Homes should not encroach on public lands
Dear Editor: Being a county coordinator for Hubbard County in northern Minnesota, I worry about large fires similar to those mentioned in “Cooperation fuels western firefighting” (January 2001). But from aware citizens comes the question: Since governments are now saying “Don’t call us” to those who build on the East and West coasts and in the Mississippi and other river floodplains where they are subjected to erosion and/or flooding, why is it that we continue to allow homes to encroach on public forest lands? They ask me why their tax monies should be used for those fires engulfing the 26,000-square-foot homes and 5,000-square-foot cabins that should not be there — and may have caused the fires in the first place. These are questions we all must ask ourselves soon, as these types of fires become more common.
— Jack Paul
Hubbard County, Minn.
Suburban living presents numerous advantages
Dear Editor: As environmental services director for a suburban county, I fight the effects of sprawl on the environment every day. It may be job security, but that doesn’t mean I like it. However, your column (“It’s scary out there in Suburbanland,” January 2001) reminded me of an argument I had with an urban studies professor from the Humphrey Institute. He decried the “flight from the city” and pointed out the effects it was having on the urban community. He further blasted suburbanites for not realizing what they were missing — handy shopping, the arts community, etc.
I pointed out that the majority of the people living with me in the suburban environment did not flee the city — we fled the countryside (the farms and small towns) for the suburbs where we had opportunities for jobs and a lifestyle we were accustomed to (single family houses, low crime, open space, etc.). I told him I could be hunting, fishing, hiking or engaging in other activities important to me and my family within minutes, not hours, of my front door. I think it was at this point that he labeled me “claustrophobic” and dismissed me.
I haven’t read Bill Lucy’s study and probably wouldn’t dispute it if I did. However, I can’t help but wonder if he takes a simplistic view of people’s values.
It’s probably true that I stand more risk of being killed in a car accident than murdered. I know I can remember deaths by car accidents, but I can’t remember a murder in my community. But I am much more willing to take the risk of a car accident than I am of serious crime. And that’s only one thing I consider.
One very obvious consideration jumps to mind. My children have grown up in a low crime community and attended a school that has resources (suburban tax dollars), as well as teachers that I know by first name. My children can walk home from school without drugs, crime, gangs, etc., being an issue.
That is not to say my community is perfect or without problems with drugs and crime. But the magnitude of these issues and concerns is clearly on a different scale than it is in many urban environments. Given the choice, it does not surprise me that people are willing to take on the risk and expense of a commute in order to ensure that they and their families spend the majority of their days in a more stable, safe environment.
— Mike Lein
Carver County, Minn.
Dear Editor: Quality of life and sense of place should be defined, not by magazine editors or by planning professors, but by the individual citizens of this country making free choices as to where they live, work and recreate. Your editorial unjustly vilifies millions of Americans pursuing the “American Dream” as they define it just because they choose to live in the suburbs (or rural areas) instead of in our cities.
Professor Lucy’s statistics comparing crime rates in Virginia cities with traffic fatalities in their suburbs may be technically correct, but I can’t help wondering if they are an explanation searching for a problem. I wonder what other interesting combinations of mortality statistics academia will present as an indictment of suburbia (perhaps suburban cancer mortality versus farm equipment deaths in cities?).
Perhaps people’s definition of “safe” includes freedom from fear, anxiety and exposure to rape, murder, robbery, assault, drug trafficking and prostitution when they choose suburbia over the city. How many people go to bed each night fearing a traffic accident?
Maybe Professor Lucy should study life expectancy in the cities versus that in the suburbs for a real test of which is more deadly. While there are plenty of people living in suburbia who hold strong negative views about cities, I have yet to come across anyone who is advocating government action to take away their freedom to choose to live in those cities. If there was any doubt that there is an element of elitism in the anti-sprawl movement, your editorial put it to rest.
— Richard Vosburgh
Columbia County, N.Y.
Survey shows cell phones, cars are a bad mix
Dear Editor: Your December 2000 editorial (“Cell phones are driving us all crazy”) addresses the hazards of cell phone use while driving. As the sponsor of the Response Insurance National Driving Habits Survey, a scientific survey of drivers around the nation, we would like to weigh in on this issue.
Although our survey revealed that American drivers are distracted by many activities, the results clearly point to the dangers of cell phone use while driving. Our survey found that it is the distraction, rather than the specific activity, that is the problem. Drivers increasingly are engaging in activities that take their focus off the road.
Twenty-nine percent of those polled indicated they routinely use cell phones and drive, and 13 percent reported it has either caused or nearly caused them to have an accident. Cell phone use is not necessarily more distracting than many other activities, but that does not mean that cell phone use while driving is safe.
— Mory Katz
Chairman and CEO
White Plains, N.Y.