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Thread: Transformation of the Suburb: Help w/ my paper

  1. #1

    Transformation of the Suburb: Help w/ my paper

    I am currently doing some research for my paper (should be about 10 pages) on the topic of suburban transformation. My main point in the paper is that suburbs have slowly gotten less and less "livable," especially when it comes to mobility. I got the idea for this topic from an article I read in one of my classes (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/m...51/ai_54618886).

    Anyway, I would like to know if anyone knows any good books/articles that look at suburban development throughout the 20th century. I am especially interested in the built environment and layout of suburbs, particularly the transformation of the grid layout of early post WWII suburbs to the more "spaghetti" layout of twisty roads. Any resources that also compare pre-WWII suburbs (Radburn, NJ; etc) would also be interesting.

    I have taken a look at "Crabgrass Frontier" and it seems like a good start for understanding the history of suburbs up unitll the 80's. Does anyone know any books of equal caliber that examine the last few decades of suburban and exurban development?

    Also, I am curious if anyone disagrees with the idea that suburbs have gotten less livable? If so why?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian KSharpe's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Aspiring NewUrbanist View post
    I am currently doing some research for my paper (should be about 10 pages) on the topic of suburban transformation. My main point in the paper is that suburbs have slowly gotten less and less "livable," especially when it comes to mobility. I got the idea for this topic from an article I read in one of my classes (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/m...51/ai_54618886).

    Anyway, I would like to know if anyone knows any good books/articles that look at suburban development throughout the 20th century. I am especially interested in the built environment and layout of suburbs, particularly the transformation of the grid layout of early post WWII suburbs to the more "spaghetti" layout of twisty roads. Any resources that also compare pre-WWII suburbs (Radburn, NJ; etc) would also be interesting.

    I have taken a look at "Crabgrass Frontier" and it seems like a good start for understanding the history of suburbs up unitll the 80's. Does anyone know any books of equal caliber that examine the last few decades of suburban and exurban development? Also, I am curious if anyone disagrees with the idea that suburbs have gotten less livable? If so why?

    Try "Suburban Nation" byby Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Jeff Speck. Really comprehensive book about problems with the suburbs. I think you will find that on cyburbia, several people will tell you that the "suburbs" are not a monolith but a greatly varying area to live.
    Do you want to pet my monkey?

  3. #3

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    More books which touch upon suburban sprawl

    Geography of Nowhere: Kunstler
    Edge City: Garreau
    Asphalt Nation: Kay

    There'll be overlap between these books and Surburban Nation, but that should help with your report.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Maybe, maybe not

    I might disagree on the idea that suburbs are less livable. One can say that certain suburbs (and i do mean certain) are really trying to create a more "village" concept model, such as stapleton in denver (one can argue that it isn't a suburb) or if you want to head down to the San Diego area, San Eliso is considered a suburb, but trying to be a more "liveable" suburb with areas of mixed use, commercial, parks and open space integrated into a well designed project.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    Off-topic:
    CPSURaf, please check your inbox. I have been trying to get a hold of you for the past week or two.

    Yes, I know this is a completely different thread, but I don't know if you have received any of my private messages. Thanks-

  6. #6
    Cyburbian ofos's avatar
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    Don't neglect the old standards like "Image of the City", by Kevin Lynch and "Design with Nature" by Ian McHarg. While they may not be addressing your particular topic, they offer excellent insights into the thought processes of the 60's & 70's.

  7. #7
    Simple, areas went from being suburbs that were well built, to huge mistakes in the 50s-70s, to even bigger mistakes, then hopefully they will improve, redensify, recentralize, orient towards pedestrian activity and mass transit, and stop sprawling...

  8. #8
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    I have an interesting book written by the father of the mall, Victor Gruen called 'Heart of the City' (might be something similar). It was rather interesting to see that he used quite a bit of theory in designing stuff from the Mall in Downtown Rochester to Northland/Southdale. He explains theories such as Christaller and talks about the importance of stuff like transit. I suppose the best minds at the time were underestimating the lure of the automobile, even back then.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler
    Asphalt Nation by Kane Holtz Kay
    The City in History by Lewis Mumford
    The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

    dot dot dot...

    1984 by George Orwell.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    The other side of the argument is that suburbs in the 50's barely took environmental resources into consideration. They'd fill wetlands and pack in the septic systems without much thought. Lower density in some areas today is partially the result of down-zoning as a response to natural resource protection.

  11. #11
    Thanks everyone for the responses. Some very interesting points. It looks like I've got a lot of reading to do!

    Some more related questions:

    Would you agree that in general, services like shopping have moved further and further from the peoples' houses as suburbs have evolved? As mentioned in the article for my first post, a child in levittown could walk to the local shop, while someone in the typical new american suburb today would have to go on the highway to get to the nearest big box shopping center due to the design and layout of today's suburbs.

    Also, what qualities did the early 20th Century suburbs possess that made them"well built" as mentioned above in a previous post?

  12. #12
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    Regarding early 20th century suburbs, look up towns and development designed by John Nolen, also Forest Hills in Queens. Aside from their physical layout being more condicive to walking, there was also a generally higher standard of craftsmanship to the construction. Several factors, I believe, have contributed to the lowering of construction quality. There is little pride in the work in deveoper built homes. Construction is done by people who can't do much else. Its all about production and maximizing return on investment. The developer or the bank that holds the mortgage to the property has no reason to insure a quality of construction that will extend the life of the house beyond the life of the mortgage. Yes, construction standards have been beefed up in response to hurricane damage, for example, but longevity of materials is not a major concern in most residential construction. Hopefully LEED will start to change that.
    Adrift in a sea of beige

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Aspiring NewUrbanist View post
    I am currently doing some research for my paper (should be about 10 pages) on the topic of suburban transformation. My main point in the paper is that suburbs have slowly gotten less and less "livable," especially when it comes to mobility. I got the idea for this topic from an article I read in one of my classes (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/m...51/ai_54618886).

    Anyway, I would like to know if anyone knows any good books/articles that look at suburban development throughout the 20th century. I am especially interested in the built environment and layout of suburbs, particularly the transformation of the grid layout of early post WWII suburbs to the more "spaghetti" layout of twisty roads. Any resources that also compare pre-WWII suburbs (Radburn, NJ; etc) would also be interesting.

    I have taken a look at "Crabgrass Frontier" and it seems like a good start for understanding the history of suburbs up unitll the 80's. Does anyone know any books of equal caliber that examine the last few decades of suburban and exurban development?

    Also, I am curious if anyone disagrees with the idea that suburbs have gotten less livable? If so why?
    Having been trained as a historian, it seems to me that you are doing this backwards: instead of basing your conclusion on the evidence you've found, you've already determined your conclusion and are now looking for evidence to support it.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally posted by boilerplater View post
    Regarding early 20th century suburbs, look up towns and development designed by John Nolen, also Forest Hills in Queens. Aside from their physical layout being more condicive to walking, there was also a generally higher standard of craftsmanship to the construction.
    It seems that several people have given examples of suburbs, such as this one, that offer a "better" form of development. However, I am curious if these suburbs, whether they be a John Nolen designed one or a new urbanist one, are really way out of step of the majority of suburban development. It seems that that is pretty much the case today, but I don't know if that was the case back then? Was there any real suburban development and subdivisions back then (pre-WWII) to begin with?

  15. #15
    Cyburbian KSharpe's avatar
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    There were people who didn't live downtown, if that's what you mean.
    I have to say, you are kind of coming off as a slightly brainwashed student. When I got out of planning school, I thought everything was really black and white as well. You later realize that most development has pros and cons, and while you should negotiate for the best development possible, new urbanism, or transit oriented development, etc, just doesn't work everywhere.
    Do you want to pet my monkey?

  16. #16
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Aspiring NewUrbanist View post
    Was there any real suburban development and subdivisions back then (pre-WWII) to begin with?
    There have been suburbs for hundreds of years, whether or not they show similarities to the examples you illustrate I am not sure. A "subdivision" is just taking land and subdividing it into smaller "chunks".

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    As nrschmid said, there have been suburbs for hundreds of years. It's how cities in Europe grew -- by annexing the growing areas outside the walled "Old Town". Some American cities also grew this way, and some still do (Omaha, NE's recent annexation of a smaller nearby city).

    Others American cities simply drew their boundaries so wide, it took them half a century or more to fill them up. In the 1850s, Buffalo, NY, enlarged its boundaries to their present day limits, about 42 square miles. The thing is, most Bufffalonians at the time lived within about a mile of Niagara Square. By the 1890s, while some parts of the East Side of Buffalo had filled in with homes and businesses, much of the northern and southern parts of the city were still cow pastures and corn fields. It wasn't until the 1920s that most of these areas became "urbanized". They were often built in the same hodge-podge fashion as subdivisions are built today but on a smaller scale -- a street or two or even five by the same builder with very similar styles of homes, especially in the more modest neighborhoods that were intended for factory workers or shop keepers.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    Decline of the Center City leads to Suburbs

    Pre-WWII suburbs weren't being built to house people escaping the center city. As most know as larger cities grow their center city declines and people move to the burbs. Are people who live in the suburbs able to walk to their neighborhood markets for shopping needs? No, not really, however, small shopping areas as well as large outdoor malls are being built nearby.
    The idea of living in prime neighborhoods is to live near the essential amenities like in the city. Thus, this creates smaller cities outside of once large and bustling cities. Suburbs and new developments are being built to fit the modern needs for living and that means that small shopping areas must be built near major developments. The once forgotten center city was a place where all your needs were within a few blocks, this can be true of the modern suburb; just you may have to drive half a mile instead of walking.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Linda_D View post
    As nrschmid said, there have been suburbs for hundreds of years. It's how cities in Europe grew -- by annexing the growing areas outside the walled "Old Town".

    I partly agree with that observation. More of the older cities in Europe, Paris, Vienna, Moscow, created fortifications to protect against invaders (ostrogoths, huns, turks, magyars, etc.). Throughout the middle ages, the vast majority of the population still lived in the countryside and would persist until the 18th century. However, the revitalization of the ancient trade routes through Byzantium (modern Istanbul), Persia (what is now Iran and Pakistan), India, and China led to an increase commerce. More people moved within the walled cities in hopes to make a fortune. Over time, the populations of these walled cities swelled to capacity. Hamlets started forming outside of the city walls, which developed into separate villages and towns. Not until the 19th century did many of the villages become incorporate into the larger city.

    For example, Versailles in France was barely more than an obsure little hamlet that included a dirty old hunting lodge used by Louis XIII. The town of Versailles grew up around the palace built by his son Louis XIV, to house the various courteirs who did not have the royal priviledge of obtaining a bed in the garret of the palace. Today, Versailles is part of the much larger city of Paris (or I think it might be a suburb).

    If you are interested, I recommend a book on the city of Vienna during the 18th century (it discusses suburbs in various sections of the book). Mozart's Vienna by H.C. Robbins Landon is a beautiful book that incorporates a contemporary account of Vienna (including the suburbs) during Mozart's time in that city (1780-1791). It will also give you an idea of how cities in Europe operated (their amusements, coffee houses, suburbs, insane asylums, the Hofburh and Schonnbrunn, St. Stephen's Cathedral, and even the cost of living (firewood and mirrors were very expensive commodities).

  20. #20
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Linda_D View post
    As nrschmid said, there have been suburbs for hundreds of years. It's how cities in Europe grew -- by annexing the growing areas outside the walled "Old Town".

    I partly agree with that observation. More of the older cities in Europe, Paris, Vienna, Moscow, created fortifications to protect against invaders (ostrogoths, huns, turks, magyars, etc.). Throughout the middle ages, the vast majority of the population still lived in the countryside and would persist until the 18th century. However, the revitalization of the ancient trade routes through Byzantium (modern Istanbul), Persia (what is now Iran and Pakistan), India, and China led to an increase commerce. More people moved within the walled cities in hopes to make a fortune. Over time, the populations of these walled cities swelled to capacity Hamlets started forming outside of the city walls, which developed into separate villages and towns. Not until the 19th century, with the removal of the ancient walls, such as the Ringstrasse in Vienna and Haussmann's rebuilding of Paris (which was an outgrowth of mediveal streets), did many of the villages become incorporated into the larger city.

    For example, Versailles in France was barely more than an obsure little hamlet that included a dirty old hunting lodge used by Louis XIII. The town of Versailles grew up around the palace built by his son Louis XIV, to house the various courteirs who did not have the royal priviledge of obtaining a bed in the garret of the palace. Today, Versailles is part of the much larger city of Paris (or I think it might be a suburb).

    If you are interested, I recommend a book on the city of Vienna during the 18th century (it discusses suburbs in various sections of the book). Mozart's Vienna by H.C. Robbins Landon is a beautiful book that incorporates a contemporary account of Vienna (including the suburbs) during Mozart's time in that city (1780-1791). It will also give you an idea of how cities in Europe operated (their amusements, coffee houses, suburbs, insane asylums, the imperial palaces of the Hofburg and Schonnbrunn, St. Stephen's Cathedral, and even the cost of living (firewood and mirrors were very expensive commodities).

  21. #21
    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    I think you're really talking about zoning and land-use practices used before and after WWII (or around that time). Suburban versus urban is an easy way to put that, but not really correct.

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