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April 16, 2009

This Wonderful Life

Smaller car, larger lives

Last week, National Public Radio interviewed several of those experts of the variety who like to think about the ways economic trends effect the way people live and vice versa.

Reporter Robert Siegel interviewed people like urbanist Richard Florida and historian David Kennedy and author William Greider about how they thought the current recession will change lifestyles in the future.

Florida, who is the author of several books on the ``Creative Class,’’ including ``Rise of the Creative Class’’ and ``Flight of the Creative Class,’’ also addressed the post-recession future in a piece in The Atlantic magazine.

He points to the late 1800s when America’s economic, cultural and literal landscape was dotted by small mercantile towns pieced together by a patchwork of productive farmland.

That was at the beginning of the Long Depression, which began in the 1870s and ended near the turn of the 20th century, when the America landscape was less about small mill towns, and more about industrial powerhouses like Cleveland, Detroit, Buffalo and Pittsburgh.

He also describes the way the Great Depression of the 1930s put into motion the rise of suburbs.

On NPR, he repeated his theory that home ownership will no longer figure to heavily into the American dream. At the same time, the rental experience will change substantially for the better.

My favorite theory came from Greider, the author of ``Come Home America.’’ He told NPR that, after the recession, people will ``drive smaller cars and live larger lives.’’

How lovely. How simply optimistic. And how mottoworthy. Driving a smaller car can mean literally driving a smaller, more fuel-efficient car, of course. But it can also be a metaphor for reining in all types of excessive and even destructive consumption and consumerism, especially when you pair it with the goal of living a larger life.

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