Blog :: 03-2012

Just Say No to Suburban Sprawl (and Yes to Towns Like Maplewood)

Here's a short quiz:  What do the diner, the fast-food drive-thru, the turnpike and the mall have in common? Apparently, these icons of suburbia all had their beginnings in New Jersey. I  learned this bit of historical trivia from an interview with Dr. Richard Jackson published last week on NJ.com.

Jackson is a physician who believes that our environment, specifically suburban sprawl, is making us sick. Born and raised in New Jersey, he remembers when neighborhoods were arranged around downtown: a central area with schools, shops, and religious and civic buildings (towns like Bloomfield, Maplewood and Montclair). At some point however, the American Dream came to mean "getting away from it all."  Homes were built further and further away from downtown areas, which meant a new dependence on the automobile.

As Americans are driving more and walking less, Jackson claims, we are becoming heavier, which leads to complications ranging from high blood pressure to diabetes. We are also living further from each other - this isolation may well have something to do with the huge increase in diagnoses of depression over the past several decades.

Like any good doctor, Jackson has a cure for what ails us. He prescribes a return to traditional neighborhoods: "We need to stop making the car the first priority in everything we build." Sounds like a walkable suburb to me.

There! I Said It: You'll Be Happier Living in Montclair...

You'll be happier living in Montclair than in  most other suburbs - A bold statement, I know. It's subjective, but there are in fact, a three key predictors of happiness -  1. health 2. wealth and 3. social connectedness.  Because of its  street layout, design and diversity of housing  Montclair offers  opportunities to foster all three.  Here are some examples.

 

 

  • Many parks and sports facilities where you can exercise and meet people.
  • Places to walk and bike to.
  • Streets with sidewalks so you can interact with other walkers.
  • Mixed-use and diverse housing styles/prices - from thrifty to extravagant.
  • Good public transportation so you don't always need to take your car.
  • Small, owner operated businesses - where they know you by name.
  • Lots of cultural venues for music, art and entertainment
  • A certain density of population so you don't feel isolated

I'm sure there are some die hard cul-de-sac fans out there as well as few Office Max aficionados.  So for those of us whose suburban dream is a three car garage and good access to the mall, I propose that Montclair may not be a good fit.  There's always Mt. Olive though.