Two Cheers for Cheap

MLewyn's picture

In new urbanist circles, "cheap" is often a dirty word; for example, I recently noticed a reference to "cheap" suburbs in a blog.  I find this objectionable for two reasons.  First, in a nation where many regions suffer from insanely expensive housing projects, we should be striving for cheaper housing.  To be fair, sometimes planners and architects use "cheap" as a synonym for "badly designed"- but this is imprecise.  If we want to say something is badly designed, we should say exactly that.

Second, it implies that sprawl that is not "cheap" is somehow less objectionable.  American suburbs are full of mammoth estate homes on multi-acre lots.  These houses are usually expensive, but no matter how expensive their building materials, they are even worse than "cheaper" sprawl from a pro-urban perspective.  This is so for (at least) two reasons.  First, estate homes take up so much land that their residents can't even walk comfortably to a neighbor's house, let alone a bus stop.  (See here and here for an example or two.) Second, as a result these anti-neighborhoods are even less likely to have sidewalks and buses than cheaper suburbs.  Moreover, I suspect these homes are also more environmentally harmful than smaller, cheaper homes since they probably require more energy to build.


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