Monday, November 24, 2008

Kunstler's Suburbs vs. Jeff Vail's

Jeff Vail ( in his latest post proposes an interesting future for the suburbs that is very different from the bleak fate Jim Kunstler describes ( Vail mentions research by John Jeavons into sustainable small-scale agriculture, showing that only 4,000 square feet per person is needed. This assumes a vegetarian diet, but also requires no outside input of fertilizer etc., and is achieved by growing 60% high carbon produce such as corn in order to provide compost for the soil. Since the average size of the suburban lot is larger than a city lot (Vail mentions 1/4 acre), the suburbanites at least have the space to do this.

I think Vail has a good point, and also has made the correct observation in his last few posts that we're basically stuck with the suburbs and that those who live there will have to keep living there because they won't be able to sell their houses in order to move, and even if they could then the new occupant would replace them (note to reader, the assumption here is that gasoline will be scarce or expensive or both - I know that's not true right now, but remember a few months ago?) He also has argued that commuting costs can easily be negated by measures like car pooling.

So his argument interesting, but I still think that the suburban model for current society is a great inefficiency. What he proposes is taking this model and turning it into something more like the rural past, so that it becomes efficient again. But it is no longer the suburbs then. I know it's just semantics - and I think he has given a good solution to this problem.

The big question is can people who live in the suburbs accept this.

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