‘Is America’s suburban dream collapsing into a nightmare?’

The above is the provocative headline on a story on cnn.com. After some description of the foreclosures in suburbia, the story focuses on the shifting attitudes of homeowners.

“The American dream is absolutely changing,” (Christopher Leinberger, an urban planning professor at the University of Michigan and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution,) told CNN.

This change can be witnessed in places like Atlanta, Georgia, Detroit, Michigan, and Dallas, Texas, said Leinberger, where once rundown downtowns are being revitalized by well-educated, young professionals who have no desire to live in a detached single family home typical of a suburbia where life is often centered around long commutes and cars.

Instead, they are looking for what Leinberger calls “walkable urbanism” — both small communities and big cities characterized by efficient mass transit systems and high density developments enabling residents to walk virtually everywhere for everything — from home to work to restaurants to movie theaters.

The so-called New Urbanism movement emerged in the mid-90s and has been steadily gaining momentum, especially with rising energy costs, environmental concerns and health problems associated with what Leinberger calls “drivable suburbanism” — a low-density built environment plan that emerged around the end of the World War II and has been the dominant design in the U.S. ever since.

We don’t want to wish ill on the suburban dweller, but times may get tougher out there before they get better.

Read the whole story here.

— photo by respres on Flickr

James Howard Kunstler: The tragedy of suburbia (video)

Anthony, who lives in suburbia but who is a good sport about it, passes along this link to a James Howard Kunstler filmed in February 2004 and posted at TED. As that Web site says:

“In James Howard Kunstler’s view, public spaces should be inspired centers of civic life and the physical manifestation of the common good. Instead, he argues, what we have in America is a nation of places not worth caring about.”

Warning: Contains coarse language.

[vodpod id=ExternalVideo.555525&w=425&h=350&fv=bgColor%3DFFFFFF%26file%3Dhttp%3A%2F%2Fstatic.videoegg.com%2Fted%2Fmovies%2FJAMESHOWARDKUNSTLER-2004_high.flv%26autoPlay%3Dfalse%26fullscreenURL%3Dhttp%3A%2F%2Fstatic.videoegg.com%2Fted%2Fflash%2Ffullscreen.html%26forcePlay%3Dfalse%26logo%3D%26allowFullscreen%3Dtrue] from www.ted.com posted with vodpod

Philip Bess: Good cities are like pizzas

During his lecture last week, Philip Bess mentioned a tasty metaphor for good urban living.

Comparing a city to a pizza is the idea of Leon Krier, whom Bess calls the most influential traditional urbanist of our time. As Bess says in his book, “Till We Have Built Jerusalem”:

A neighborhood is to the larger city what a slice of pizza is to the whole pie: a part that contains within itself the essential qualities and elements of the whole. In the case of a city made of neighborhoods, this means that a neighborhood contains within walkable proximity to one another places to live, work, play, learn and worship.

Within the legal boundaries of a postwar suburb, by contrast, the elements of the “pizza” are physically separated and at some distance from one another — as if the crust is here, the sauce over there, the cheese someplace else, and the pepperoni way out yonder.

Bess was careful to point out that such pizza-like, mixed-use neighborhoods do not eliminate the use of cars or public transportation. Maybe you live in one neighborhood and work in the next. But mixed-use neighborhoods do eliminate the necessity of driving for every single need that arises.

One of the panel members said that the average suburbanite makes 14 automobile trips every day. Imagine living in a neighborhood in which you could cut that number in half. That would allow you to not only save money on gas, but also to stay more connected to your own neighborhood — and your own neighbors.

— drawing by Leon Krier, from Philip Bess’ “Till We Have Built Jerusalem”

Quotes on sprawl from ‘Suburban Nation’

I’ve been reading “Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream,” and have been appreciating the authors’ analysis of suburban planning. Who knows if I’ll agree with their solutions.

Here are some quotes from the beginning of the book:

Since each piece of suburbia serves only one type of activity, and since daily life involves a wide variety of activities, the residents of suburbia spend an unprecedented amount of time and money moving from one place to the next.

Why the country’s planners were so uniformly convinced of the efficacy of zoning — the segregation of the different aspects of daily life — is a story that dates back to the previous century and the first victory of the planning profession. At that time, Europe’s industrialized cities were shrouded in the smoke of Blake’s “dark, satanic mills.” City planners wisely advocated the separation of such factories from residential areas, with dramatic results. … This segregation, once applied only to incompatible uses, is now applied to every use.

The problem with suburbia is that, in spite of all its regulatory controls, it is not functional: it simply does not efficiently serve society or preserve the environment.

So far, I can recommend the book. It’s certainly written at a reasonable level for the interested layman.

Photo by Millicent Bystander on Flickr

New Urbanism lecture on YouTube

Here’s a well-thought-out lecture on New Urbanism by Andres Duany, author of Suburban Nation, The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream — a book I happen to be reading right now and enjoying very much.

This lecture is posted in nine parts (often chopped up in the middle of words). All nine pieces of the lecture can be found here.

Also, you can read an excerpt from Suburban Nation here. I’ll be posting about the book as I read through it over the coming weeks.

Hat tip: URBNBLGR