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Thread: Impacts of suburbia on children

  1. #1

    Impacts of suburbia on children

    Does anyone know of any information or web sites that may provide some research or information into the impacts of suburbia on children? Specifically, safety issues, independance, maturity, and social skills may be affected through the sometimes negative environments.

  2. #2

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    There is a movie you should rent if you haven't. Its called Weclome to the Dollhouse. My wife, who grew up in suburban NJ vouches for its accuracy.

  3. #3
    I grew up in suburbia. I think I had a normal, active childhood. I don't feel scarred. I rode my bike to all kinds of places, like 7-11, the ball diamond, the soccer fields, the comic book store, and my friends houses. I even walked to these places. I didn't have an "American Beauty" childhood or a life like in "The Graduate." All this negativity about suburbia misses the mark. It depends on the people that live there that make it a great place. My parents were friends with the neighbors, they did things with them and we all got along (mostly). I am not an ally of this whole physical determinism that is attributed to the so-called banal and dreary lifestyle so often attributed to the suburbs.

  4. #4

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    I would agree with Ian Anderson that we can take physical determinism too far. However, one cannot deny the impact of physical design on lifestyle. It sounds like his childhood suburb permitted a degree of independence for children. In the more auto-dependent world of many new suburbs, the school has been "combined" into a mega-school three miles away, neighborhood parks are derided as "inefficient" and combined into "community parks" on the other side of the freeway, and parents, concerned that their children have adequate "structured" activities, would never consider allowing their children independent, unstructured activities that they visit on their own. Besides, who knows who lives in the next block??? So-kids are ferried from one event to another.

    This is not only determined by physical design but by social trends and fears partially promoted by relentless media publicity.

  5. #5
    This post may be to late for you and I don't think that this is exactly what you're looking for, however it is worth reading.

    At a conference several years ago, a panelist read an article from the Los Angeles newspaper. In summary, it was written by a woman who had finally found her "American Dream" in a suburb almost 2 hours out from her job in LA. She had two small children which she got up at 4:00am each morning and prepared them for the ride into the city where she dropped them off at daycare before going to work. After several months of this the inevitable happened, she dozed off for just a second on the way to work, ran slightly off the road, and quickly woke up and straightened out the car. Fortunately, no accident occurred. However she described her 6-year-old as being pretty traumatized by the event. She said that from that day on, he would ride up front with her and tug on her sleeve every 5 or 10 minutes asking, "Mommy, are you still awake?"……I literally walked out of the room in tears.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    What do ya think... can we "define" suburbia?

    This is an interesting thread... "The Impacts of Suburbia on Children." Almost sounds like a research article in a scientific journal. If it were, then the article would define what suburbia is. The purpose of that would be to have a consistent framework in which to place and categoraize people.

    So let me ask my fellow Cyburbanites: If we were to scientifically define "suburbia" what traits are common to suburban environments and what traits do they have that cities do not?

    Trait #1: A majority of the residences are single-family detached homes.

    Who agrees? Disagrees? And who wants to submit trait #2?

    [And has somebody already beat us to the punch? Maybe some researcher has already done this.]

  7. #7
    Suburbia is probably more fluid than definitive. I live in a 1900 circa neighborhood considered suburban when it was built. As the city grew, it became outer-urban and then in 1968 when they applied the new zoning regs (suburban in nature, as you defined it) it became suburban and rendered the corner stores and neighborhood commercial areas useless. Effect on kids? No more walks to the corner store for candy. However, as the traffic increased, commercial uses found their places, not at the corner store, but in residential houses (which they rezoned) along busy collectors …..the type of encroachment we try to avoid. So now the kids in that neighborhood can instead visit many varieties of insurance and dentist offices on streets that are not pedestrian friendly.

    And while I agree in part with your definition, some suburbs host a lot of multifamily housing, in fact, some suburbs are comprised primarily of apartment complexes. Commercial is also in the suburbs, but in a different form. The "100% corner" or high buck retail location of past, has drifted from downtown, right along with the rings and evolution of suburbs. The downtown main crossroad moved in the 70's to the mall, locating at the intersection of arterial and arterial. Today, the 100% corner is at the powercenter on the highway that serves the 90's suburb.

    I read an article after the Columbine School shootings where the author blamed a loss of…or lack of, meaningful milestones or rites of passage in children's lives. When I grew up during the 60's, I learned to explore in increments …playing in my yard, playing in the neighbor's yard, walking 3 blocks to a drugstore, walking to a friends house 4 blocks away, walking to grade school 5 blocks away, roaming the neighborhood with friends……and eventually driving. Today in the "typical suburb", the author pointed out that kids spend 16 years in a monotonous setting where everything looks like everything. Five-year-olds and 15-year-olds have the same environment and then boom! You're 16, you can drive and get out of the monotonous neighborhood and onto a major arterial where you can go to McDonald's on your own! It is an absence of those simple rites of passage that have hurt children…in his opinion

    My definition for #2 - large areas of monotonous development.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Oops... let me clarify.

    The trait I listed is not a definition for suburbia. It is merely a suggestion for one component of a possible definition of suburbia that I thought we Cyburbanites could hash out in this thread. I was hoping more would volley their suggestions for possible traits of suburbia. I would imagine there are many facets that help us understand what suburbia is... and I thought that maybe 12 or so would do the trick.

    What I'd like to see are suggestions for traits than can be measured... think in terms of how a social scientist would go about in seeking an answer to defining suburbia.

    The trait I suggested is measurable: "A majority of the residences are single-family detached homes." All a researcher needs to do is define the geographic area to be studied and then go out and count the ratio of single-family residences to other types of residences. If the majority are single-family, then yep, it's quite possible that the geographic area may indeed be suburban in nature... you get the idea.

    If we start our investigation by assuming suburbia is fluid, then I think any efforts to define suburbia are not possible. However, if we agree that it is indeed possible to define suburbia, then we need to know what traits comprise it.

    And getting back to the theme of this thread... if we want to know the effects of suburbia on children, then we need to know what suburbia is. If we cannot agree on what suburbia is, then we'll never be able to answer the question of how suburbia affects children.

    Regarding trait #2, "large areas of monotonous development," I am not sure if that is measurable. What is meant by "monotonous" development? Do you mean monotonous in an architectural way, or monotonous in a street pattern way? Or can "monotonous" be measured in another way: Planning Commission approval of a site plan of over 50 units that include no more than two architectural styles and floor plans in the development? This can certainly be measured... just check the commision meeting minutes, review the developers plans, and do a site check. Of course, the "50 units" and "2 architectural styles" are arbitrary measures and were used only for discussion purposes.

    This could be a fun exercise; I hope more participate.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Beaner,
    So far I have fun just watching this thread.

    Monotonous? What is more so that the miles and miles of similar brownstones in Baltimore?

    You are absolutely right that 'suburia' cannot be studied utill it can be defined. I have a 1/4 acre lot surrounded by similar lots. All 8 houses on my street look the same. There are three retirees households, two with preschool children, me in the mid-life crisis phase, and two that I am unsure of. But I can walk one block to the mall. Work is a ten minute bike ride. Is this what others call 'suburbia'? I think so...and I think not.

    Historically the suburbs might have been the terminus of the trolley lines. Today it may be the miles of cul-de-sacs (or is it culs-de-sac?) on the other side of the beltway.

    When we get this figured out, work on 'sprawl' next. I would love to see that one defined.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Yeah, what we call suburbs today may not in fact be the suburbs of the 18th and 19th centuries. In fact, there are so many terms out there for what's happening today: technoburbs, edge cities, boomburbs, and others.

    Regarding a definition for sprawl, go to sprawlwatch.org and they have a link to a Vernont site that supposedly defines sprawl. Check it out at:

    http://www.vtsprawl.org/sprawldef.htm

    Sprawl is dispersed development outside of compact urban and village centers along highways and in rural countryside.

    Part of the problem of this definition is that it doesn't specify what "dispersed development" or "compact centers" are exactly. Way too vague.

    The Sierra Club defines sprawl as:

    Suburban sprawl -- defined as irresponsible, often poorly-planned development that destroys green space, increases traffic and air pollution, crowds schools and drives up taxes

    Go to:

    http://www.sierraclub.org/sprawl/whitepaper.asp

    for the whole lowdown on their definition.

    But lets stick to defining suburbs. I think us Cyburbanites can figure this one out!

  11. #11

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    Definition of suburbia

    I wonder if defining "suburbia" is even meaningful any more.

    The real issue is the autmobile-dependent lifestyle that dominates the US-Inner City, "Suburb" and Small Town. Except for a few very large cities (New York), America is dominated by a rigid separation of land uses and total dependence (cultural or physical) on the private car (even if token public transit is provided for the poor, the elderly, and the stubborn). This is, to me, the issue, not whether the neighborhood is mostly single family homes. Its almost more of a cultural thing.

    Davis, California, for example, is a university town with a very "suburban" character. However, the City has strongly supported its downtown, there are bicycle paths and footpaths everywhere, and there seems to be a culture that is a little different than the standard drive-everywhere mentality. You actually see hundreds of people walking and bicycling-and not JUST the students.

    Conversely, the suburban mentality "infects" many so-called urban areas. An example: my brother lives in a small apartment with buses right outside his door 2 blocks from a major commercial street (Chestnut Street-in San Francisco's Marina District). When he wants to go shopping, he GETS IN HIS VW PASSAT AND DRIVES TO MARIN COUNTY!!!!. This is very common in SF, particularly among the newer residents who are eagerly demolishing their front gardens to build parking garages.

    That's my rant for the day!

    Great quote from Kunstler , after his visit to Denver:

    "We tolerate their ugliness and civic impoverishment because we are sleepwalking in the rapture of our cheap oil addiction. The wake-up call is going to be extremely harsh, like the thrashing agony of heroin withdrawal. It may shake our country to pieces."

    Oh well, as a definite automobile addict, I better get my dose of Antabuse ready

  12. #12
    I'd like to withdraw monotonous and replace it with a better term that was just used. Segregation. In my mind segregation may be the most predominate characteristic of suburbia. First we segregate land uses through draconian land use regulations, be they detached homes, strip centers, or institutions….then the other segregations begin….income, architecture, values…I'm sure the list goes on.

    Mumford felt that suburbs were based on the needs of the young child but denied them the other 6 stages of growth into adulthood. Mumford was also superfluous….like the previous quote.

    Do you think that well designed PUD's or new urbanism projects built outside the established urban area deflect segregation? Are they still suburbia?

  13. #13
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    Defining Surbubia

    I agree that we need to define suburbia in some quantifiable or measurable terms before we can talk about its impacts on children. Here are a few proposals for traits that define suburbia:

    Predominantly low-density residential development - i.e. less than 2 dwelling units per acre.

    Lack of a city center, or downtown commercial district. For example, in the Milwaukee area, we have a group of suburban communities that were whole-township incorporations that occurred in the 1950's and 1960's. These tend to be the communities that have more of a suburbia feel to them, and seem to be struggling a little bit to define themselves.

    Low ratio of square feet of commercial building space devoted to basic daily needs (groceries, hardware, drug stores, banks, family restaurants) versus population within a community or a neighborhood. This could be an indicator of limited access to basic daily goods and services within individual communities and commercial specialization--big box clusters at transportation nodes or along commercial strips rather than smaller scattered commercial areas serving neighborhoods.

    Transportation network that is inhospitable to pedestrians or bicycles. Percentage of cul-de-sacs vs. through streets; miles of streets without sidewalks; percentage of homes within safe walking access of parks, schools, commercial districts (defined by distance, presence of sidewalks, physical barriers such as major thoroughfares); percentage of homes with access to public transit system (defined by distance from nearest stop).

    Just a few thoughts. I think this is a fascinating topic.

  14. #14
    There are many different types of suburbia -

    I grew up in a very nice suburban area that was developed in the 50s - all single-family ranch houses - but I could still ride my bike down to the 7-11, to the mall (where I could drop my allowance at the arcade), etc.

    When I moved back to my hometown, we got a place in a suburb built in the 20s; we live in a duplex, between a quad and another duplex, across the street from a couple of single-family houses. One of my criteria was that there be a bar within walking distance - we have two at the major intersection about two blocks away, along with a Walgreens, a coffee shop, a Lebanese deli and a couple of antique/junk shops.

    But the stuff I see being developed nowadays has none of that - just mile after mile of single-family houses, where you have to go out of your one entrance (maybe gated, maybe not) and down the arterial a couple of miles to the strip mall to get a pack of smokes or a six-pack (or, I suppose, food, diapers, etc.) I see those kind of places developed at all densities, from 1 to the acre to 8-10 to the acre - I see townhouses developed like that. I see it done it all kinds of design and appearance.

    I think the key factor is not density, or design, but distance from the necessities of daily life. Unfortunately, it's extremely difficult to measure this for large areas...

  15. #15
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    I think you may be onto something. I work in an office park that is a perfect example of what you are describing. There are hundreds of acres of spread-out office buildings, with only two access points to the park (which makes it nearly impossible to get out at 5:00). The streets wind around in no discernible pattern, making it very had to find anything. They are also very wide, with no sidewalks, making it dangerous to walk or jog anywhere for my fitness-conscious co-workers. Also, despite the fact that the park houses hundreds or maybe even thousands of workers, there are absolutely no restaurants or other retail establishments, so everyone has to get in their cars and drive somewhere for lunch. A mile or so down the road there are "pods" of residential development, mostly condominiums and apartments, set up on the same principle of complete segregation from the rest of the world except for automobile access at one (or maybe 2) points.

    The basic principle seems to be to keep everyone on the main roads unless they have specific business in a particular residential, commercial or industrial "pod". Not only do we want conflicting land uses separated from each other, but we don't want anyone driving or walking through anyone else's area unless they are visiting a home or business. Essentially, we are reducing the amount of truly public space in the interest of privacy, perceived security and reduced traffic on side streets. However, a huge side effect is reduced mobility and a greater reliance on automobiles, which really increases overall traffic levels.

    I also wonder if this type of urban form is contributing to an increase in antisocial behavior and real or perceived increases in crime, or if it is merely a reaction to these trends.

  16. #16

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    The problem I see is that trends in commerce make "sprawl" inevitable. Instead of three 30,000 square foot supermarkets spread among neighborhoods, you get The Pale Rider , a 200,000 square foot Super-Wal-Mart. The Pale Rider has to drain large areas of the City, so you can't have the smaller neighborhood centers. I see that in my current town, where everything migrated to a few large stores near the freeway, with vacant neighborhood shopping centers left behind. (Its actually getting better, though. That vacant space is allowing new players to enter the market).

    I also think that the Baby Boomer generation has grown up honestly believing that they are "owed" a perfectly stress-free, controlled life.

  17. #17

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    Interesting stuff on trying to define "suburbia". I've often thought about this in my own situation. I live in a single family home and do most of my shopping in a strip mall about a mile away. Geographically, I live in the city of Cleveland, but the lifestyle is somewhat suburban. There are nearby suburbs such as Shaker Heights with better access to neighborhood shops and mass transit than the city neighborhood I live in. Meanwhile, south of us, it is virtually impossible to distinguish the city of Columbus from many of its suburbs.Columbus, the largest city in Ohio, still has farmland within the city limits! Even New York City has neighborhoods that feel more suburban than parts of neighboring counties.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian JNL's avatar
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    Darrell- try this website:
    http://www.hull.ac.uk/children5to16p...ils/obrien.htm

    It's about some research done in the UK on "Childhood, Urban Space and Citizenship: Child Sensitive Urban Regeneration".
    Last edited by JNL; 07 Jul 2002 at 8:36 PM.

  19. #19
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    Where I grew up in near Fort Lauderdale, I suppose that most of the development might be considered suburbia. The houses sat on 1/4 acre lots, there were some cul-de-sacs, all ranch style single family houses. There was however, 2 elementary schools, a middle school, a high school, 2 parks, City Hall, Medical/dental offices, 2 gas stations and two strip malls within walking/biking distance of my house. Granted, if I had a car back when I was little I wouldn't have walked or rode the bike the 1/2 mile to get to any of these things, but it was an option.

    There are many newer developments further to the west of ours, but many of them have only one usage type (housing units) on their large swaths of land. There is more of a feeling of isolationism rather than integrating with the surrounding community.

    I think that the suburbia that becomes 'scary' is the notion that all there is for as far as the eye can see is cookie cutter development of one kind. And whether or not it applies to housing units or office towers or retail space, it produces the same effect. A person's sense of scale is thrown way out of whack when there is too much of one type of development concentrated in one place.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Bowling...

    Originally posted by Catrin
    ...I read an article after the Columbine School shootings where the author blamed a loss of…or lack of, meaningful milestones or rites of passage in children's lives. When I grew up during the 60's, I learned to explore in increments …playing in my yard, playing in the neighbor's yard, walking 3 blocks to a drugstore, walking to a friends house 4 blocks away, walking to grade school 5 blocks away, roaming the neighborhood with friends……and eventually driving. Today in the "typical suburb", the author pointed out that kids spend 16 years in a monotonous setting where everything looks like everything. Five-year-olds and 15-year-olds have the same environment and then boom! You're 16, you can drive and get out of the monotonous neighborhood and onto a major arterial where you can go to McDonald's on your own! It is an absence of those simple rites of passage that have hurt children…in his opinion...
    I just saw Bowling for Columbine. Has anyone else seen this provacative movie?

  21. #21

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    Experiment

    "I grew up in suburbia. I think I had a normal, active childhood. I don't feel scarred. I rode my bike to all kinds of places, like 7-11, the ball diamond, the soccer fields, the comic book store, and my friends houses. I even walked to these places. I didn't have an "American Beauty" childhood or a life like in "The Graduate." All this negativity about suburbia misses the mark. It depends on the people that live there that make it a great place. My parents were friends with the neighbors, they did things with them and we all got along (mostly). I am not an ally of this whole physical determinism that is attributed to the so-called banal and dreary lifestyle so often attributed to the suburbs"

    Hmm, I wonder what would happen if lo and behold, the population sudden became more socioeconomically diverse - how well would one think the suburbanites would be reacting to such then?

    GB

  22. #22
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Are you suggesting that most suburbs are composed of an inherent socioeconomical homogeneity full of curmudgeons?

  23. #23

    Michael Moron

    Beaner, did that awful movie provoke you to puke? I liked when that sloppy, fatass, dummy, Michael Moore was on Bill O'Reilly's show. Bill exposed him for what he is: a whiny liberal offering no solutions. SNL also spoofed him real good. Don't tell me you support him?

  24. #24

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    I would love to see an SNL parody of Michael Moore. The comic potential is awe-inspiring.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Trust Mugbub to call this one right. Moore is a useless and unimaginative whiner without the intellect to do a credible or unbiased analysis of any issue.

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