At the presentations I attended last week, one of the speakers made a comment to the effect of, “everyone wants to go home to their leafy green suburbs.”

Needless to say, it really jumped out at me. If everyone wants to go home to their leafy green suburbs, where does that leave cities?

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Even if cities are sufficiently leafy green, there’s a bigger issue here. It’s about individual decision making vs. group decision making. The line of thinking often goes: while it may be fine for me to live in a city instead of a suburb, and deal with some of the resulting inconveniences or grittiness, and bike to work, and only eat (and pay extra for) local, organic food, this isn’t really a reasonable thing to expect from other people. In particular, this isn’t really a reasonable thing to expect from a potential mate or my offspring.There’s a certain script, it seems, that a life typically follows: Strike out on your own and live a very basic existence, you know, “I went into the woods to live simply …” It might even be a sustainable one, as with biodiversivist, whose treatise on everything and the kitchen sink this weekend is a must-read. After living this type of existence, however, and as is noted, you typically get a job, a house, a mate, and offspring. At this point, most folks have left cities far behind in favor of those leafy green suburbs.

Are cities inherently appealing only to the rugged individualist type? Or is there a place for the family man there too? New Urbanism might have something to say here, with mixed development and integration of the four-person house with the apartment flat, but at the same time, maybe the family man doesn’t want to live next to the rugged individualist, especially if the rugged individualist plays her music too loud.

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It might be a sense of personal space that’s at the heart of this issue then. In that case, high density, and ways to make people feel comfortable about high density, are going to be key solutions. The amount of square footage available is practically boundless if people are willing to live in ever higher developments. They don’t even have to go that high if we are willing to push them out from solely urban centers to what is currently suburbia.