MetroABQ Blog

Suburban Environmentalism


Suburban Environmentalism

(~NYTimes Article, February, 2010.)

Long time suburban residents might wonder how they suddenly became environmentally incorrect. People who moved to the suburbs in the ’50’s and ’60’s thought they were being green just by doing so, said Robert Beauregard, a professor of urban planning at Columbia University.

Then, green “just meant open space and privacy,” Professor Beauregard said. “Those Levittowns were ‘green’ because they had lawns.” The bar is considerably higher now.

But the problem with suburbs, many environmentalists say, is not an issue of lightbulbs. In the end, the very things that make suburban life attractive, lush lawns, spacious houses and three-car garages, also disproportionately contribute to global warming.

If the United States is ever to reduce its carbon emissions, suburbanites–that is, roughly half of all Americans–are going to have to play a big role. And they are trying. Since 2005, the mayors of hundreds of suburban communities across America have pledged to meet or even beat the emissions goals set by the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty to reduce greenhouse emissions. Albuquerque is among some of the larger suburban-style cities that have banded together to voluntarily try to meet the objectives.

Some of this new environmentalism seems to be working. Although the average square footage of a new house is still double what it was in 1960, in the last year it has decreased slightly, and the trend is continuing. While the decrease doesn’t approach mid-20th century levels, it is the first drop in house size since the recession of the early 1980s. With suburban living, it is possible to have relatively low density, and still maintain a more environmentally responsible lifestyle.

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