Death by Leisure Deficit

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Living in a quintessential suburb so soon after being in the thick of things in Boston (and close to it in Houston and St. Louis), the very title of the following piece had me saying Amen. In "A Leisure Deficit Is Killing Off the Suburbs," Leonid Bershidsky considers a study with pretty good controls about why "the relationship between housing prices and distance from the center of major U.S. cities has reversed since 1980."

Indeed, since 1990, the number of skilled people working long hours -- 50 a week or more -- has been growing. There are often two such people to a relatively affluent household, and they know a long commute is not an option: It doesn't just leave little time for fun and family life, it's downright bad for one's health. A 2012 paper showed that increasing the daily commuting time from 62 minutes -- the average for Americans living in urban areas -- by another 60 minutes leads to a 6 percent decrease in health-related activities and so contributes to obesity. Short commutes that can be made by foot or bicycle actually increase a worker's life satisfaction because they're healthy and provide a cushion between home and work life.
Another thing Bershidsky considers as a possible solution is telecommuting, whose wider adoption he correctly notes faces cultural inertia. Although I'd caution that telecommuting is no panacea, I think that wise use of remote work could greatly alleviate the burden of commuting.

That said, I'd add that suburban living is worse for leisure time than the obvious culprit Bershidsky discusses. Thanks to government planning, the layout of most suburbs is horrendous. I have found that doing almost anything somewhere besides home almost always entails at least twenty minutes of driving time before and after. (Don't be fooled: even a so-called "five minute drive" includes getting into and out of a car, finding parking, and often, gratuitous traffic delays.) So, driving eats away at what little time a suburbanite isn't at work, commuting, or asleep. And walking or biking? My own experience has been that walking, once an integral and enjoyable part of my routine, is now something I have to go out of my way to do.

As far as I'm concerned, the suburbs can't die off fast enough.

-- CAV

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