Friday, December 16, 2011

New Urbanism vs. Illegal Drugs

Four days ago, I wrote about my concern that attributing miscellaneous social benefits to new urbanism would feed the Coercion Myth that can be used to argue against new urbanism.  With that concern clearly in mind, I came across a connection that was just too interesting to ignore.

In his book, “The Great Good Place”, Ray Oldenburg notes that between World War II and the early 1980s, in-home consumption of alcohol increased from 30 percent of total alcohol consumption to 90 percent.   He suggests that this correlates well to the loss of the neighborhood tavern as a place where people could drink in a social setting.  He then notes that the neighborhood tavern was a fatality of the greenfield land use patterns that truly took root in the post-war years.

Finally, Oldenburg notes that, during the same years that people were switching to drinking in their private homes, away from the potential stigma of over-indulgence in a public setting, the use of illegal drugs also took off.  By his data, by the 1980s, the United States, with 8 percent of the world’s population, was using 70 percent of the world’s illegal drugs.

Oldenburg is cautious about drawing lines between the points, but he alludes to the possibility that land use patterns had a role in the increased use of illegal drugs.  I concur with his caution and don’t intend to draw any conclusions either.  But his suggestion is intriguing.

Once again, I’m not arguing that we should favor new urbanism because it might put a dent in the use of illegal drugs.  I’m arguing that we should allow new urbanism to compete on a level playing field with greenfield development because that’s the way a free market should work.  But if gains in new urbanism would result in reduced drug usage, that’d be cool.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

No comments:

Post a Comment