Plumb Lines

April 14, 2009

Unhealthy Highways and “a Sense of Ruralness”

Filed under: Uncategorized — David Schaengold @ 3:35 pm

From an article about the health risks associated with living near highways, an astonishing fact:

More than 16 percent of US households, roughly 40 million Americans, live within 300 feet of a four-lane highway, railroad, or airport, according to the Census Bureau’s 2007 American Housing Survey.

(via Planetizen)

Wouldn’t it be surprising if there weren’t some negative health effects traceable to living within a stone’s throw of a river of asphalt whose current generates clouds of floating benzene rings and a 90-decibel clamor every hour of the day? Like billboards, highways that cut through the hearts of our cities have become such fixtures in our cityscapes and our mental geographies that we forget what an outrage and imposition they represent.

Speaking of highway noise, while fiddling around on the endlessly fascinating website of the Federal Highway Administration,  I encountered a delightful paragraph about public perception of noise barriers:

Overall, public reaction to highway noise barriers appears to be positive… Perceived non-noise benefits include increased privacy, cleaner air, improved view and sense of ruralness, and healthier lawns and shrubs.

That “improved sense of ruralness” explains the entire disastrous history of the American post-war built environment. Suburban developers can’t peddle ruralness, but they sure can sell a sense of it.

David Schaengold

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