The LA Times article also cites historian Robert Bruegmann, author of Sprawl: A Compact History, as noting that the same criticisms about suburbia being anonymous and alienated were also made about downtown areas fifty years ago.
A new study led by a UC Irvine economist debunks a popular argument against urban sprawl – that living farther from neighbors decreases social interaction. In fact, the data shows that suburban living is better for one’s social life.
Using data from 15,000 Americans living in various places across the country, researchers found that residents of sprawling suburban spaces actually have more friends, more contact with neighbors and greater involvement in community organizations than citydwellers who live in very close proximity to each other.
Among their specific findings were that for every 10-percent decrease in density, the likelihood of residents talking to their neighbors at least once a week jumps by 10 percent. And involvement in hobby-oriented clubs increases even more significantly – by 15 percent for every 10 percent decline in density. To measure these and other social interactions, researchers used data from the Social Capital Benchmark Survey and controlled for other factors such as income, education and marital status.
A Canadian news article reporting on the same study cites the lead researcher, economics prof Jan Brueckner (who is also editor of the Journal of Urban Economics), who said, "We found that interaction goes down as population density goes up. So, turning it around, it says that interaction is higher where densities are lower. What that means is suburban living promotes more interaction than living in the central city."
The article goes on to quote a suburban resident as saying,
My take? Suburbia may not be as isolating and anonymous as urbanites think, but it certainly still takes a good amount of intentionality for us to connect with our neighbors. I still don't know the names of all the neighbors on our block, and we've been living in our subdivision for two years. I'd be interested to find out more concrete details of this study - exactly how much interaction are we talking about? Chatting with a neighbor once a week? Having someone over once a month? Even if it's not as bad as we might have assumed it is, I'm sure there's plenty of room for growth, for suburban Christians to practice hospitality, friendship and community.
"You couldn't give me a free house in the city and say, `Move here.' Honestly, I could never do it," she says. "There's just too many people, people are too close to each other and people are not friendly. I'm a chatterer and people don't chat in the city."
Costa is a member of her community centre, where she uses the fitness facilities five days a week and knows "almost everyone." She contrasts her lifestyle with that of her sister, who lives and works in Toronto, and concludes that she "would never leave the suburbs."
"People are always in a rush to get where they need to go and they work a lot more," Costa says of life in the city. "A lot of the time in the suburbs, people have families and their life is a little more relaxed."