Tag Archives: living

“Nothing interests humans more than other humans”

I’ve been reading a wonderful book about urban planning called Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream.

Suburban Nation
The cover to the book “Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream.”

In this politely harsh critique on the idiosyncrasies of modern attitudes towards city building and the backwards promises of suburbia, Andres Duany and his team write one sentence in particular that could easily sum up the main problem with suburban living:

Nothing interests humans more than other humans.

I’m sure you’ve seen images like the one here before.

An image from a webpage of the Montclair Film Festival that accompanies a series entitled “Coming Of Age In Suburbia.”

Cookie-cutter homes, sometimes all built exactly alike, placed along winding “community” roads that don’t really lead anywhere. These “communities” promise high standards of living sometimes afforded by 24-hour security personnel, reliable maintenance staff paid for by money-hungry homeowner’s associations, and most importantly, a peace of mind that only a staid arrangement of homes, homes and more homes could offer.

But the negatives in these communities outweigh the positives. I see this happen even in a highly populated city like Miami, whose outlying suburbs – Kendall, Miami Lakes, Cutler Bay – cause traffic jams daily as commuters travel increasingly longer distances than they should to get back home from their jobs in the city.

Traffic is only part of the problem, though. The very idea of people jumping into their cars, tuning out the world until they enter the safety of their gated home within their gated community, is one that’s tearing us apart as a society.

In Suburban Nation, Duany explains that suburbia grew out of a mid-20th century distaste with dirty and cramped inner cities whose factories, sweatshops and tenements were but infant children of the Industrial Revolution. “Inner-city living” became a phrase befitting of people who couldn’t afford to live somewhere nicer.

Nowadays, the opposite is true, with people paying premiums to live in city centers even if the extant appeal of suburbia has blighted them into a shell of what they used to be.

Downtown Miami and its surrounding neighborhoods are great examples.

A shot of Brickell, a Miami neighborhood, at night.

A formerly bustling area at all hours of the day, Downtown Miami is now a vagrant-ridden ghost town after 6pm. However, condominiums in and around the area are commanding insane prices that most of Miami’s population can’t even afford.

Why is that? Because the urban renaissance is upon us. People don’t want to live ten, twenty, thirty miles from their jobs or from places of entertainment, for that matter. The city life is the new chic, with the ability to walk to everywhere becoming the new way to live. Cities themselves are way cleaner and more attractive than they used to be when suburbia became a thing, meaning “inner-city living” is fast becoming something cool.

City Life
Best part of living in the city? Taking to any high roof and feeling like Batman.

The most appealing factor of that city life chic, however, is indeed the fact that it’s so easy to interact with other humans. When people are able to walk to the majority of their daily destinations, they naturally encounter a greater amount of other humans than if they were to drive everywhere. Think about running into your friends or colleagues at a bar on your way to the grocery store, jumping into a fitness class at the park on your way back from work.

We need to ask ourselves, then: what do we really qualify as a high standard of living? For me, living in a gated community where there’s nothing to do is the exact opposite of a high living standard. Being able to meet new people simply by stepping outside my living quarters is a much more appealing lifestyle, and for obvious reasons, it’s also a much more sustainable one: think about how many pedestrians fit into the space taken up by a single automobile.

Suburbia, Duany and his team ultimately conclude, is a failed experiment that catered to specific circumstances of its time but ultimately did not deliver on its promise of better living. People love people, and putting up dividing walls, fences and gates between neighbors is not the way to promote that.

What do you think about living in suburbia versus living in the city? Let’s talk!



Food Sustainability | A Conversation with Erin Healy, Youth LEAD Founder

In a world where production and consumption of mass produced food items is the norm, one Miami-based nonprofit organization stands out among the rest as promoting a much healthier way of eating. Youth L.E.A.D. is a “food justice” organization devoted to getting youth to “adopt healthy, sustainable behaviors and advocate for food & environmental justice in their schools and communities.”

L.E.A.D. runs several different kinds of events. Its “Activist Academy” is a “4-month training that includes field trips, food preparation classes, community outreach, guest speakers, and hands-on activities”; it also hosts adult cooking classes and various farmers’ markets.

Youth L.E.A.D. Farmers’ Markets Schedule
Saturdays Noon-3pm | behind Arcola Lakes Library | 8240 NW 7th Ave
Sundays 11am-1pm | St. Philip Neri Church | Bunche Park Rd & NW 157th Street
Last Saturday of each month 11am-2pm | LAB | 400 NW 26th Street

I recently caught up with L.E.A.D.’s founder, Erin Healy, and asked her about her inspiration for L.E.A.D. and her thoughts on the current state of food production in the world.

Cover of Eating Animals

Her impetus to start L.E.A.D. came from a genuine concern with the health and environmental problems that were being brought about by big companies in the food industry in the past few years. She explained how genetically enhanced foods cause an array of health problems for their consumers, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and how the current agricultural system is one of the leading causes of global warming. Personally, and through her organization, Healy advocates the production and consumption of locally grown produce and food items that are tastier and more organic than their current mass-produced counterparts.

Healy’s ideas ring true in today’s society, where pieces of nonfiction such as Jonathan Foer’s Eating Animals reveal the nasty side of our efficient food production techniques.

But the question is one of feasibility – can we actually afford, in these harsh economic times, to switch, on a large scale, to production of our own fruits and vegetables? Healy argues that people who could feasibly do this, don’t. There’s a good number of common folk that could switch to independent production that don’t, and when this collective follows suit, we’ll be much better off as a society.

L.E.A.D. reaches out namely to impoverished or otherwise low-income communities in Miami Dade County, such as Overtown or Little Haiti. Healy argues that this is the case for two reasons: one, because it’s generally such communities whose interests are least represented in government; two, because of an anti-stereotypical envelope – not all people concerned about the environment are white, middle-class hippies.

L.E.A.D. is currently sponsored by the Miami Foundation but is looking to achieve 501c3 status so as to open the door to more ways of self-funding.

For more details about Youth L.E.A.D., visit http://www.youthleadmiami.org. L.E.A.D. is currently looking for volunteers for its farmers’ markets. Follow youthleadmiami on Facebook, @youthleadmiami on Twitter!

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