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Thread: Are large suburbs really on the same level as small "real cities"

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    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    Are large suburbs really on the same level as small "real cities"

    Do you think large suburbs should be afforded the same spotlight as smaller "real" cities? For example, Mesa AZ is larger than Minneapolis or Atlanta. Chula Vista CA, Chandler AZ, and Hialeah FL are all nearly the same size as Madison, yet Minneapolis and Madison are far more known. Do you think population is a fair comparison when discussing these types of issues? Some cities can keep annexing (like in Arizona) and some are landlocked (as in the Midwest). What say you?
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    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Politically in New York, "cities" are totally independent of towns and somewhat independent of counties. Incorporated villages are somewhat independent of the towns they are located in but not totally. Practically speaking, there's little difference between small "cities" and "suburbs" except that the "cities" probably have a higher percentage of lower income people than "suburbs" do. The differences between large "villages" and "suburbs" is even less. Probably the "suburbs" contain more newer homes and big box developments.

    The original differences between incorporated areas (cities and villages) and unincorporated areas surrounding them was density and the level of services. That's sort of largely disappeared as suburban developments added public water and sewer services.

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    Cyburbian jsk1983's avatar
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    I've heard of Mesa, but other than that can't tell you a thing about it. How do you propose we shine a spotlight on Mesa?

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    Cyburbian illinoisplanner's avatar
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    Whether large suburbs are really on the same level as small "real" cities all depends on what criteria you're comparing. And it also depends on which large suburbs and specifically which "real" cities you are comparing.

    For example, if you are just looking at population, then yes, large suburbs really are on the same level as "real" cities of the same size. A person is still a person, whether it's in Chandler or in Madison.

    However, if the criteria you're using is historical and cultural siginificance, then most of the time, I think "real" cities will win out. A place that is a state capital, a huge college town, and is nationally-known for many things (be it landmarks, politics, historical events, or what have you) is definitely going to be considered on a much higher level than a place of equal size that is just another boomburb that reached a level of population and size large enough to be considered a city only within the past couple decades.

    Nevertheless, there are examples of places that are boomburbs that may be just as significant, if not more significant, than "real" cities, especially when the criteria being evaluated is economic or cultural significance. Take Arlington, Texas for example. 365,000 people. Just 60 years ago, it has only 7,000 people. Today, it is an economic powerhouse in the heart of the DFW metroplex and is very well known. Two professional sports teams call the city home, it has large theme parks, it has a state university, two primary interstates (20 and 30), and several malls and hospitals. It has a diverse population, with double digit percentages of blacks and hispanics. It has a significant economy, revolving around the automotive and aerospace industries, in addition to the commerce provided by the entertainment, hospitality, and retail in town. It doesn't have a long history, and it doesn't have a bus system. But is it on the same level as "real" cities of equal size, such as Wichita or Bakersfield? I'd say so. Particularly, if you're talking about economic and cultural significance.

    Likewise, the same could be said of even smaller places, such as Schaumburg, IL vs. Decatur, IL, both in the 70,000 - 85,000 range. Schaumburg was nothing but farmlands 50 years ago. It doesn't have much of a downtown. Its population stock consists largely of houses built in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Yes, Decatur is a "real" city. And it has Archer-Daniels Midland, a significant agricultual Fortune 500 company. It has a much longer and more storied history. It has older architecture. It has a small college (Millkin) and even a zoo. It's a county seat, independent, and stands on its own out there on I-72. But Schaumburg has Motorola, and a series of other Fortune 500 companies. And it also has Woodfield Mall, the largest mall in the state of Illinois, one of the Top 10 largest in North America. The municipality is the 2nd largest sales tax revenue generator in Illinois. The mall has spawned off other economic activity in the region, radiating outwards along I-90 in the form of ethnic restaurants of every kind, every hotel you can think of, every specialty retailer, and scores of office buildings and corporate centers. It has a convention center, Medieval Times, a minor league ballpark, significant public transit, and a series of colleges and universities that are attracted by the thousands of employers in the area. It is a quintessential edge city, which in my mind, is historically and culturally significant in this country. Schaumburg is even diverse, with an Asian population of 20%, with ethnicities representing nearly every part of the continent, in addition to many recent European immigrants, and a growing black and hispanic population. So, is Schaumburg on the same level as Decatur? Absolutely. Especially in regards to contemporary economic and cultural influence.
    Last edited by illinoisplanner; 27 Oct 2011 at 10:54 PM.
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    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    No, population is not the indicator of presence or importance, or reputation. Consider that the second largest city in New England is Worcester, and I think the third is Springfield, when measured by population. But Providence is clearly the "second city" in New England, and Portland and Burlington are important far beyond their populations.

    Large suburbs don't offer much of a reason for people who don't live there to come visit. True cities do. Its hard to say exactly why.

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    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    I think IllinoisPlanner brings up some good points that you have to look beyond population and to something like business activity. We don't have any suburbs here in the Detroit area that have the populations of places like Mesa, Tempe, Chandler, Hialeah, Chula Vista, or Plano but a lot of that just comes down to growth and annexation patterns in the older Midwest areas. Our suburbs seem to top out in the 65k - 120k population size. But even among our suburbs in that range, once you get outside of the area, the ones that people are more likely to have heard of are the ones with more commercial, industrial, and office activity going on in them like Dearborn (Ford), Warren (General Motors Technical Center, U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command), Troy (Kelly Services, the ole' KMart hq), and Southfield (Federal Mogul and seemingly all of the Upper-Midwest commercial real estate HQs). There are cities like Rochester Hills, Farmington Hills, Novi, Westland, Sterling Heights, and Clinton Township that have populations in the same range but are not homes to major companies or major office developments (though that can of course change over time as places like Farmington Hills, Novi, and Sterling Heights are definitely growing).

    In the end, I think a more telling indicator might be something like daytime population which for a city like Southfield, Michigan is about 150,000 compared to it's resident population of about 72,000. This might be something that would tell you a bit more about a community or region besides just where the folks are living.
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    Cyburbian
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    This is an issue that has come up in Canada. Canada’s sixth largest city, Mississauga, is a suburb of Toronto and the 11th largest, Brampton, is immediately adjacent to Mississauga. If these two suburban cities were combined they would become the third largest city in Canada, bigger than any other city except Toronto and Montreal, yet they are often ranked below places like Halifax (13th), Regina (24th) or even Victoria (63rd) in national importance. This has led to a movement in both Mississauga and Brampton to grow their city core areas into real urban centres. Brampton has an edge in this game because they have an historic urban town centre that they can use as a seed. Mississauga has a large shopping mall at its centre so it has had a much bigger challenge, but it also has a much more aggressive plan. A number of years ago it removed virtually all height and density regulations in the core and as a result they now have a number of super tall residential buildings surrounding the mall. Their challenge now is to tie them altogether with a walkable urban public realm.

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    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by stroskey View post
    Do you think large suburbs should be afforded the same spotlight as smaller "real" cities? For example, Mesa AZ is larger than Minneapolis or Atlanta. Chula Vista CA, Chandler AZ, and Hialeah FL are all nearly the same size as Madison, yet Minneapolis and Madison are far more known. Do you think population is a fair comparison when discussing these types of issues? Some cities can keep annexing (like in Arizona) and some are landlocked (as in the Midwest). What say you?
    No suburbs do not look at all like cities .


    Cities have fast food , restaurants ,bars , night club and entertainment districts that suburbs do not have.No better how big the suburb is 600,000 people or 900,000 a city population of 100,000 will have way more than what a suburb has.

    All suburbs are nothing but homes and industrial parks.

    Also suburbs do not have a commercial strip like cities have.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    This thread raises some interesting questions about how we define "urban form" which, I think, may be somewhat different from what we typically think of as "cities." Additionally, we should be careful not to confuse official city boundaries with the boundaries of "urbanization." Very often they are not exactly the same and this is how and why cities grow their boundaries - incorporating development that has developed at the fringes.

    A few years back I did a research project with a professor mapping the historical development of "urban form" in my fair city from establishment to present day (in 20 year increments). We made certain decisions about how we defined this, which put aside official city boundaries and looked instead at street network density as well as dwelling units/acre. What we found, among other things, was that the process of urbanization often took place outside of the official boundaries and was later incorporated.

    Which is all to say that I don't really see that there is a very clear distinction between "suburbanization" and "urbanization." Many suburbs are now part of the core of major cities (1st tier, 2nd tier, etc). I think suburbanization is a FORM of urbanization - a subset or a particular typology, but not something entirely distinct from "urbanization." Additionally, there is a lot of diversity within that form so it can be hard to say very precisely what suburbs look like, though we can identify certain predominant features.

    Looking at Mesa, AZ, this is a development (or slew of developments) that takes a physically suburban form but which has incorporated separately from neighboring Phoenix (making it a "city" in the municipal sense of managin its own affairs). But really, from an historical view, Mesa would not exist without Phoenix. And if you ignore for a moment the official municipal boundaries and look at an aerial map, it is really just an extension of the larger Phoenix urban form. Its only 20 miles away, afterall, and not out in the middle of nowhere.

    So, I see Mesa as just an extension of the larger Phoenix urban form. Not in the sense of municipal boundaries, of course, but in the sense of built form and functionality. It may be dominated by housing, but it "works" for people because all of their needs can be met within the large metroplex.
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  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    This thread raises some interesting questions about how we define "urban form" which, I think, may be somewhat different from what we typically think of as "cities." Additionally, we should be careful not to confuse official city boundaries with the boundaries of "urbanization." Very often they are not exactly the same and this is how and why cities grow their boundaries - incorporating development that has developed at the fringes.
    QUOTE]

    The problem is early 20 century cities and before have classic urban look and feel and mid 20 century a transition to car use look and feel but still looking urban. By the late 20 century the suburbs ripped the urban fabric away by embracing the suburb and green movement look and feel.


    I do not know anyone that would say this would look urban at all.

    Well this is very typical of cities in the late 20 century in Canada. It does not look urban at all.











    And those streets that have no buildings on them and where the front of the building do not face the street and pod isolation development make it very car centric and suburb feel and look and it destories the urban fabric.

    And when comes to fast food , restaurants ,bars ,diners, night club and entertainment districts suburbs do not seem to really have this that I think may be do to city ordinance.

    That face it the strip ,neo signs ,bellboards ,American roadside feel , fast food , restaurants ,bars ,diners, night club and entertainment districts have older feel to it and more city feel well a mid 20 century feel a transition to car use .But people into the suburb look or green movement it violates it !!!

    This why suburbs are nothing but homes and industrial parks do to I think the city ordinance.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    I know the Denver area has had an issue with this kind of. The suburb of Aurora directly next to Denver wanted the metro area to be known as Denver - Aurora. It viewed itself as a comparable city to Denver since it had the third highest population in the state (325k compared to Denver's 600k). What ended up stopping this issue was that Aurora had no identifiable downtown like Denver had. Unlike St. Paul and Ft. Worth, Aurora essentially had no identifiable characteristics that set itself apart from it's partner city. So much to Aurora's dismay, it will continue to remain just a suburb of Denver.

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