Author Makes the Case for Urban Life as Environmental Choice

Published August 1, 2008

Hybrid Neighborhoods
By John L. Gann Jr.
CarpeHoram, 2007, 38 pages, $9.95

I love living where the suburbs meet the country–quiet mornings and evenings, a good-sized backyard in which to play with my children. I see a stand of trees, rather than somebody else’s back porch and trash can, from my bedroom window. How can you top that?

Inducement, Not Coercion

Every so often, activist groups and would-be social planners try to force people like me to move to the city to reduce the number of vehicle miles we travel (although most of my neighbors don’t work in the city anyway) and to create a more concentrated ecological footprint. Always, it seems, their pining for a more concentrated populace is supported more by the threat of laws and regulations than by reason and constructive discourse.

A refreshing departure from such heavy-handed mandates is presented by John L. Gann Jr. in his short book Hybrid Neighborhoods. Gann, an urban development consultant for older communities, presents his case for a more urban society by highlighting the benefits of more concentrated communities and noting how this can translate into financial savings for individuals who undertake the change.

As for me, I still prefer to stay on the rural edge of extended suburbia. But Gann presents his case for more concentrated communities while explicitly respecting the right of Americans to choose for themselves where they want to live, which is rare and commendable.

By not pursuing an underlying agenda to take away my freedom, Gann succeeds where nobody else has–he induced me to read his concentrated-community pitch from cover to cover. He didn’t convince me to sell my half-acre of bliss, but he does make some observations that might appeal to many readers. After all, we are all unique, and what appeals to me might not appeal to someone else (and vice versa).

Urban Advantages

Gann begins by stating the obvious: Gasoline prices have risen dramatically in the past few years. A 30-mile drive to work that used to cost you a dollar or two in gas now costs about six dollars each way. And that’s if you are traveling by car, instead of SUV.

Additionally, if you live in or closer to the city, your trips to the grocery store and other destinations are likely to be much shorter, perhaps even within walking distance. Down go your gasoline costs still further.

Yes, houses and yards are smaller in the city, but Gann argues access to public parks makes up for much of this. According to Gann, other benefits are more close-knit communities, more opportunities for your children to make good friends and play with them on a daily basis, and a greater likelihood of exercising and staying in shape via more frequent walks for daily errands and the close proximity of basketball courts and other attractive alternatives to the X-Box.

To Each His Own

Personally, I don’t buy it.

I grew up in apartment complexes in or very close to large cities, and while there are some advantages, they’re far from idyllic.

I like being able to fire up a cigar and not have my next-door neighbor gripe about the smoke wafting into his window 10 feet from my back porch. I like having enough distance between my house and the neighbors that I don’t have to listen to somebody else’s kids screaming or the parents yelling back at them. I like the peace and serenity of seeing a fox trot through my backyard at dusk.

Regardless of the differences in our individual tastes, however, Hybrid Neighborhoods presents strong arguments for urban living in a manner that is not an affront to our personal liberty to decide to live where and how we please.

As such, it is worth reading with an open mind–regardless of whether you consider yourself a city mouse or a country mouse.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is a senior fellow of The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

For more information …

Hybrid Neighborhoods can be ordered for $9.95 each directly from Carpe Horam, 135 South Hancock Street #201, Madison, WI 53703; phone 866-61-HORAM, email [email protected].