Why a book on suburbia?
Albert Hsu: Over half the population lives in suburbia. Our country used to be half urban and half rural, but suburbia has expanded so much that just about a quarter still live in big cities and less than that in small towns. Suburbia may be one of the most significant mission fields of the twenty-first century.
You say that the suburban life is a spiritual quest. What do you mean by this?
Hsu: When people describe suburbia, they always say that it's a good place to have kids and raise a family. In other words, it's the place of their hopes and dreams for their futures. These are spiritual longings. People come to suburbia looking for a fresh start, for new jobs or relationships or communities. Even if they're in suburbia for the wrong reasons, like materialism or fear of racial diversity, these still point to spiritual needs.
So is suburbia a good thing or a bad thing?
Hsu: It's both. Back during the industrial revolution, people lived in overcrowded urban slums in the shadow of factory smokestacks, and it was dangerous. It was a public health hazard. People were at risk at home and at work. When suburbs were developed, people were able to live away from industrial areas and have better living conditions. But an unintended consequence of suburban living is that people no longer lived in the same area that they worked in. It created a commuter culture.
You write that suburbia shapes us for good and for bad. Can you give an example?
Hsu: Suburbs are designed with cars in mind. That's how the geographic land-use patterns are designed. You can't really get anywhere in suburbia by walking--things are spread too far out. Many areas don't even have sidewalks. This suburban commuter culture fragments us--we live in one suburb and work half an hour away in a different suburb and go to church in yet another suburb. So our lives are fragmented into different communities that don't overlap.
What can we do to counter commuter culture?
Hsu: Besides walking more and biking more, we can recover a parish concept. People used to think in terms of neighborhood parishes, with work, school, church, the corner store all within walking distance, and you'd see the same people in the same community. It's harder to do that now in suburbia, but try to focus on a five-mile radius of your house. Try to work near your home and go to a church near your home. Consolidate your life so you live, work, shop and worship all in the same area. You'll spend less time commuting and have more opportunities to invest in the local community.