It doesn't matter; my role in a free society is to advise on tech aspects not influence urban form
My role is to help shape the built environment, but I can't really stop people wanting suburbs
Planners should actively discourage sprawl and encourage denser forms
Low-density suburbs are a plague upon the earth; in a perfect world they would be banned entirely
The employer has created a pleasant environment to ensure it's workers satisfaction as a happy and healthy worker is a productive worker.
Instead of saying suburbs are bad and should be discouraged (or banned) we could instead say urban communities are good are should be encouraged.
The problem in many cities is the 1950’s North American vision of car-dominated single-family half-acre lots was so dominate that little else was built . Every family needed a front yard with an oak tree, a back yard with a pool or trampoline and enough parking spaces in the driveway so that every person over 16 living in the house had space to park. That vision was so powerful that developers built little else for three or four decades. It’s not a bad vision, but it does not suit everybody, particularly today.
Most of the suburban houses built since the 1950’s aren’t going anywhere. They will remain part of the landscape and part of housing stock for many generations. But they make up such a large percentage of units currently available that we don’t need any more of them. What we need is more apartments and townhouses in walkable, transit-oriented neighbourhoods so that people aren’t forced to live in the suburbs. People need to have a choice. I don’t see the “urban” movement that is currently in vogue as being about destroying the suburb, but rather as providing more choices.
90% of educated people I know find the vacuity and blasted desolation of the post-war built evnironment in the US detestable. Do you find that not to be the case?
Life and death of great pattern languages
The problem is that the empirical numbers tend not to be very good or as good as promised (e.g., transit use doesn't really go up), but for what it's worth, the people do seem happier.
I can only imagine the high-minded people you associate with Luca, but here in the U.S. I'd bet 90% of the populace sees no problem with the built environment since WWII, and I don't see a point in blaming people for thinking this way. Most cities are not desirable and livable places, especially for familes with children. There's a lot of unfortunate reasons why this is so, but the sad state of our cities has to be part of the discussion when we're talking about suburban/exurban growth. It seems like the elephant in the room no one wants to acknowledge.
"I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany"
As a planner who works for a largely rural county, I have a vested interest in the expansion of suburban development. It is a large reason why I have a job. Most of the subdivisions I review are on undeveloped land or farmland being converted into subdivisions of 1 acre or more.
Why one acre plus? Because that is the minimum size for a house to have an individual well and wastewater treatment system. Water availabilty is a driving issue of development in the West. Obtaining a multi-user water system is a difficult and sometimes litigious process.
What we as planners sometimes forget is those lovely neighborhoods you see in our major cities were once - gasp - suburbs! OMG . The city I am most familiar with - New Orleans is a collection of former towns and suburbs that the city of New Orleans incorporated. The St. Charles Ave. streetcar ran down the neutral ground to suburbs, so workers living near the end of the line on Carondelet could get to work. As the city expanded, people moved to Metaire and further into Jefferson Parish and then St. Tammany Parish.
Some people like the hustle and bustle of the inner city. Some people like the space and privacy of the suburbs. Some people want to live on large tracts in the country.
Me, I like living in a small city. Wouldn't want to live in a big city. I'd sooner open a vein. If my job required I work in a big city, I too would escape to the suburbs.
When there are problems with suburban development, we need to mitigate those as best we can and hopefully find better ways to accomplish what people want.
As professional planners, we can help the governing body and residents educate themselves about the pros and cons of growth and other land use issues. I do not think it is our job to try to impose our stamp of what we think is right for the community, We advise and sometimes educate, but the land-use decisions belong to the elected officials and the residents who elected them.
"I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."
~ Otterpop ~
I will also add that, in some cities, the attitude of people who run them is even a bigger problem. It's why there's so much poverty, racial tensions, and poor public education in those cities. The city government of Buffalo, NY, for example, has been doing its best since the late 1960s to push middle class people out to the 'burbs by providing City Hall jobs for the politically connected instead of providing even rudimentary services to residents. It's latest poster child for this attitude is that a non-profit agency that sets up master leases for community gardens on city-owned lots waited three years for some leases to be approved even though it has done numerous ones in the past. All the leases were approved in less than three weeks after the media got wind of the story. That's how things operate in Buffalo -- and why the city has lost and continues to lose population far out of proportion to the rest of its metro.
as long as I have a Macy's in a 20 mile radius, I'm good
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I also wonder if the rise of the leisure class is in any way related to all of this. Suburbanization actually began in the late 1800s in the US and then took on the more familiar form we think of today after WWII. Who was being drawn to these settings initially? In the town where I grew up, it was wealthy Philadelphians. First, they were "summering" outside of the city in the bucolic setting of farmland (in my town, farmers who were on the decline rented their homes or other structures to these folks). They even built a small theater for summer performances of plays (leisure and entertainment were a key emphasis of these summer retreats) Later, when the farming collapsed, land was subdivided and sold to the wealthy Philadelphians who built permanent homes and commuted. In my town, by the 1920s, there was a paved road into Philly, rail service and a small municipal airport (which in the 1950s was developed as housing - a good friend lives there now).
The purpose of life is a life of purpose
I think we are certainly in an age of limits, if we look at the ability of middle-class families (whose incomes haven't grown in 3 decades) to afford the ever-more-affluent lifestyle that we are told is "normal," in the face of rising energy and medical costs eating up more of one's income. In the sense of planners' jobs being nothing more than educating and advising, if we're not considering environmental and fiscal sustainability, we're failing at that job and future generations will look at the planning we do and disparage it much as we disparage post-war planning.
.I'd bet 90% of the populace sees no problem with the built environment since WWII, and I don't see a point in blaming people for thinking this way. Most cities are not desirable and livable places, especially for familes with children
I think it depends on the size of city we're talking about. Post-war suburbia works fine for urban areas of a certain size. But for the half of the country that lives in major metro areas, I really doubt 90% are happy with the traffic gridlock, lack of planned open spaces, poor condition of urban watersheds, highways along waterfronts, degradation of the scenery along arterial roads, etc. Even at the neighborhood level, I think most of the research shows about 30%, not 10%, who prefer a more urban environment. Add to this those who prefer a rural environment - I can vouch rural and small town people generally hate sprawling suburbia. Again, I really believe it requires us as planners to get beyond a surface-level inquiry of what people think they want, and actually educate, advise and plan for the long term.
In regards to the white flight discussion, it is interesting because while many communities are in the position of Buffalo, one should not assume that this pattern in the "norm" as many other cities, large and small, have always been livable or have re-crossed the threshold where in-city neighborhoods are the most desirable and most expensive, as national statistics on housing prices in pre-war neighborhoods show; and where social ills are more concentrated in inner suburbs. Many other cities are a mix of good and bad neighborhoods, but the sheer volume of growth in 60 years has meant much of the population lives in post-war neighborhoods.
This discussion neglects the real issue: the freeways.
Without massive government investment in them, there couldn't be these levels of: socioeconomic segregation; retail leakage; urban disinvestment; jobs-housing imbalances; loss of wilderness and farmland; traffic congestion; air and water pollution; homogenous development; etc.
Currently, of course, we are in need of a massive improvement in roadway infrastructure. In the current climate, though, its hard to see how congress will approve an investment of the scale needed without this kind of fear-based or post-war mentality. Good? Bad? Will deterioration of these amenities mean more people move closer to the urban cores? Who knows.
But the point of the freeways facilitating sprawl is a good one. Still, as I mentioned, suburban development began in the late 1800s before freeways but after the advent of rail and not long after personal automobiles. Paved roads from the city centers to the edges are still what made commuting viable and moving to the "country" feasible for those who could afford it. That and cheap fuel...
Would all of this have happened without the freeways? Probably to some extent, but perhaps not as extensive as what we have now. Private roadways were the norm in the early days and its hard to say that a privately built network might not have developed over time. The first paved road across the country, the Lincoln Highway, was privately built by Carl Fisher. It served as an inpiration for Eisenhower's massive undertaking.
The purpose of life is a life of purpose
The interstate highway system, as it was built, was certainly a bad idea.
Rail infrastructure in this country was systematically dismantled, and, while Europe and Asia spent the last fifty years investing in their trains, what did we do? And, why in the world did we do it?
The oil and highway lobbies in this country, along with the "military-industrial complex" about which Eisenhower warned, have been driving the government, pun intended, for a very long time, and we're now at a point at which virtually everyone realizes that there is a problem. But, we're stuck. We can't fix these issues very easily or quickly unless Americans start getting more resourceful.
Expressways have their place in the natural and rural areas, but, as the environment becomes more urban, these thoroughfares should change their character in order to make the traffic move more slowly and smoothly, especially through city centers.
Freeways also require more conversion of free lanes to toll lanes, especially during periods of peak usage.
Public transportation, in general, should be the first choice for medium- and long-distance travel.
Last edited by Pragmatic Idealist; 24 Jun 2011 at 6:44 PM.
Weren't the interstates around cities or between cities and the 'burbs built well after the major components of the Interstate system was designed and built? By the time the "local" interstates -- 3 digit numbered highways around metros -- were started, many metros were into their second ring suburbs. That was the late 1950s/early 1960s I think. Most of these local interstates weren't finished until much later. In NYS, the Thruway (I 90) was started in the early/mid 1950s and completed before 1960 I think. Its many spurs and metro highways around Upstate cities were added later.
I think that it's wrong to assume that suburbs were only residential or that there were no jobs located in or near the suburbs. It wasn't uncommon, in Upstate NY at least, for large industrial areas to be located on the periphery of cities or in suburban towns rather than really close to downtown, so a lot of the early suburbanites in Upstate NY were employees of the manufacturing plants that were close to the city edges or in the suburbs. They had no need for highways.
I think it's later, after the 1960s, when suburbs were moving into their "second ring" and manufacturing jobs started rapidly disappearing, that you get more people commuting further, at least in many areas of the northeast and midwest. That's when limited access highways in metro areas became more important as people had to drive further because of choosing to live further out of the city or having to work further from home. Even today, many people who live in the suburbs work in the suburbs.
.This discussion neglects the real issue: the freeways.
Without massive government investment in them, there couldn't be these levels of: socioeconomic segregation; retail leakage; urban disinvestment; jobs-housing imbalances; loss of wilderness and farmland; traffic congestion; air and water pollution; homogenous development; etc
Absolutely. I recall Peter Park, Denver's planning director, explaining it well when he discussed how our investment in public infrastructure creates or destroy value in private real estate. When highways open formerly rural lands to suburban development by linking them first with downtown and then with other suburban employment centers as office jobs migrated, this decision created value in the new suburbs. At the same time, every polluting highway built through an urban neighborhood or river valley or along a waterfront destroyed value in the city. I too have heard that the highway system was never meant to pierce the downtowns or open land to development, but they soon evolved into commuting routes.
And it wasn't just highways; former streetcar commercial streets were widened and retrofitted into one-way auto-oriented streets whose sole purpose was to quickly carry auto traffic from outlying suburban areas into the downtown, often with the opposite direction of the one-way pair being the adjoining residential street which was no longer desirable; while half of the downtown may have been torn down to create surface parking lots to serve this system. Even with all these advantages, suburban retail often demanded government subsidy.
On the other hand, investment in a rail system could achieve mobility and access goals while creating value in urban areas and transit nodes, while not being anti-suburban at all, but rather supporting walkable suburbs.
Last edited by docwatson; 24 Jun 2011 at 7:41 PM.