Friday, October 13, 2006
300 million could drive us crazy
The problem is not that America is too small to handle 300 million people. This is a vast nation with huge areas of affordable, largely unpopulated land. The problem is no one wants to live in the wide open spaces. The problem is we all want to live in the same place.

Having traveled to all 50 states many times, I'm convinced of it. Our ancestors spread from east to west across the continent, clearing forests, planting crops, raising houses and small towns, but we are now abandoning the countryside. Big cities have consolidated much of the political and economic power to draw business, so we have clustered ever more around giant metroplexes seeking employment and the hope of a secure financial future.

As competition for those jobs has grown, the competition for affordable housing nearby has grown too, pushing middle-class families further and further out beyond the suburbs.

The result: Commutes that were once considered unthinkable, except in a handful of the very largest cities, are now common. One hour. Ninety minutes. More. Each way. Studies show that the average American worker now spends more time in his or her car than on vacation. We eat in our cars, try to visit with our spouses, review the kids' school days, catch up on the news, all on the move.

Nearly everyone I talk to says they can't afford to live closer to the cities, but they also feel they can't afford to retreat from their well-paying big city jobs either. They are terrified by the uncertainty of employment as they get older and worry about failing company pension plans, a debt-riddled populace, and soaring costs for health care and education for their children. Maybe we're greedy too: We want big screen TVs, yet another cell phone, and an iPod for every person ... not the old ones, for crying out loud, the newest, smoking hot video ones.

I thought about all this during my 40-minute drive to work this morning in Washington, DC. (Don't hassle me too much. I've taken the Metro plenty of times and I biked to work 20 miles roundtrip for a year.)

Are our cities just too big? Do we just want too much? Or is our drive toward the future with 300 million people along for the ride just going to mean more, more and more driving?
Posted By Tom Foreman, CNN Correspondent: 10:47 AM ET
  65 Comments
Jobs notwithstanding, one huge factor in not wanting to live in the "wide open spaces" is the availability of water, or the lack of it. Yes, there are vast tracts of vacant land all around us but drilling a well would be futile. Believe me, if I had the ability to live in the middle of nowhere, I would just to get away from the rest of the 300 million.
Posted By Anonymous A. Roy Olson Tucson, AZ : 11:19 AM ET
I am a single mother of two living out in the country. I commute 50 minutes to work every morning (Fort Wort, TX) to make enough money to support my children. I absolutely hate the drive, but the city is where the money is. I refuse to move my children to the city where our lives would be even more stressful than they already are.

What is happening to our society? There is no time for fun, no time for quality time with our children and no time for ourselves (if there even is such a thing anymore).

The thing that saddens me most is that I think things are going to get worse. This fast-paced society is out of control. It is sucking us dry, literally in fact. I worry for my children. While we work more hours, schools are forcing our children to learn "more" at an earlier age. They don't have TIME to "just" be kids. That is the problem ... there isn't enough time in the day to do what our society requires of us. It is truly mentally and physically exhausting. It takes everything I have to get out of bed every morning. I don't see the rewards of this hard work. "Time" used to be our reward, but now there simply isn't any.

Call me old fashioned, but I wish I was back in the "Little House on the Prairie" days ...
Posted By Anonymous Tania Cavanaugh - Weatherford, Texas : 11:33 AM ET
Hi Tom~
Well, there goes the ozone. With 300 million and growing I think it's time to get busy with alternatively fueled vehicles. We all know the oil companies are holding this back. I truly hope that come November we get some politicians in office who care about these problems more that they care about padding their pockets. Ok~ I'm looking forward to Monday's 360 program and I am so impressed that you biked to work for a year! It wasn't a motorized bike was it?
Posted By Anonymous Betty Ann, Nacogdoches TX : 11:37 AM ET
Hi Tom,
I guess it is like everything else in life..We do the same thing over and over, repeat the same mistakes, and only when we are fed up to the gills, do we change..We'll probably commute until the cows come home..And for some of us we'll just give up and live where the cows roam and watch the traffic from afar..Decisions, Decisions..Take Care
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton,Calif. : 11:45 AM ET
Tom, your observations are painfully true. But I took the road less travelled. I moved my family from the city to the beautiful NC mountains. Up where are there is very little traffic and my county has a population of only 15,000. I travelled New York, Philly etc. and have lived many places. I would never choose to be a part of the over-crowded rat race again!
Posted By Anonymous Jack English Bakersville, N.C. : 12:06 PM ET
The problem isnt't with our current city populations. The problem is the future forcaseted reports due to the excess of immigration to the US without proper boarder patrol. There are only so many quote un quote "American Dreams", and if we keep giving them away to every person who comes here abroad then we will not have any left. Seriously if the government really cared about this country, instead of the all the money in this country, we might actually see a change.
Posted By Anonymous Charles DownSized MI : 12:09 PM ET
One Word:

Telecommuting.

If we can work where we want to live, most problems associated with big cities, congested highways and public transportation, aging infrastuctures of megacities will get major relief. We need technology and smart business to catch up with this population.

Just a quick sample: how much have the world saved in terms of gas, equipment, delivery time, labor etc. etc. with using e-mail instead of snail mail?
Posted By Anonymous Dean Oppenheimer - Chicago, IL : 12:09 PM ET
Hey Tom:
After reading your blog I found myself thinking more and more about what you've said and you know what? You're right!! In all the hustle and bustle of trying to get somewhere and have a great life for our families, we're getting further and further away from our hopes and dreams. Everything is compete, compete till we end up forgetting what we were competing for in the first place. And you know what else, it's our very dear families that we're passing on these horrible traits to. Now add wars and terrorism to the mix and you've got an awful lot (almost 300M) of paranoid nervous wrecks for a population that started out with such high hopes. Thankyou Tom for making us stop and think about it.
Posted By Anonymous Bev. Ontario Canada : 12:13 PM ET
I think companies should work towards having employees work remotely from home, the technology is there. It can cut down on company overhead like cubicles and office equipment\furniture. Then maybe we could spend more time in the countryside and not in our cars.
Posted By Anonymous Marty, St. John's, Newfoundland Canada : 12:17 PM ET
our cities are too big. I just moved from living outside a small city to Atlanta. It used to take me 30 minutes ot get to work, because I chose to live further outside of town. Now it takes me 1 hour of bumper to bumber traffic and that is as close as I can get to work and balance my wife's commute.
Posted By Anonymous TZ, Atlanta, GA : 12:20 PM ET
Tom,

I commend you for biking to work and taking transit to work - we need more people like you. I also agree with you that are cities are getting too big - not necessarily in population size - but the size of the footprint of land. With all of the problems from obesity, to air quality, global warming, loss of pristine landscape and agricultural land, and the general sameness (sprawl) that plagues America, it is time to start changing our habits. We can't afford to keep consuming the landscape because there are horrible consequences - and not just expensive gas prices. We need to focus on creating and stop sprawling!

The problem of walkable neighborhoods is the affordability of housing when we're packed into condensed places (which you mentioned). However, that issue we can tackle much more easily than the melting of polar ice caps from carbon dioxide and other auto related pollutants.
Posted By Anonymous Eric Fredericks, Sacramento, CA : 12:22 PM ET
If anyone in America has the right to complain about traffic, it is Southern California residents. It takes me 35 minutes (by street) to travel 5 miles. Thats right 5(!) miles. We cannot move to the rolling plains of the midwest and live off the fat of the land. We have two children, one of which is autistic, and so we need to be near the city. America does not take care of its elderly and so it is up to the individual to save money so they can survive upon retirement age. It is a sad reality but noone can afford to live in the beautiful rolling hills, even though they may want to. Perhaps if America were to implement a Universal Health Care so the people wouldn't have to travel to the cities for work just so they can have health insurance, it would cut down the use of cars and the congestion. I can honestly say if that were to happen, I would quit working in the city and work closer to home.
Posted By Anonymous Katherine, Woodland Hills CA : 12:27 PM ET
One of the best ways to lower commuting times and win back some of the lost time in our lives is to simply work from home. Ordinarily a single family home just does not have the shops and offices it would take to do this properly. However, by joining with a few other professional people and living communally, we could share the kitchen, dining and main living areas of the home which saves 85% more area for things like wood and metal shops, craft rooms for sewing, and offices for dentistry practices and so on. Being able to work productively from home it the absolute key to being able to STOP climate change and reduce our horrific dependency on foriegn oil. It would lower the number of cars we would need by 65% and we no longer would need daycare services. Being at home more would also mean that we could potentially care for an elderly parent instead of being forced to send them off to a nursing home which is so expensive.

Communal living doesn't have to be such a shock to our normal lifestyles either. It is often quite surprising to people to learn that (when done correctly) communal living can dramatically lower a society�s environmental impact while still maintaining our privacy and standard of living. Such homes would have corporate telephone and server computer systems, segregated bathrooms, and bedrooms with entertainment centers and PC workstations. They�d have wider hallways, soundproof materials within the walls and floors, and top-quality appliances that will meet or exceed expected demands. Furthermore, with a suite of professionally equipped offices, shops, and craft rooms, such homes can also support many involved home-based businesses, which in turn will lower our need to travel to work. By living this way, I feel we could shed about 60% of our vehicle needs, daycare costs, and about five-hours of travel time per week! We'd be less vulnerable to layoffs and secure a quality of services and workmanship not seen in this country since the '50s, too!

Chris Eldridge
Author of Conceptual Communal Home Design
Posted By Anonymous Chris Eldridge, Harrisburg PA : 12:32 PM ET
I think this raises many good points. The fact that our professional lives are so much more tied to urban centers are bc of various economic incentives. Perhaps smaller townships can adopt some of this to lure business back? And as for the transportation, there is a serious need for investment in public transportation, that is efficient and convenient in addition to keeping up with the demands on infrastructure (new bridges, tunnels, pedestrian walkways etc.)These certainly are simple answers, but are cities too big? Absolutely not, they just need to be more navigable in every sense.
Posted By Anonymous Bryan, NYC, NY : 12:38 PM ET
When the oil runs out we are going to have to make some hard choices. We won't be able to commute but we can't afford to live in the big city. I hope the government has nuclear powered trains all lined u!
Posted By Anonymous Greg ,Mattituck,NY : 1:07 PM ET
Tom,

I live in the suburbs of a major Midwest city and for a few years commuted into the city for work. Today I’m one of the lucky few who are able to work from home and very rarely go into the city. But see here’s our problem my state use to be known for the auto industry and everyone worked for one of the Big 3 and we were able to stay in our neighborhoods for work. However now with the Big 3 doing poorly more and more people are losing their jobs and have to look for work farther from their home than usual. Some of them have lived in the same place for years and they can’t afford to move closer to their work even if it isn’t in the city because of the lower pay they might receive which is being eaten up in fuel costs. In my state we are losing a lot of open spaces to shopping malls and industrial parks, many of those are already vacant due to lack of planning and patronization by individuals.

What really scares me is the fact that people in my state don’t play what if. Those who plan only seem to look a few weeks or maybe months into the future and not beyond – right in my own neighborhood a shopping center is practically void of stores because of poor planning and the bad economy. I dread to think what will happen in say 5 to 10 years. Either the population will explode here and we will be better off or the population will explode and we will have to move farther out to find work and places to live. I love my state and the major city I live in, but they are a shell of their former selves and that makes me very sad.
Posted By Anonymous Marcia, Warren Mi : 1:10 PM ET
Each american consumes like 1400 nepalese.... so while the Earth could accomodate 40 billion people if we all live like they do in the poorest regions, I doubt it can accomodate more than a billion with an econological footprint like any american.

Take a look at the deers of St. Thomas island to see what "overshoot" really means, or the collapse of the Easter Islands' populations due to overuse of ecological reserves.
Posted By Anonymous Marc S,, San Diego, CA : 1:10 PM ET
I'd like to add two questions to your last paragraph: Will increased bandwidth and number of wireless access points encourage more telecommuting? Could a telecommuting "revolution" coupled with the aging of America lead a migration to the rural landscape?

I firmly believe that technology and free markets will provide solutions to overcome the "doom & gloom" predictions of overpopulation. With my MDA from T-Mobile, my laptop equipped with a Linksys wireless card, and a mobile corporate email/calendar solution (Goodlink) I can work from almost anywhere. So, I don't have to tie living close to the city to a well-paying job. I couldn't say that 5 years ago, and I can't wait to see what develops in the next 5 years.
Posted By Anonymous Bryan Bayless, Portland, OR : 1:20 PM ET
I'm afriad 300 million+ people all wanting their own open space is part of the problem. We move out to the exurbs wanting the quiet life. Wait a few years, you get traffic, rising crime and all the other amenities of the 'burbs. You can't escape it by moving farther and farther out, the city will eventually follow. 120 million more by 2050? better move to rural Alaska for the wide open spaces. At least by 2050, Alaska will probably be a lot warmer.
Posted By Anonymous Erik, Sacramento : 1:25 PM ET
As I get ready to leave this college town, I find that many new locations are out of the budget. With job offers in areas like south Florida or Orlando the housing choice is a box like apartment or a long commute. Also, with gas prices soaring a commute isn't desirable, especially with no air conditioning in the car. I don't need a big TV or an ipod or things like that, I just want to be able to pay the bills and have some money left over for food. The housing market is completly unrealistic in big cities and I wouldn't ever be able to get ahead. So what is a person starting out in life to do? Where is my American dream? Not in a big city.
Posted By Anonymous Sarah, Gainesville FL : 1:26 PM ET
There are still some people who are not reluctant to move out from the city. Until six months ago, both my husband and I worked in New York City, Madison Avenue. He decided to take a job in fast growing southern California. I also quit my job and we settled in this small place in Southern California. I walk to my new job here everyday. I do not have a car yet. Still enjoy walking.
Posted By Anonymous Aye, Redlands, California : 1:27 PM ET
I have lived in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina and in the desert areas of Idaho...gorgeous, good for the health and sanity, horrible for wages.

I moved to the city. Even living in a close-in suburb, my commute to another close-in suburb was 45 minutes each way in traffic. I was renting because I couldn't afford to buy.

Now I've moved even further out from the higher paying jobs in the city so that at age 53 I could finally afford to buy my first house. My commute is just short of 1.5 hours each way.

I drive. My mass transit options would take even longer (2+ hours each way), involving a transit shuttle van, a train, two different subways, and walking 5 blocks -- each way. I consider myself lucky to have the option..which is also expensive $225/month.

Recently, I had surgery that required I recover at home..I simply could not drive. My company allowed me the option under these circumstances to telecommute. It's been such a change of lifestyle that it is extremely difficult to consider going back to the old commute.

My recovery has extended into nearly 3 months time and my office has gotten used to me telecommuting, but this would not be an option except that I am a valued employee and the technology and my job responsibilities came together productively.

With this 3 months of psychological distance from driving-into-the city, I have been dismayed to realize how much of my life I was simply giving away to stressful commuting. I believe employers HAVE to find more willingness to allow telecommuting.
Posted By Anonymous Yeshe Thomasch, Point of Rocks, MD : 1:28 PM ET
I agree with the earlier comment of telecommuting. This could easily be used to remedy a lot of problems associated with the overpopulation of cities. The feds could take some of the funds they are using towards purchasing fuel reserves, and divert it to tax benefits to companies with telecommuters. Because of the telecommuters not driving to work, a savings in fuel consumption could be realized, offsetting the reduction in fuel reserves (due to the diversion of funds thereto). Further, such a reduction in fuel consumption should allow for a decrease in the price of fuel, as well as other environmental benefits.
Posted By Anonymous Casey, Hartford, Wisconsin : 1:56 PM ET
Tom, great post as always. Biking must have kept you in shape! Other then jobs cities attract pepole due to lifestyle, social environment. You're so right about what you wrote. It applies not only to our country as a whole but also to the cities themselves. In New York everybody tries to cramp into the same neighbourhoods that are considered to be safe or trendy and not too far from the main business districts. Therefore prices are getting out of control and middle class is pushed out first to city outskirts, then to suburbs. But few choose to relocate to remote areas. If business areas weren't concentrated in one place (like Manhattan), that could solve a lot of problems in the cities.
Posted By Anonymous alina z, new york city, ny : 1:58 PM ET
I was born in 1966, so a little before the 200 million milestone. I think all this freaking-out about overpopulation and the end of the world is much ado about nothing. I dare say that there is probably currently more forested land in our country than anytime within the last 100 years. The U.S. environment is cleaner now than when I was a kid. Health care is better now than when I was a kid. People are living longer now than when I was a kid. Communication is cheaper and easier now than when I was a kid. What's all the fuss. I think the people griping about the end of the world due to population growth are the same people that would be have felt guilty and complained that the garden of eden was too abundant. So, get on with living--the future is bright.
Posted By Anonymous Van P., Alpharetta, GA : 1:58 PM ET
Personally it is about greed and wants not about just the basics to live.Many today just take much for granted till its not there.Just look at how everyone panict the last black out.What if a strong wind comes in here they are not going to be ready at all cause they are too focust on bigger and better.I live with NO tv, and candles mostly my comp takes up all the hydro in this home.I have NO cell phone, I often wonder what would people do they blow a satalight out of the skies and no more camunicating with the phone.Personally I think we all could step back take a breath and speak to your loved ones face to face or perhaps more time for praying instead of stressing out about all the wants.Now I wonder how many would be polite during this time of struggle we all will be facing shortly down the road here.I think it is well over due that famalies go for NEEDS not WANTS put it all in perspective.I trust and believe they will elimanate tunes of unnessasary stress.Gods blessing to one and all.
Posted By Anonymous Teri,Newmarket,Ontario Canada : 2:02 PM ET
Not only is population growing, but so is the amount of freight that is moving through the U.S. Our highways and environment simply cannot handle the combined overload of having to more more people and freight. So why then is our government still pouring tens of billions into highways and virtually nothing into the one mode that still moves people and freight in the most cost efficient, fuel efficient and emissions efficient manner possible..... our railroads?
Posted By Anonymous Stu Nicholson, Columbus, Ohio : 2:06 PM ET
When will America develop a national rapid transist system like those in Japan, France and Germany? We tout ourselves as the leading country in the world, but have the worse train system in the developed world. A hi-speed train system would be economical and save some of the congestion problems.
Posted By Anonymous Leonard Bynum, Madison, AL : 2:07 PM ET
To: Chris in Harrisburg, PA

Your concept sounds great in a Pollyanna sort of way. I have not read your book and you may explain your concept more.

The one thing you have forgotten as Americans -- we like our privacy. Sorry, I can't see any privacy in communal living. If you can't have privacy in your own home, where can you get it?
Posted By Anonymous Renee Bradenton, FL : 2:10 PM ET
Many people feel the answer is telecommuting, but why not simply create businesses further and further out of the big cities? Sure, large cities are "convenient" to some extent, however as mentioned, they have serious drawbacks as well. Instead of centralizing all of the businesses, spreading them out would do us some good as well.
Posted By Anonymous Jake, Wheeling IL : 2:14 PM ET
I think (and hope) we're now seeing the worst of the congestion trend. With the advent of the Internet, there is no need for business to cluster in the cities. To be sure, those who have the authority to locate a business are increasingly selecting lower cost, and usually more pleasant, suburban locales. My boss selected leafy Princeton, NJ, for example, I'm pleased to only commute 10 minutes each way now. I do miss the entertainment and dining options of the city, but not the filth and noise.

I see a lot of commenters here are pushing their specific views of the ideal lifestyle. These are all interesting and reasonable for those who may prefer them, but I think irrelevant to the problems of crowding and congestion. Cities are already emptying, and technology is increasing the ability to find jobs anywhere. Let the market work, I say.
Posted By Anonymous Steve in Princeton, Princeton, NJ : 2:18 PM ET
An interesting discussion all around. I wonder how prepared America and its citizens are willing to address the speed with which our resources dwindle. Commuters spending hours everyday in private vehicles and mass transit systems to work in office buildings to return home to do it all over again the next day? They say insanity is defined as repeating behavior and expecting differing results.
Are we finally (am I?) prepared to do with less? If not now, when?
Posted By Anonymous Dirk Hollebeek, Gallup, New Mexico : 2:19 PM ET
Your blog topic was timely as I just returned from driving Rte 51 thru Wisc. Im amazed that chain stores and subdivisions have sprouted up in the Wisc. countryside! Ugh. Where we used to see dairy farms from the highway, we saw billboards every ten miles for a certain McFast Food place. I feel as if I was sleeping a long, long time, then woke up to a new landscape! Add to that sharp property tax increases here in Chicago, and this topic of overpopulation is becoming a more serious issue to me.

p.s. Thanks for giving viewers this "360" forum.
Posted By Anonymous xtina - chicago IL : 2:20 PM ET
The problem is that undeveloped land is cheaper to buy than city land. So developers take a big chunk of semi-rural land and build an apartment complex, large-scale condo area, or some other housing development. Suddenly a grocery store, a gas station, and all of the other services pop up around it. All of the crowding problems are just as bad as if it had been built in the city, with the added problem of long commutes. If we tightened up the land use laws, we could make it worth more to the developers to rebuild the inner cities. The city would stay city, the country would stay country, everybody's commutes would be better, and we'd be wasting less gasoline.
Posted By Anonymous James, Arlington, VA : 2:20 PM ET
I'm a high school teacher in Chicago, which has the second worst commute times in the nation behind LA. I found an apartment .8 miles from the school I work at and I walk every day. If people complain about their commute, they simply need to make a change, it's not that difficult. People complain that the highway and tollway systems are not big enough, but maybe a better solution would be for people to move closer to work.
Posted By Anonymous Was, Chicago, IL : 2:21 PM ET
Telecommuting is the answer. I do it for my job during the off hours and on weekends but received a stern 'no way' when I asked to cut my days back in the office. Unfortunately business culture still does not support this solution. Maybe it is simply a lack of trust or a concern that management control will be limited, but I see quite a few people in upper management who will not embrace the possibities. I do the 60 minute DC commute but my boss lives across the Bay and has a 90 minute one. He takes the stand that if he can do I should too! Companies need to be offered some type of incentive by the government before they will take more steps.
Posted By Anonymous Cindy, Shady Side, MD : 2:27 PM ET
My commute is somewhat the opposite of those who live in the sprawl commuting into the city. I commute from Brooklyn, NYC to Philadelphia everyday via Amtrak. I leave my home at 6am and get to work by 8:30a. I've noticed more and more people doing the same commute. Not sure why but perhaps because they don't want to move their families, or because they love living in nyc. Me? I do it to give me time in the morning and evening to read, relax, and maybe do some work on the train.
Posted By Anonymous Hide, Brooklyn, NY : 2:27 PM ET
I drive 61 miles each way on I84. The congestion is terrible so my 61 miles turns into a 1 hr 15-30 min commute. We bought a convertible this year, just so I could leave my country home and enjoy the "fresh" air to/from work. I have 2 children under the age of 4 and I see them less than the inside of my care each day...
Posted By Anonymous Kristina, New Milford CT : 2:31 PM ET
As I think about the current quality of life in Southern Califoria (good job, nice house, new car, no time)I look to find a way out of this "trap" and find a simpler lifestyle away from the city, and focus on the priorities that bring real meaning to my life...my family.
Posted By Anonymous Tasha Compos, Southern California : 2:33 PM ET
Telecommuting has been brought up for many years and the sad truth is this - Most bosses/managers/etc. don't trust their people enough to work from home. All it takes is one person to abuse it and the privilege is removed for everyone else. My boss is one of them and she's said as much.
Posted By Anonymous D, Dallas, Tx : 2:34 PM ET
Long commutes is defintely a nightmare for many people due to what Tom mentioned, companys located in the big metropolis cities pay better than companys in the outlying areas. But the home prices are much more reasonable away from the big city. I commuted 2+ hours each way in LA for 5+ years. Leaving home at 5:30AM everday and not returning home until well after 8 or 9 every night took a toll on my family and I. We never got to spend any quality time together in the evenings. I missed a lot of my son's school and outside activities in the evenings. My family and I finally decided that I had enoough of sitting in traffic everyday. I got a job 15-20 minutes from home and I am home no later than 4:30PM everday. I am loving it and so is my family. I took almost a $7,000 pay cut just to be closer to home. So there are trade-offs.
Posted By Anonymous Lauren, Los Angeles, CA : 2:37 PM ET
My wife and I lived in a major city and travelled to jobs in the suburbs. It took us over 45 minutes to get to work on a good day. We had to use one notoriously bad highway every day that was prone to frequent accidents and major tie ups. This was really the only highway we could use. On more than one occasion, it took several hours to get home. Since all the "good" jobs are in the 'burbs here, we finally moved to the suburbs. Houses in the suburbs are very expensive. We looked for 2 or 3 years before we were able to find one we could afford. We ended up having a new house built in a new community. And we still travel over 35 minutes to work, now from the opposite direction.
Posted By Anonymous Bill Wible, Coatesville, PA : 2:51 PM ET
One of the reasons for the long commutes and our sprawling cities is the belief that to raise a family you need a single family, detached home where every child has their own room, a living room, a family room etc. All those people who move to the suburbs could live closer in if they bought a townhouse or condo and their kids shared rooms. Our society needs to readjust the idea of the amount of living space required. If you have a park across the street or down the block, do you really need a large yard?
Posted By Anonymous Jennifer, Alexandria, VA : 2:54 PM ET
I live in Orange County, CA and my daily commute is between 2.5 & 3 hrs. Public transportation would actually increase this as just getting to metrolink would take 30 minutes. Taking a bus is out of the question as this would negatively impact the dropping off and picking up of school-age children. I can't afford to live near my job (million+ houses). After a two year search I have been unsuccesful in locating a comparble job (to say nothing of comparable salary) near my home. I stay because this is my hometown but I wonder what's in store for my children as they move into the workforce.
Posted By Anonymous Kathryn Gomez, Newport Beach, CA : 2:59 PM ET
It's bad in the Seattle area too. I commute from Everett to Redmond every day which is usually an hour each way...
Posted By Anonymous Kristian J., Seattle, WA : 2:59 PM ET
I do not feel sympathy for individuals who have decided that the value of their time plus the cost of gas, insurance, and maintenance for their car is less than the difference in rent between that place near work and that place an hour away.

The real problem, though, is that individuals only pay the marginal cost of moving further away, not for the externality of slowing everyone else on the highway down by being there. It may seem like a good idea to buy a house in that new subdivision with that newly expanded eight-lane highway leading into downtown, but everyone else is thinking the same thing, and that 15 minute drive will be an hour once everyone moves out there.

I, on the other hand, have enjoyed life very much living in Boston, San Diego, and San Francisco, taking the bus or walking to work. I've always found it cheaper to pay the higher rent close to work if I don't have to drive every day. And that's without factoring in the extra hour of life I get to enjoy on a daily basis as a result.

Think about it: You get maybe six hours of non-work, non-sleep time every workday if you are lucky. Total free time for the year might be around 3000 hours (weekends plus vacation plus weeknights). I get an extra 250 hours each year, about an eight percent improvement. That's like three more years of life on a forty year career. Is the money you save living in the suburbs worth three years of your life?
Posted By Anonymous Todd C., Cambridge, Massachusetts : 3:00 PM ET
Major companies do not like the idea of telecommuting. I've attempted to explore it at several different places I've worked. It almost seems managers do not trust employees to do their work, and especially don't want people to be where they can't see them.

One of the biggest arguments against telecommuting is that people can't attend meetings. I think this should be one of the biggest arguments FOR telecommuting, as meetings are the most notorious time-waster. I've worked for companies where we actually had meetings where we talked about how to have meetings. "And the meetings will continue until we figure out why no work is getting done."

I agree telecommuting needs to be further explored, especially with wireless technology being virtually everywhere now. We see all these ads by communication and computer companies on TV that tell us we can work from anywhere now - but the realit yis that we still really can't because corporate America will not embrace the technology and still keeps us chained to our desks. Most of the CEO's and higher-ups have laptops and can work from home, but not the common worker.
Posted By Anonymous Bill Wible, Coatesville, PA : 3:02 PM ET
You have to go where the jobs are, there isnt always a choice. I work 11 miles from my home in the same city, Tampa, FL. It takes me 50 minutes to get to work and I hate it. But telecommuting is out of the question and so is living near my office which is 3 times more expensive than my current residence. If I chose to work where I live I'll make 58% less. And I dont own an Ipod. And I bet I'm the rule not the exception. You tell me what we should do, starve, live in a cardboard box?
Posted By Anonymous Sharon Tampa, FL : 3:02 PM ET
Well, as a guy who USED to commute 2 hours each way to New York City, I can't really sympathize with a 40 minute commute (smile), but I can give you the reasons I did it for 10 years: Money & Housing. I have a modest home, but in New York City - or even within 25 miles of New York City, it would be a 3 Million dollar property, maybe more, even in this so-called "down"{ market.
My trade-off, in terms of time spent commuting, used to be largely offset by increased productivity because I'd get much of my work done on the bus on the way to work, and on the way home again. Like other white-collar wage slaves, I worked 10 and 12 hour days, but 4 of those ours where in transit. My work days at the office were mostly meetings and presentations. My actual work was done on the bus.
But because so many people were commuting in from way out here, they changed the bus seats to cram more people in, making the experience like flying coach, so I can't open the laptop anymore, and after trying to deal with a 2 hour commute for a year without actually working I did the unthinkable - I stopped working in a big city. I now make about half of what I did last year, we can't afford a needed new car, health insurance, much less an iPod or even to go out to dinner whenever we want. And I'm much happier as a result. The cities are indeed becoming these terrifying mega-plexes of transient people. Commuter cities represent an abandonmnet of a lifestyle based in close-knit communities and strong cities that was fundamental to the American Way of life. I say that with not a trace of irony or sarcasm, I mean it. We've left our homes, our towns, our families all to pray to the altar of work and mortgage. It's not worth the effort.
What's the old saying - even if you win the rat race you're still a rat?
Posted By Anonymous Marty, Upper Black Eddy, PA : 3:17 PM ET
Build more roads.

Where there's no space, stack highways.

The advent of skyscrapers addressed a somewhat similar issue.

Road construction and maintenance costs could be offset by "speed lane" tolls. Commute time would be fastest for the rich, and traffic would be lessened for all.
Posted By Anonymous Robert, Boise, ID : 3:20 PM ET
Depends on the age, race, income levels. More people with less money, are moving or are in bigger cities living on free handouts, or barely making it, than are taking advantage of open space with more affordable prices. Sorry to say that race has a big issue with population density in bigger cities.
Posted By Anonymous Jack Marsh, Jackson MS : 3:22 PM ET
Give me a place to work in the unpopulated areas and I would be there without a second thought! I'd do anything to have 5 acres of farmland, but you can't get that in north jersey for less than a million. If you go an hour west you can get 5 acres for 100k.

Companies could cust costs and still bring in the same revenues by moving business to areas that aren't overpopulated. If Goldman Sachs can move their operations group to India, they can sure move a group to Pennsylvania.
Posted By Anonymous Chris, Kinnelon, NJ : 3:23 PM ET
With so many people driving longer and longer commutes, coupled with concerns about natural disasters or worse, it is a good idea to keep a survival kit in one's automobile; an extra pair of comfortable walking shoes, etc. A Google search for 'automobile survival kits' yields good results, many helpful websites.
Posted By Anonymous Kathryn, Pasadena, CA : 3:29 PM ET
Tom,

Although I agree that our growing population presents a multitude of challenges, (i.e. larger volumes of traffic on highways, greater percentage of people per square acre in metropolitian/suburban areas..), it also presents oppurtunities as well. You mentioned one aspect; alternatives to driving to work, (public transportation, car-pooling, biking to work, metropolitan shuttle services) that can be used to get from point A to B. Population growth is a constant in a prosperous economy such as ours, and we need to understand how it can be leveraged to our advantage, instead of simply looking at "the ever-increasing numbers of people" on our national grid. I commute to work on a bike too. I've been doing it now for about 10 years, and I plan on continuing for as long as I can. Maybe it's time to consider creating more innovative ways for more people to use this medium of transportation than simply shaking our heads, grinding our teeth and preparing for our 19th nervous breakdown on a grid-locked superhighway......get out and ride!!!
Posted By Anonymous Tyler, Rochester, NY : 3:30 PM ET
Dear Tom,

Middle-class families are definitely moving "further and further out beyond the suburbs." I live in what used to be known as "the country," twenty miles from the "big city" of Cleveland, Ohio. When my parents bought five acres of land about twenty eight years ago they thought they were cut off from the world, but they appreciated the quiet solitude. Now that "quiet solitude" is gone. Living on that same land today is like living in a fortress that must be protected. The population that was once about 17,600 has now grown to more than 32,000 today. Rising crime rates, noise levels, and pollution are some of the by-products of this population boom. What used to be beautiful country scenery is now cluttered with ugly (but not cheap) housing developments and office buildings. A decent quality of life is being replaced by an unquenchable thirst for "progress." Unless we begin to address the problem of overpopulation, in the future we may find ourselves driving along endless highways with nowhere to go.

Jo Ann
Posted By Anonymous Jo Ann Matese, North Royalton, Ohio : 3:31 PM ET
At least you have a mass transit option! In New Jersey, if you're not going to NYC, they're mostly non-existent. The cities aren't too big, they just don't serve the needs of the populations in terms of personal health and safety. Not that commutes aren't dangerous, but it's a tradeoff that many people are willing to make.
Posted By Anonymous Maureen, Bedminster, NJ : 3:33 PM ET
I agree that telecommuting is the answer. However, as a fellow poster pointed out, upper management is not ready for it. There afraid of losing the "control" over the employees if they can't see them everyday. However, a person's work is measured by their output and the quality of the output, not how many hours they spend in the office. Can you imagine the money saved from telecommuting? Repairs, gas, accident costs, road repairs, etc, etc. The list could go on and on. Wake up corporate America!!
Posted By Anonymous KellyB, Atlanta GA : 3:46 PM ET
i recently returned from a trip to chicago, where there is the famous john hancock building. It is said yhat this building is completely self suffient. I contains a grocery store, dry cleaner, hardware store, residential section, office spaces, restaurant, school, ect... If you lived here you would never have to leave. having sat in a 75 minute commute (one way) that afriend of mine bears everyday. I thought maybe that IS the wave of the future. Taller self sustaining buildings???
Posted By Anonymous Beth, Charleston, SC : 3:48 PM ET
people that say they cannot afford to live in big cities don't want to live in big cities. my wife and me both work in downtown dallas and we just recently purchased a very affordable 2,000 square foot home in the oak cliff section of dallas. our commute is no more than 15 minutes each way. complain all you want about your commute, but as anderson alluded to, people want brand new things such as 6,000 square foot McMansions out in the 'burbs as opposed to a home in the "wrong" part of town that was built 40, 50, 60 years ago, such as ours. cry all you want about your commute and the toll it takes, but understand that you can easily afford to live in the city, you simply choose not to.
Posted By Anonymous jason, dallas, texas : 4:49 PM ET
Since I started going to school in the Boston area, I've seen some of the best of the worst drivers in action. Plus, some of the commutes are still a nightmare at rush hour, especially with how smelly the bus exaust can be. When our nation hits 300 Million, it looks like all of these problems are going to get worse--that is, unless President Bush starts pushing for new technology.
Posted By Anonymous Jared, Somerville, MA : 4:53 PM ET
Working in suburbs means you cannot make a wage great enough to afford any lifestyle at all much less housing and food. Even fairly technical jobs take advantage of the fact that they are in the suburbs and reduce their salaries to a pittance.
Posted By Anonymous Joan, Orlando, Florida : 4:54 PM ET
What is with all the negativity? I don't understand people saying the world is coming to an end because of "overpopulation". Has anyone read the latest articles? Done research? You gotta be kidding me. Let's look at time in the past. My grandmother rode on a car with 8 other women going into town (not "the city") to work at a major dress makers. They held onto the outside wrapped around the windows, riding on the wheel wells basically. I don't know her "commute" time, but I am sure it wasn't great. My father was a farmer when I was young. Took him 20-30 minutes to "commute" to the barn and get the tractors and such going (look, I was small and didn't know the stuff he was doing). Then he worked 10-12 hour days, and did not whine about it. My wife is an attorney, and no she does not hate her life. She works 10-11 hour days, including commute time. I am a teacher who works in an urban district, not because I have to but because I want to. We work "long hours" I guess, but I know we have more free time than our parents. People really do look back and think, wow how great things were back then. Look at how great things are NOW and if they are not, then make them.
Posted By Anonymous Howard D. Austin, TX : 5:03 PM ET
I think the real answer here is that we need improved mass transit options in the bigger cities. Telecommuting is a nice option for a few days each week, but many businesses depend on face to face interaction.

Hi-speed trains should be able to lessen the impact of living further and further from the cities. I currently live 20 miles from my manhattan office and spend 1 hour and 10 minutes in transit each way. The railroad system is completely outdated.

If people could live 50-75 miles from a major city and still have a commute of under 1 hour then I think many of these problems could be improved.
Posted By Anonymous Brian - New York, NY : 5:10 PM ET
Commuting by bike one day a week will decrease your waist size, save dollars, often shorten the commute and you will feel better. One day, that is all you need to do. I personally commute 3 days a week year round. That is 3 days that I don't touch my car. And yes, I have a child and I am married. It can be done. Do it before you are forced to, you will be happier.
Posted By Anonymous Chris, Portland,OR : 5:13 PM ET
The problem isn't that our cities are too big -- it's that they aren't dense enough. If inner suburbs were replaced by higher-density, mixed-use urban development, more people could live closer to their jobs.

And if zoning laws were improved to promote density, giant parking lots near the center of cities like Chicago and San Francisco would be replaced by housing, reducing the prices of well-located apartments.
Posted By Anonymous Andy, San Francisco, CA : 5:15 PM ET
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