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The (Broken) Promise of Suburbia

Originally, suburbia promised nature, variety, easy access, cleanliness, and freedom.  Now, 50 years into the suburban experiment, we know that the massive suburban monster that has evolved has failed to make good on those promises.

Instead of nature, we experience endless pavement.

Instead of variety and choice, we experience endless low-quality homogeneity in retail and housing.

Instead of easy access, we experience traffic and public battles to prevent increased traffic from new development

Instead of freedom, we experience segregation by age and economic status, and mandatory auto ownership.  (Jeff Speck, Design Director of the National Endowment for the Arts and an urban planner, explains that "your car is no longer an instrument of freedom but a prosthetic device." (1))

Instead of cleanliness, we experience an ugly or nonexistent public realm.

sierra club outdoors.jpg


Suburban neighborhoods often offer constructed amenities such as pools, gatehouses, clubhouses, and golf courses.  Yet studies and surveys show that the amenities people most desire are walkable and interesting neighborhoods.  These are amenities that are virtually free, requiring only careful design consideration. (As an aside, a golf course costs $8-10 million to construct, and uses 140 acres of land)

The amenities of a New Urbanist community include walkability and proximity of varied uses.  If we look at Manhattan, millions of people live there willingly, without yards, because they love the street life amenities.  "Townhouses must have towns!" exclaimed Andres Duany.

(Adapted from Andres Duany, Presentation to the XIV Congress for the New Urbanism, June, 2006)


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