Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Friday, August 29, 2014

thinking about cities 5...

People love their cars.

Okay, what’s the most dangerous thing people do every day, with the highest-likelihood of our own death, dismemberment, etc.? It’s driving. Driving is extremely dangerous. More people die on the road every day than die from getting mugged or carjacked in the urban communities of our country.
People love their cars, right?

In urban California, people had better love their cars, because they’ll probably be spending more time in their car than they will eating meals, and one daily meal will probably be eaten inside of a car. The average commute for people who drive to work in San Francisco is over 30 minutes one-way. One hour every day is lost to a mechanical action, with no physical activity, extremely high risk, and very low levels of human interaction, skill mastery, and personal development. It is a loss of time, and a loss of happiness. The hole in the day also takes away from time spent cooking meals.

Ask this question, then: How many fast food restaurants do you pass on the way to and from work? It is very likely that people in households where every adult works, the norm in America, will be able to mentally drive to work and count restaurants because it is very likely that people in that household stopped in those restaurants for meals, because time is a precious commodity for the American worker. In a sixteen-hour day, eight of it will be spent working. One will be spent commuting. That leaves seven hours for showering, eating, cleaning up after ourselves, and taking care of our pets and families. Often, the negotiation of time that happens never impacts our careers, which must come first. Our negotiation of time comes from the rest of the day, where the easiest things to let slide - housework, eating - happen in the kitchen. Eating out not only saves preparation time; it saves cleaning time. 

It also destroys our personal health, our personal happiness, decimates our communities’ well-being, and turns our planet into a disastrous superheated ball of death.

The side effect of eating out: We eat shitty food. We are tired, stressed, looking for comfort. We eat shitty food. It is cheap. It is readily available. At no point in the creation of the shitty food does a company think about the health of their customers. In fact, food exists that seems to revel in how unhealthy it actually is as if that is a selling point. Size of the meat patty sells burgers. Bacon added on to meat patty sells burgers. Even relatively healthy-ish options like sandwiches with vegetables on them are quickly doused in over-sweetened and over-salted sauces that will trigger our primordial impulse for fat and sweet.

As a country, we are eating ourselves to death.

The solution is to eat out less, and make healthy meals at home.

Even people who do not eat out will rely on prepackaged foods and sauces as time savers at the house. How many frozen pizzas does a family of four eat in the average month? (Answer: tk seeking source on this.)

Pre-made foods, pre-packaged foods, frozen heat and eat foods, all must be pumped with preservatives to retain shelf life, and are often made extra-enticing by hidden fats and sugars that seem out of place. Time is a precious resource, and it is consumed by long commutes, which, in turn, lead to consuming faster alternatives to prepared, healthy meals.

Health is time. Time is health. We trade one for the other, caught in a system that rewards us with time temporarily for making decisions that will impact our health some day. Why anyone would do this, even knowing the cost to their own health, is often because of the value of the home and the quality the schools. Wealthy people have many choices for schools, including private schools. Poor people have no choice. Their children's future is circumscribed by their zip code. Education opportunities increasingly go to the people who can disconnect from their communities, and chase the wealthier neighborhoods and better schools. Financial advisers do regularly suggest pushing a family mortgage to the limits of what is possible if it means a substantially better school for the kids. Building a better future for the next generation is a worthy investment: What's the point of money without a better future for our kids? But, it is unevenly distributed. Poverty accumulates in poverty. Kids from poor neighborhood have no exposure to kids from rich neighborhoods. Kids from middle class neighborhoods remain with middle class kids. We sort ourselves by our wealth, and we sort our children by it, too, and train them to sort their future by wealth. 

Wealth also buys better food. When we are poor, we will often die young in terrible chronic pain that drains our bank accounts and leaves little for the next generation. If we are a little luckier, we who are poor, we will die suddenly without lingering from some unknown chronic condition, and some part of our life will be passed on to our children, who may be able to get out of poor neighborhoods with that boon of minor generational wealth. 

Anyway, revenge comes in the form of commuting times. Rich people often commute greater distances, eat terrible junk food as a result of long commutes, and face many of the same conditions as those who spend an hour on a bus will face.

Driving is the most dangerous thing we do, and we do it every day. We move out into the hills to escape minor likelihoods of criminal attempts, and we extend our commute, increasing the likelihood of accidents, which are a leading cause of death. And, this drive feeds into our gnawing addiction of terrible fast food, and this leads to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, which are all leading killers of men and women.

Move out into the suburbs if you must. But do so with your eyes open. Time and health are the only two things you truly have. Everything else is a cultural affectation.


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