"T-minus three years of Atlanta's Atlanta Braves."
This sad countdown comes from Grantland's Rembert Browne in response to the news that the Braves will be moving out of Atlanta and into the wealthier suburbs. But Browne's article, like all great pieces of journalism, expands beyond its genre – in this case "sports journalism" – and becomes a commentary on the problem of the suburban city.
Namely, the problem that the suburbs are one of the things destroying the fabric of our democracy. But I'll get to that. Let's look at Knoxville.
Knoxville is in an uncomfortable balance with its suburbs. In 2010, the city of Knoxville elected pro-environment, Democratic Madeline Rogero to be mayor. The very same year, Knox County elected staunchly conservative Stacey Campfield (author of the "Don't Say Gay" bill) to the State House.
According to the Metro Planning Council, 68 percent of all Knoxville residents work in the city. But more than half of these workers live outside the city – places like Bearden, Farragut and Fountain City. Of all the people who live in the suburbs, only a quarter stay there to work.
This exposes the most obvious problems with the suburbs — commuting. A staggering 93 percent workers in Knoxville drive to work, and 80 percent drive alone – 150,000 cars driving an average of almost 40 minutes a day. Just by driving to work, Knoxville workers consume around 50 million gallons of gas a year.
On top of this, commuters are not actually paying taxes to the city, although they still use the infrastructure and services. This led to the fall of Detroit, Las Vegas and other now-defunct suburban cities.
But if we really want people to drive less, or pay for their use of city jobs and infrastructure, the answer is not to hate the suburbs. People don't move to the suburbs because they hate the environment, or like commuting or want to screw over the city by avoiding taxes (I hope).
People move to the suburbs to be somewhere safe and clean and comfortable. It's commonly believed that it's better to raise kids outside of the city, as the urban environment is seen as dirty and dangerous (although TIME reports that this is not consistently true).
When "The Atlantic" interviewed Dan Walters, a California political analyst, he described what happens when people move to the suburbs.
"The first thing the homeowner would do was put up a six-foot fence. The next step after that was to put a fence around the entire development and put a guard at the gate."
In the suburbs, people create their own little world.
So remember the part where I said that the suburban movement is destroying the fabric of our democracy? This is why.
Segregation today is worse than it ever has been. Don't believe me? Here's some reports from UCLA researchers, the Atlantic, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. If you look at one map today, find the graph of Chicago neighborhoods on RadicalCartography.com, which will have your head spinning with just how distinct white and minority communities are.
Even more divided than our neighborhoods, though, are our political and social ideologies. I could cite countless articles from both the left and the right bemoaning the extremism in American politics, from the Tea Party "zealots" to liberal "fascists." Kids are bullied for being "different," whether in their sexuality or upbringing or even where they live. It leaves most sane people in the middle, wondering who's there to represent them.
This political segregation is directly tied to geographical segregation. UVA researcher Matt Motyl, Ph.D., calls this phenomenon "ideological migration – individuals chose to live in communities with ideologies similar to their own to satisfy their need to belong."
We all feel this. I'm a bleeding-heart liberal in a conservative town, and sometimes I just want to get away, move north and have conversations that don't turn into arguments.
But that is so dangerous. If I never talk to anyone who challenges me or outright disagrees with me, I will descend into radicalism. I won't be able to hear other people's ideas, or understand where they're coming from. I won't be able to participate in a democracy.
I think many of us feel that we no longer live in a democracy, but a country with two factions fighting for control. These factions exist in our families and our friendships, and they start in our neighborhoods.
Evan Ford is a junior in philosophy and economics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.