Editorial staffers at the suburban-poverty.com office park have been looking for solutions to suburban dysfunction, not just descriptions of it. One of the most imaginative and interesting collections of good ideas yet seen came together in 2009 for Dwell magazine’s Reburbia competition. We were immediately enamoured of such things as Zeppelin-based public transit and monster homes repurposed as dispersed water biofiltration plants. Far out at times, yes. But things are unsustainable as they are now.
Reburbia winners announced
From time-to-time in the Greater Toronto Area a group called OCAP, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, can garner attention for its activism. The general public alternates between apathy toward, and disapproval of, anything to do with OCAP. Among recent efforts is the open letter to Premier McGuinty at the link below. It makes a specific criticism of a municipal program designed to relieve homelessness in Toronto. The group objects to the way the program involves relocating those experiencing homelessness out of downtown areas to the edges.
Open Letter to Mayor David Miller, Councilor Joe Mihevc and Streets To Homes Manager Iain De Jong
For most of us, urban street people are generally what comes to mind when we hear the word homeless. People without secure and reasonable access to permanent places to live populate the suburbs in growing numbers. They are just less readily visible. They can include ‘couch-surfing’ young people, tent campers living alongside rivers or in woodlots and people in shelters or living in a motor vehicle. They are hard to count and hard to bring services to.
“Suburban homelessness has its own set of challenges. Suburbs often lack public transportation, shelters, and government assistance agencies. By far the largest hurdle the suburban homeless have to overcome is that they are not supposed to exist.”
Last refuge for the homeless: living in the car
Swedish researchers have linked marriage stress and failure with long commutes. In sociological enquiry of any kind the underlying idea seems to be to constantly generate new questions. This study does that in droves. Big mortgages for suburban homes require major time investments in commuting. Many now live in one suburb and commute to another suburb. Not easy.
Long commutes bad for marriage
“A long commute to work might further job prospects and put more money in the bank but it could also increase the risk for divorce by 40 percent, a new study from Umeå University in northern Sweden shows”
Towards the tail end of the boom the media in North America coined the term “supercommuter” for people cruising as much as ninety minutes each way between home and workplace. Presumably that was by choice. Now, the Great Recession seems to be incentivizing some long drives.
Recession breeds wave of supercommuters
Looks like both cities and suburbs have lost a lot of their cultural weight and the result is a kind of post modern confusion about how we ought to live. Cities and suburbs seem to repel us and attract us.
Suburbs vs. cities — whose utopias? rabble.ca
Out on the new, poorer frontier there’s at least one fun thing we can all bank on: dead shopping malls. Perhaps along with zombie car dealerships and deep coma garden centres the malls will form a stock of adaptable, recyclable structures more suited to a post-cheap energy and post-high finance world? Are you wagering that stash of gold bars and shot gun shells on it? Didn’t think so.
Ghosts of shopping past photo gallery
Malls of a certain age audio link on page
“The enclosed mall itself, though, is as dead as your average big-city newspaper. Which is to say: not dead yet, exactly, but no one’s betting on its future.”
Liberal, activist, progressive, independent news voice AlterNet gets a whack in at suburban poverty in this feature article:
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development produces a host of data directly useful for assessing social conditions. Do we need a supercomputer to connect rising inequality and the stacked economic gains of the rich with suburban poverty and downward mobility?
Notes for individual countries are found on the OECD site (.pdf files):
Better than many for a long time but no reason to be smug: Canada
Faltering after some improvement: United Kingdom
Forget it, only Turkey & Mexico are worse for income inequality: United States
Some improvement but could do better: Australia
The mass appearance of one begat the other and so we find the fate of the middle class and the fate of suburban life conjoined in a fashion that would have given Eng and Chang Bunker a good fright. You could not have had one without the other. Moving forward into the Long Emergency and a world of expensive petroleum, general resource depletion, traumatic economics, badly impaired credit/financial systems and shock doctrines we may end up losing much of both suburbia and its most loyal customers. Leave it to The Atlantic Monthly to be a source of timely content for us yet again.
Can the Middle Class Be Saved?
“The Great Recession has accelerated the hollowing-out of the American middle class. And it has illuminated the widening divide between most of America and the super-rich. Both developments herald grave consequences. Here is how we can bridge the gap between us.”Elizabeth Warren is an academic expert with a specialty in credit law and consumer debt/bankruptcy issues. She was in the documentary Maxed Out and the link below takes you to a presentation she gave in 2008. 57 minutes that will open your eyes. If you have the stomache for the details of the destruction of the middle class in America block out the time. Seriously, this wonderful, articulate, compassionate and very smart woman should be the president of the USA, not that nice, utterly feckless Obama guy.
The coming collapse of the middle class
Better quality, less reactionary consideration of recent riots in England is starting to emerge. The first item from The Guardian makes a reasonable connection to prolonged French suburban rioting six years ago, examining the motives of actors in the street. The second, older item from The Economist, …well, see for yourself.
Striking parallels between UK riots and France 2005 unrest
Rebranding la banlieue: an attempt to brush up the image of Parisian suburbs