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Vocapedia > Arts > Architecture, Towns, Cities > Cities > Suburbs




Untitled Arizona IV

by Christoph Gielen


Can Paradise Be Planned?


APRIL 18, 2014


















Suburban housing estates seen from the air

in Queensbury, north-west London in 1935.


Photograph: RH Windsor/Getty


Metroland, 100 years on:

what's become of England’s original vision of suburbia?


Thursday 10 September 2015        10.33 BST


















 The Metropolitan Railway’s PR people

accidentally invented English suburbia.


Photograph: Alamy/Swim Ink 2/Corbis


Metroland, 100 years on:

what's become of England’s original vision of suburbia?


Thursday 10 September 2015        10.33 BST


















A photo of a new housing development in San Jose, CA, USA.

Photo by Sean O'Flaherty

Date : ?


Source: Wikipedia - 7 October 2009


















city > suburbs > Detroit        USA






suburban sprawl        USA







sprawling        USA






commuting        USA












sprawl / urban sprawl        USA






on the outskirts of N





suburb / fringe suburb / suburbia        USA


















suburb        UK








suburbia        UK






residential suburbs / suburban offices        USA






suburban corporate landscapes        USA






suburban landscape        UK






exurbs        USA








deprived boroughs











Can Paradise Be Planned?


APRIL 18, 2014

The New York Times

The Opinion Pages

Contributing Op-Ed Writer


When the architect Robert A. M. Stern was a kid in the ‘40s, he used to spend his Sundays perusing The New York Times real estate section. In those days, recalls the self-described “modern traditionalist” best known for buildings like 15 Central Park West and the George W. Bush Presidential Library, “It was all about new houses that were being built in suburbia. I would look at them and redraw the plans. At the basic level I thought they were so damn bad and I thought I could do better.”

Decades later, Stern is still fed up with the state of suburbia and remains resolutely committed to its betterment. He’s now thrown down the gauntlet with what can be described as a McMansion-size manifesto called “Paradise Planned: The Garden Suburb and the Modern City.”

Stern and his co-authors David Fishman and Jacob Tilove want to bring back the garden suburb, and in so doing hope to restore a “tragically interrupted, 150-year-old tradition.” While the book engages a bit with contemporary issues plaguing suburbia — homogeneity, automobile-dependency, sprawl — its primary focus is former and existing garden suburbs, in hopes of transforming the ways future suburbs are created. (It also continues a deep and fractured academic debate among modernists, traditionalists and a whole host of other “ists,” but we won’t bother ourselves with that here.)

“Paradise Planned” appears at a time when suburbia is rapidly losing its appeal. As The Times reported Thursday, suburbs are experiencing a major exodus as young people move to cities — and stay there. They’re increasingly delaying, or avoiding altogether, the “inevitable” move to suburbia. Young people want what cities have to offer. Can suburbia shift its own paradigm to give them something similar? Stern would say yes — that the garden suburb can do just that.

The garden suburb is — because it still exists in many places — a planned, self-contained village located usually outside a major city. Ideally, it features a variety of housing types, though by variety, we’re talking single-family homes and a few low-rise multifamily buildings. These buildings are similar in architectural style, but similar is understating it. The vernacular of the garden suburb is most definitely traditional — some modernist examples crop up but they were either never built (i.e., Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City and Norman Bel Geddes’s Futurama, both of which might have been darn near close to paradise) or were hard to love (such as the Mussolini-backed Sabaudia). In contrast to the suburbs we’ve come to be most familiar with, these featured homes are situated in a comfortably dense, highly walkable environment designed around a public center or square.

Stern sees the garden suburb as an antidote to the current suburban sprawl but also views it as a smart way to think about what he calls in the book “the middle city,” neighborhoods found in cities like Detroit, for example, where, he writes, “now, virtually empty of people and buildings, [they] have no discernible assets except the infrastructure of the streets and utility systems buried under them.”

While the garden suburb does provide a nice alternative to bad suburban development, the book isn’t very prescriptive about how that retrofitting might happen (check out Galina Tachieva’s “Sprawl Repair Manual” for a more comprehensive strategy).Stern proposes what is probably a smarter use of the garden suburb today: deploying it in a very suburbanized, spread-out city — say, Indianapolis or San Jose — that would work better as a collection of neighborhoods than as a sprawling metropolis. “I think there is a misunderstanding of what a city is,” Stern told me recently. “A city has suburban areas inside it. Even the city of New York, once you get off the island, is suburban in scale.” Some good local examples would include Prospect Park South in Brooklyn and Sunnyside in Queens.

What people are trying to do, Stern told me, is to get out of what he calls “sprawling ‘slurbias’ where they’re chained to their cars whether they’re taking their kids to school or getting a haircut. Everyone doesn’t want to live in a 90th floor penthouse overlooking the Hudson River but people do want to live in nice communities.”

But what about the people who live in the very antithesis of what’s he’s arguing for, yet the form that is most prevalent on the American landscape. Let’s call it the “post-garden suburb.” Well, Stern says that in order to go forward, we often have to go backward. It’s hard to dispute that these well-planned communities he has documented are often the perfect mix between town and country — lots of green space, community gathering spots, paths for ambling, all in dense (but not too dense) urban settings. But it is easier to suggest that publishing a 1,072-page, 12-1/2-pound hardcover book might not be the best strategy for pushing the needle. When all is said and done, it’s a solid historical document but only offers models for what to do if you have the luxury of starting from square one. As Stern well knows, those opportunities are few and far between. “You have to put the infrastructure in before you build the community,” he says. “And governments won’t even do that anymore. It’s come to that. Arguments are about who can put in the least amount of infrastructure into these developments.”

Case in point, one of the more successful (or controversial, depending on your point of view) garden suburbs of recent times — Celebration, Fla. — which, Stern admits, needed Disney’s backing to become a reality. I’m not sure that corporation-financed communities offer a replicable — or desirable — model, however, particularly when they are described, as Celebration was by Andrew Ross, an academic (and my former Ph.D. adviser) who spent a year living there, as “the product of a company that merchandises the semi-real with an attitude that the architectural historian Vincent Scully once described as ‘unacceptably optimistic.'”

And while it’s lovely to look at the suburbs of yore in this tome, perhaps that’s the real problem with “Paradise Planned”: it’s unacceptably optimistic. Stern shows what was as a means of demonstrating what could be. In contrast, the photographer Christoph Gielen shows, with his startling aerial photographs of contemporary suburbs, what actually is. The only rational response to these images would seem to be, “What the hell were we thinking?”

“It is an encounter in the most literal sense,” writes the futurist Geoff Manaugh in Gielen’s jarring yet utterly mesmerizing new book, “Ciphers.” “A forensic confrontation with something all but impossible to comprehend.”

We may be starting to comprehend the mess a little better. Smart Growth America’s just-released report, “Measuring Sprawl 2014,” is illuminating. In it, researchers determine that several quality-of-life factors improve as sprawl decreases. Individuals living in compact, connected metro areas (akin to the garden suburb) were found to have greater economic mobility. These folks spend less on both housing and transportation, and have greater transit options. They tend to live longer, safer, healthier lives than their peers in metro areas with sprawl. The report cites evidence that people who live in areas with sprawl suffer from more obesity, high blood pressure and fatal car crashes.

Whether viewed through the lens of data, nostalgia or aerial photography, automobile-dependent sprawl not only has a damaging impact on the environment but is also connected to poorer economy, health and safety. There’s no question that things need to change. The Smart Growth report suggests that many decision-makers like mayors and planning commissioners are re-examining traditional zoning, economic development incentives, transportation access and availability (or the lack thereof), and other policies that have helped to create sprawling development patterns — and are opting instead to create more connections, transportation choices and walkable neighborhoods in their communities. Still, I fear we’re going to be stuck in traffic for a long time.

    Can Paradise Be Planned?, NYT, 18.4.2014,






To Rethink Sprawl, Start With Offices


November 25, 2011
The New York Times


San Francisco

IN an era of concern about climate change, residential suburbs are the focus of a new round of critiques, as low-density developments use more energy, water and other resources. But so far there’s been little discussion of that other archetype of sprawl, the suburban office.

Rethinking sprawl might begin much more effectively with these business enclaves. They cover vast areas and are occupied by a few powerful entities, corporations, which at some point will begin spending their ample reserves to upgrade, expand or replace their facilities.

The bucolic business office is not a state-of-the-art workplace but rather a decades-old model of corporate retreat. In 1942 the AT&T Bell Telephone Laboratories moved from its offices in Lower Manhattan to a new, custom-designed facility on 213 acres outside Summit, N.J.

The location provided space for laboratories and quiet for acoustical research, and new features: parking lots that allowed scientists and engineers to drive from their nearby suburban homes, a spacious cafeteria and lounge and, most surprisingly, views from every window of a carefully tended pastoral landscape designed by the Olmsted brothers, sons of the designer of Central Park.

Corporate management never saw the city center in the same way again. Bell Labs initiated a tide of migration of white-collar workers, especially as state and federal governments conveniently extended highways into the rural edge.

In metropolitan areas across America, corporate campuses for research and development units proliferated and top executives ensconced themselves in palatial estates like the Deere & Co. Administrative Center outside Moline, Ill. Meanwhile, branch offices, small corporations and start-ups found footing in the office parks that lined suburban highways and arterial roads, like those of Silicon Valley in California and the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina.

Born in an era of seemingly limitless resources, this pastoral capitalism restructured the landscape of metropolitan regions; today it accounts for well over half the office space in the United States.

Yet suburban offices are even more unsustainably designed than residential suburbs. Sidewalks extend only between office buildings and parking lots, expanses of open space remain private and the spreading of offices over large zones precludes effective mass transit.

These workplaces embody a new form of segregation, where civic space connecting work to the shops, housing, recreation and transportation that cities used to provide is entirely absent. Corporations have cut themselves off from participation in a larger public realm.

Rethinking pastoral capitalism is integral to creating a connected, compact metropolitan landscape that tackles rather than sidesteps a post-peak-oil future. This requires three interrelated strategies. State and federal governments should stop paying for new highway extensions that essentially subsidize the conversion of agricultural land for development, including corporate offices. Existing infrastructure needs maintenance and renewal, not expansion.

Suburban jurisdictions that now require little of the next corporate campus other than plentiful parking can demand more. For instance, they can use zoning codes to require pedestrian, bicycle and mass-transit links to adjacent residential developments. Add to the mix new public spaces, a greater diversity of uses, and transit between multiple employment centers and residential districts — not only to and from the downtown — and suburban corporate offices could initiate a wave of reform.

While suburban offices will continue to exist, some corporations can re-occupy city centers that they abandoned two generations ago. Development parcels, vacant offices and economic subsidies lie waiting in cities like Cleveland, Hartford, Raleigh, N.C., and Birmingham, Ala. These downtowns are well served by transit and pedestrian connections, a mix of retail and service uses, and a surprising amount of newly built and renovated housing where workers can live.

All three steps — a halt to agricultural land conversion, connecting dispersed employment centers with alternative transit, and encouraging downtown development — are needed to create renewed, civic-minded corporate workplaces and, in the process, move toward sustainable cities. Even leaving aside climate change, very soon the price of energy will make the dispersed, unconnected, low-density city-building pattern impossibly costly. Those jurisdictions and businesses that first create livable, workable, post-peak-oil metropolitan regions are the ones that will win the future.


Louise A. Mozingo,

a professor of landscape architecture

and environmental planning

at the University of California, Berkeley,

is the author of “Pastoral Capitalism:

A History of Suburban Corporate Landscapes.”

    To Rethink Sprawl, Start With Offices, NYT, 25.11.2011,






The Death of the Fringe Suburb


November 25, 2011
The New York Times



DRIVE through any number of outer-ring suburbs in America, and you’ll see boarded-up and vacant strip malls, surrounded by vast seas of empty parking spaces. These forlorn monuments to the real estate crash are not going to come back to life, even when the economy recovers. And that’s because the demand for the housing that once supported commercial activity in many exurbs isn’t coming back, either.

By now, nearly five years after the housing crash, most Americans understand that a mortgage meltdown was the catalyst for the Great Recession, facilitated by underregulation of finance and reckless risk-taking. Less understood is the divergence between center cities and inner-ring suburbs on one hand, and the suburban fringe on the other.

It was predominantly the collapse of the car-dependent suburban fringe that caused the mortgage collapse.

In the late 1990s, high-end outer suburbs contained most of the expensive housing in the United States, as measured by price per square foot, according to data I analyzed from the Zillow real estate database. Today, the most expensive housing is in the high-density, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods of the center city and inner suburbs. Some of the most expensive neighborhoods in their metropolitan areas are Capitol Hill in Seattle; Virginia Highland in Atlanta; German Village in Columbus, Ohio, and Logan Circle in Washington. Considered slums as recently as 30 years ago, they have been transformed by gentrification.

Simply put, there has been a profound structural shift — a reversal of what took place in the 1950s, when drivable suburbs boomed and flourished as center cities emptied and withered.

The shift is durable and lasting because of a major demographic event: the convergence of the two largest generations in American history, the baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) and the millennials (born between 1979 and 1996), which today represent half of the total population.

Many boomers are now empty nesters and approaching retirement. Generally this means that they will downsize their housing in the near future. Boomers want to live in a walkable urban downtown, a suburban town center or a small town, according to a recent survey by the National Association of Realtors.

The millennials are just now beginning to emerge from the nest — at least those who can afford to live on their own. This coming-of-age cohort also favors urban downtowns and suburban town centers — for lifestyle reasons and the convenience of not having to own cars.

Over all, only 12 percent of future homebuyers want the drivable suburban-fringe houses that are in such oversupply, according to the Realtors survey. This lack of demand all but guarantees continued price declines. Boomers selling their fringe housing will only add to the glut. Nothing the federal government can do will reverse this.

Many drivable-fringe house prices are now below replacement value, meaning the land under the house has no value and the sticks and bricks are worth less than they would cost to replace. This means there is no financial incentive to maintain the house; the next dollar invested will not be recouped upon resale. Many of these houses will be converted to rentals, which are rarely as well maintained as owner-occupied housing. Add the fact that the houses were built with cheap materials and methods to begin with, and you see why many fringe suburbs are turning into slums, with abandoned housing and rising crime.

The good news is that there is great pent-up demand for walkable, centrally located neighborhoods in cities like Portland, Denver, Philadelphia and Chattanooga, Tenn. The transformation of suburbia can be seen in places like Arlington County, Va., Bellevue, Wash., and Pasadena, Calif., where strip malls have been bulldozed and replaced by higher-density mixed-use developments with good transit connections.

Reinvesting in America’s built environment — which makes up a third of the country’s assets — and reviving the construction trades are vital for lifting our economic growth rate. (Disclosure: I am the president of Locus, a coalition of real estate developers and investors and a project of Smart Growth America, which supports walkable neighborhoods and transit-oriented development.)

Some critics will say that investment in the built environment risks repeating the mistake that caused the recession in the first place. That reasoning is as faulty as saying that technology should have been neglected after the dot-com bust, which precipitated the 2001 recession.

The cities and inner-ring suburbs that will be the foundation of the recovery require significant investment at a time of government retrenchment. Bus and light-rail systems, bike lanes and pedestrian improvements — what traffic engineers dismissively call “alternative transportation” — are vital. So is the repair of infrastructure like roads and bridges. Places as diverse as Los Angeles, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Dallas, Charlotte, Denver and Washington have recently voted to pay for “alternative transportation,” mindful of the dividends to be reaped. As Congress works to reauthorize highway and transit legislation, it must give metropolitan areas greater flexibility for financing transportation, rather than mandating that the vast bulk of the money can be used only for roads.

For too long, we over-invested in the wrong places. Those retail centers and subdivisions will never be worth what they cost to build. We have to stop throwing good money after bad. It is time to instead build what the market wants: mixed-income, walkable cities and suburbs that will support the knowledge economy, promote environmental sustainability and create jobs.


Christopher B. Leinberger

is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution

and professor of practice in urban and regional planning

at the University of Michigan.

    The Death of the Fringe Suburb, NYT, 25.11.2011,






Gas prices drive push

to reinvent America's suburbs


29 July 2008

USA Today

By Haya El Nasser


MARICOPA, Ariz. — Mayor Tony Smith proudly waves a thank-you letter from a major builder telling him that no city has ever reached out to him in his 30-year career the way Maricopa did.

What Maricopa has been doing is unusual, especially for a distant suburb. This city about 35 miles south of Phoenix is asking builders not to develop just isolated subdivisions behind walls, but whole communities that encourage walking by including stores, schools and services nearby.

"The people of Maricopa don't want to be a bedroom community, a city of rooftops," Smith says. "They want a self-sustained community."

Especially today. As gas prices hover around $4 a gallon, the nation's far-flung suburbs — which have boomed because they could provide larger homes at cheaper prices to those willing to drive farther — are losing their appeal.

Soaring energy costs and the foreclosure epidemic have jolted many Americans into realizing that their lifestyles are at risk. For many, ever-lengthening commutes in the search for affordable homes no longer make financial sense.

In Maricopa and elsewhere, a movement is underway to transform suburbs from bedroom communities that sprang up during an era of cheap gasoline to lively, more cosmopolitan places that mix houses with jobs, shops, restaurants, colleges and entertainment.

Suburbs on the far edge of metro areas are turning aside strip malls and creating new downtowns and neighborhoods that favor pedestrians. They're trying to attract more employers and services such as hospitals, colleges and small airports.

The appeal of urbanism is spreading to far suburbs such as Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.(about 42 miles east of Los Angeles), and Huntersville, N.C., about 16 miles north of Charlotte. Centers that combine residential, retail, office and entertainment are becoming popular far from urban centers.

Small historic towns on the edge of metropolitan areas such as Brighton, Colo., northeast of Denver, and Plainfield, Ill., southwest of Chicago, are emphasizing their Main Streets and history to provide a sense of community outside the walls of sprawling subdivisions.

Mass transit is being embraced by towns that wouldn't have been born without the automobile. Here in Maricopa, the city introduced bus service to Phoenix and Tempe this year, providing the first mass transit alternative to residents, many of whom commute about 35 miles to Phoenix.

Such changes could have a profound effect on the way the nation develops as it prepares to absorb an estimated 100 million more people by about 2040.

The scent of change is in the air in Maricopa, even in the way city officials talk. Words such as "bedroom community" have become dirty words. "Green," "sustainable," "walkable," "mass transit," "conservation," "open space" and "energy-efficient" punctuate the suburban dialogue.

"Absolutely, suburbs are not going to go away," says David Goldberg, spokesman for Smart Growth America, a national coalition of groups pushing for conservation and sustainable growth. "But the math is becoming very clear."

Until now, people were willing to drive increasingly far for a home they could afford. "Drive-till-you-qualify collapsed," Goldberg says. "It's done. It's not going to work as a housing strategy anymore."

Living costs soar

In the past year, as gas prices skyrocketed, the housing bubble burst and transit ridership soared, the cost of living farther out for many Americans went from manageable to pricey.

An analysis of real estate data by Fiserv Lending Solutions shows that home prices have fallen more in towns and neighborhoods far from urban centers than in close-in suburbs.

Developers traditionally have flocked to fields at the edge of metro areas to avoid the stricter zoning rules and higher fees they face in older, more densely populated communities. But that could be changing.

"The trends that pushed housing demand toward distant suburbs and rural areas were not sustainable," says David Stiff, chief economist at Fiserv. "The problem is that it can be two, three, four times as expensive to develop in close-in neighborhoods vs. outlying neighborhoods, if there's any space at all."

If gas prices continue to climb or government provides incentives to build more densely and closer in, development patterns should evolve, planners say.

"People respond to economic incentives," Stiff says. "Reducing commuting costs, trying to be more environmentally conscious and trying to find the cheapest housing affect decisions simultaneously."

"We're sort of stuck with retrofitting the suburbs," says Scott Bernstein, head of the Center for Neighborhood Technology, which for years has urged that transportation costs be a criterion for mortgage qualification. "That's not all that bad. … There's nothing like a crisis to get people to try something."

Fresh ideas about development are spreading. A new website gives "walk" scores for more than 2,500 neighborhoods in the 40 largest cities (walkscore.com). Bernstein's group publishes a housing and transportation affordability index for 52 metropolitan areas (htaindex.cnt.org/).

Kenneth Himmel says now is "the perfect moment to be doing everything we're talking about."

The developer of the Reston Town Center in Virginia, the Time Warner Center in New York and City Place in West Palm Beach, Fla., says: "Some people will say, 'For $300,000 to $325,000, what are my options to live closer?' Maybe it's a smaller home. … Do they want to drive or do they want to be five or 10 minutes from their office? People will make the trade."

The new reality

The Phoenix area is legendary for sprawl. The city alone covers 517 square miles. Surrounding it is 14,000 square miles (twice the size of New Jersey) of desert dotted by seas of rooftops.

Foreclosures have hit the region hard — more than 5,500 the first six months of this year. Home construction permits have slowed by more than half in many communities. Still, building crews are grading tracts of land far from downtown.

Buckeye, more than 30 miles west of Phoenix, and Maricopa, a similar distance to the south, are the suburbs that have the highest number of new single-family home permits.

It's there that the seeds of change are taking root.

"We've got to get jobs to keep people from driving," says Buckeye Mayor Jackie Meck, who worries that gas "could easily go to $8, $10" a gallon.

Meck and town manager Jeanine Guy say Buckeye's goal was never to be a bedroom community but a gateway to California and the Pacific Rim. Already, developers of a master-planned community on 1,100 acres 30 miles beyond Buckeye — 60 miles from Phoenix — are rethinking their project because of fuel costs. They want to turn it into a distribution center that would cut gas costs for truckers from the West who are delivering goods to the Phoenix area.

In Maricopa, the city for the first time is encouraging builders to create sustainable communities that use alternative forms of energy or are near jobs, goods and services. Already, the city is home to Arizona's first ethanol plant and a facility that uses recycled water to flush toilets. And there are the commuter buses to downtown Phoenix and Tempe.

When gas prices inched toward $4 a gallon, Donna Nance bemoaned her 40-mile, one-way commute to work her job as the court clerk in downtown Phoenix. Gas would now cost her $60 a week, a blow for a single mom who had moved here to get a house at a better price.

She considered moving closer, at the risk of giving up her three-bedroom, single-family home and might have done it if Maricopa had not introduced Phoenix-bound commuter buses in April. Nance, 43, now drives 7 miles to the bus stop and enjoys the ride. Even if gas prices keep climbing, Nance says she has no reason to leave.

"We hit a sweet spot starting a transit program here," Mayor Smith says.

It's a reflection of how some suburbs are trying to replace their "middle of nowhere" image with a "there." "Maybe gas drops to $3 a gallon and people will say we don't need to do this anymore," says Guy, the Buckeye town manager. "We do."

Gas prices drive push to reinvent America's suburbs,
UT, 29.7.2008,










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Guardian > Life in the suburbs: share your pictures        2014





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