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.