Air Conditioning and Urbanism

We live in a temperate part of North America, with big trees and front porches on every house. We have watched our children play in the streets as we sat on our porch to catch the breezes and stay cool. Tonight, after two weeks of an incredible heat wave, there was nobody. No kids on the streets. No families on the porches. Nothing but the hum of condensers of central air conditioners that our neighbours have installed over the last few years.

We talk often on Treehugger about the new urbanism, the benefits of density, of an active street life, of living close to work. We have talked about the need to reduce our use of electricity. We should consider also the insidious effect of central air- how it enables the development of parts of the country previously uninhabitable and which would still be but for the constant cooling, and how it is destroying the street culture of areas already established. How we are sacrificing neighbourhood and community by forcing our immediate personal climate to adapt to us instead of us adapting to it.Googling our post's title, we found a remarkable article from ID magazine on the subject by writer Barbara Flanagan. She asks:

"what happens when humans treat themselves like dairy products chilled behind glass?

Civilization declines.

The proof is in Barcelona. Spend five glorious weeks in its barely mitigated heat, as I did last summer, then return home and refrigerate yourself in the relentless mono-temperature now anesthetizing the continent. Conclusion?

A/C is the killing frost sure to wilt the last fragile shoots of American culture."

She goes on to note that in Barcelona, people adapt. Their clothes, their diet, it all changes to make life more comfortable.

Read more- ::ID Magazine- A Cold Day in Hell

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