Archive | Cul-de-sac culture

The suburban general store

Would our friends in Aboite or north of Dupont welcome such an idea as a general store in the neighborhood?

(W)hat if every suburban subdivision had the equivalent of a local bodega? That’s the idea behind the Suburban General Store, which would provide a central place for residents to pick up sundry items as well as recycle their bottles, drop off DVDs, and buy stamps—all within a five-minute walk.

“We began thinking about subdivisions much less as vast areas of suburbia but as towns,” says Frank Ruchala, a 31-year-old urban planner and architect. “Then we wondered whether a general store could work just as well in that context as it did in small villages a hundred years ago.”

… Under their scheme, everyday amenities would be shoehorned into an existing building such as a pool house, and an added porch would create space for socializing.

Of course, the big problem with such stores is that they’re usually illegal, thanks to zoning regulations.

But if you live in the suburbs, would a small retail establishment be handy? Would you use it? Or would you oppose it?

Photo from Allen County Photo Album


Quotes on sprawl from ‘Suburban Nation’

(Jon) 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


The New Slum?

6822258_ac6667d401_o.jpg(Scott) Are suburbs the new slum?

Great article at Especially page three, where the author predicts the future.

For 60 years, Americans have pushed steadily into the suburbs, transforming the landscape and (until recently) leaving cities behind. But today the pendulum is swinging back toward urban living, and there are many reasons to believe this swing will continue. As it does, many low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions, including some that are lovely and affluent today, may become what inner cities became in the 1960s and ’70s—slums characterized by poverty, crime, and decay.


Despite this glum forecast for many swaths of suburbia, we should not lose sight of the bigger picture—the shift that’s under way toward walkable urban living is a healthy development. In the most literal sense, it may lead to better personal health and a slimmer population. The environment, of course, will also benefit: if New York City were its own state, it would be the most energy-efficient state in the union; most Manhattanites not only walk or take public transit to get around, they unintentionally share heat with their upstairs neighbors.

- photo by evetsggod on flickr 


‘Unsustainable housing meets unsustainable finance’

monopolyhouses.jpg(Jon) Triple Pundit gives its view on the “sub-prime meltdown,” and it says it’s simply too many people buying too much house with too little money. Look at the areas hardest hit by the sub-prime collapse:

“Subdivisions built on the edges of urban areas where once arable land is bulldozed to make way for over-sized, energy-intensive houses, with landscaping consisting (of) grassy yards adorned with non-native species of trees and shrubs, the whole lot of it out of character with the natural surroundings and located so that most residents are forced to drive miles and miles to get to work, for too often there is no public transportation available.”

As they commented over at TreeHugger:

“Houses that need too much energy to heat or cool, too much gas to get to, and too much money to pay for. No wonder people are walking away.”

What lessons do the sub-prime collapse teach us? Is it too simple to say that this proves that lust really is a deadly sin after all?

Related: Atlantic Monthly’s article “There Goes The Neighborhood.” Hat tip: The Next American City blog. Photo by t taudigani via stock.xchng.


Looking at paleo-urbanism

There’s plenty of talk about New Urbanism in city planning circles nowadays. But Eric Jacobsen (pictured), author of the great book “Sidewalks in the Kingdom,” makes a valid point about how the impact of New Urbanism may remain isolated.

After a discussion and critique of the New Urbanist town of Seaside, Florida, Jacobsen turns his attention to where the rest of us live:

Only a small percentage of the North American populace falls in the category of new home buyer. Furthermore, many North Americans are living in apartments or homes in older established parts of town. For most of these people whether the percentage of new home starts shifts towards New Urbanism and away from suburban will have very little impact on the quality of their lives.

Thus the wonderful term “paleo-urbanist” — what we used to call actual cities. The trick is, can we apply the principles of good cities and neighborhoods to places that are already built?

Many of these neighborhoods are in need of private capital investment, improved infrastructure, and better schools. But they have “good bones” from an urbanist perspective. The success of New Urbanism will be measured not by how many new developments they can start in any particular year, but by how the momentum generated in these developments spills over into the existing urban fabric of North America.

Making sure we don’t built more bland suburbs is one thing. But reforming the neighborhoods we have is another.

You can read his article here at Comment magazine.

Related slideshow at Slate: The model town of Seaside, 25 years later.

– Jon Swerens