. Now I realize we don’t get paid for the time we aren’t working but for this argument let’s say we put a value on our time like our employers do. So in the span of one month I will spend nearly six hundred dollars in time and resources going back forth to work.

Now what happens when I move closer to the city, and if I only lived a mile and a half from the office? What if I bought a bike and I could actually ride to work. I could save 95% of my time to and from the office; I would get exercise daily, and save a large amount of money. Now what if that six hundred a month I was spending could actually get invested in something more valuable? Now I realize I am only a drop in a much larger bucket, but what happens when the majority of those living more than 15 minutes from work did the same. What impact would that have on our cities? How much would the density rise, how much better could our cities be? Would we start to see a rebirth in our cities? What would we do with the money are spending on gas?

I would like to believe if we made our cities into walk able environments and reduced our dependence on our cars and trucks we could start to see pride take hold again and a concern for the built environment. What if we could walk to wherever we needed to go, would we stop being lazy? Could we start to see an increase in our activity? What about an increase in our sense of community? What if we started to invest in public space and the built environment, instead of our own private spaces with fences that make our boundaries very clear to the public? What happens when start to enjoy housing with a shared courtyard, a place where we can get to know our neighbors beyond saying hi at the mail box, a place for a community garden that could yield as much as you put into it? What if the amount we spend on gas goes down and we could spend it with our families, or giving back to amazing nonprofits that do incredible work, or taking a class or that trip we have been dreaming of?

What happens when we stop increasing the size of our homes? When we have a modest dwelling we begin to set priorities to what we actually need versus what we think we need. A close friend of mine reminds me that designing small means simply designing smart. I look around and have to ask, do we really live in a time of surplus? I have always thought that modesty is a good thing.  How is it that we are impressed by the square footage of our homes and not by how charitable we are, or what we are doing for the community?

I know that I have posed a lot of questions and not offered many solutions, but I hope that these thoughts and these ideas might wake something up inside of you and that you begin thinking about how this relates to your life. I feel like a hypocrite while writing about all of this, knowing that I am living in suburbia with my parents and doing nothing to change that. I know that I am just starting out and don’t have the ability to go out on my own, so I am fortunate to have the support of my family and will never take that for granted. For now I know that the drive might be long but I wouldn’t be able to make it without them in my life, a big thank you to my friends and family who are always there to support me in all that I do.

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4 thoughts on “QUESTIONS FROM A YOUNG ARCHITECT

  1. Great post. I’ve been asking those same questions to myself and everyone I know for a while. I have the same 45min drive problem as you, only I live that far away from work because the town I work in is really crappy. It was either live 5 min from work and 45 min away from anything worthwhile or 45 min from work and 5 min from everything else.

  2. Hi. As Benjamin I ve been asking myself these questions. But I dont think it is that simple. I dont live in US as you do, so the situation here in Europe is probably different in most of the towns. Most of my life I lived in places where nobody really needed a car. Most things you need are in walking distance from place you live/work. Some of them that aren’t (e.g. family living in other town) is easily reachable by public transport.
    Recently bought myself a car and I moved to big city, to its suburb to be precise. I wanted to experience it first hand. I also spend 45min-1h driving every morning/evening. I get excercise every night, so this didn’t make me lazy. But other than that, living in suburbia is much much worse. (I plan to move back to town centre soon). Housing is just much cheaper. That is in my oppinion big reason why people move to suburbs (here, at least).
    But, it is not black and white. Has its positives. Many big positives I think. This whole system of transport, cars, trains, highways allows you to effectively cooperate with much much more people/companies. It allows quicker and better exchange of information/knowledge/goods. And also it allows families to live together even when they do not work/study close to other members of the family. The price you have to pay for it is those 45min every morning/evening.
    Thing is, if you were to live in walking distance from place you live, then there is a big chance either you or your wife would have a crappy job, or would see each other only on weekends.
    But I totally agree that we should definitely try to make places where we live in such a way that we would not need cars that often.

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