Friday, April 15, 2005

Technology, Longer Commutes, and Family Time

USA Today observed that population is booming in the exurbs, 30 to 40 miles out from the center of cities such as Washington, DC, Atlanta, and Minneapolis (click on the title above for the article). Places like Loudoun County, Virginia, and Clay County, Georgia, are the recipients of these population booms.

The article explains "This spreading out is happening after a decade when the USA grew faster than at any time since the 1960s, spurring demand for millions of new housing units. Despite efforts to contain suburban sprawl and encourage denser development, many Americans are willing to endure longer commutes to achieve their dream of owning a single-family home with a big yard."

This is not a new phenomenon. We have been "sprawling" now since we've begun owning cars, since the homecoming of WWII troops wanting good homes for their baby-boomer families. The joy of sprawl is part of our human nature. Some people think the concept has received a bad rap. There are consequences of every lifestyle density. Certainly the densities of central cities are not without volumes written about noted problems.

One of the unmentioned contributors to this apparent new wave of more far-reaching sprawl is technology: The cell phones, the personal data assistants (PDAs), technical integration with the likes of Blackberrys, entertainment via iPods and satellite radio. These technologies make life on the road both more efficient and more palatable, if not entertaining and enjoyable. To overcome the $3 per gallon gas prices are the hybrids, the Prius', and their clones will be marketed en mass. Sprawl will continue...and many people will like it, maybe even thrive.

The other unmentioned, and not easily quantifiable factor is the growing time away from home and family. More sprawl means longer commutes. Longer commutes mean more time away from home. This is a trend that seems to be continuing for many families. There may be some personal satisfaction for some to be away more, career or otherwise. There may be some significant financial benefit for the family. But there are also very significant social consequences. Less family unity, less guidance for the kid, greater potential for broken homes, the chain of effective parenting and example of family unity broken for future generations.

Some families understand these consequences and are not willing to accept them. Some familes will make housing decisions that enable them to live closer to work and spend more time at home. These decisions will often result in living in smaller or older homes, paying higher taxes, and occasionally attending inferior schools.

The options are many. The decisions are personal. The consequences are long-lived. The values we hold highest will prevail in the decisions we make.

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