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Why Suburbia Sucks (likewise.am)
226 points by wonder_er on May 8, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 295 comments

Suburbia exists because people want a quiet, relatively safe place for their kids to grow up. I didn't realize this until I had children myself. I remember reaching my teenage years and cursing the dull, boring, culturally bankrupt suburbian neighborhood I grew up in. I left the minute it became feasible.

Fast forward to now, and I'm right back in the 'burbs, in a house where my kids have access to safe streets, parks, and decent schools. I realize now that it was never my parents' responsibility to raise me in a place I would find interesting, but to give me the best possible start in life they could. If I can give my kids a similar start, I hope they can safely reach the age where they can go off and experience the adventure of the big cities and abroad when they're ready, just like I did.

> Fast forward to now, and I'm right back in the 'burbs, in a house where my kids have access to safe streets, parks, and decent schools.

You seem to be confused. The article is saying that American suburbs are particularly poorly designed, not that suburbs as a general rule are terrible.

Here is Gröbenzell, a suburb just west of Munich that's surrounded by farmland: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Gr%C3%B6benzell,+Germany/@...

In the states, such a suburb would be super-low-density and car-dominated, with all the negative features the author describes. There in Germany, Gröbenzell actually has a population density 30% higher than Seattle, and the whole town is within easy walking or biking distance of an S-Bahn station that gets you to the center of Munich in 20 minutes.

It's possible to have suburban towns that are still walkable, that still allow kids some measure of independence, that do not kill any sense of place. In the US, we've just chosen not to create them.

I believe it is the fault of bureaucrats over-zoning. I would love to have a pub and a market next to every neighborhood. I love the idea of the Post Office providing basic financial services such as checking and money transfers. Let's make it as easy as possible to have peaceful neighborhoods AND retail/business in the same area. Dangerous or loud industrial businesses still need away from residence, but other than that... loosen up!

Amazing, isn't it? In a country where we are told is all about choice and having it our way, we're put in so many situations where we have diametrically opposite and equally unappealing choices, the tyranny of OR, instead of room for compromise.

Indeed, it's quite odd that the suburban sprawl model is held up as a triumph of choice and freedom, as if the market has spoken in favour of the one true way to build an entire country.

This is exactly the kind of neighborhood (suburb?) I live in. I can walk/drive/bicycle to the nearby grocery/pub/cleaners. The city is ~1/2 hour drive though.

I live in a suburb in the Netherlands and recently visited a school friend who now lives in a nice US suburb. We both have families with kids about the same age. We compared our living conditions.

His beautiful wooden house stands on ten times the area as mine, with a very nice garden and ample parking space. It looks very nice. But my concrete/brick house is bigger inside, and much better constructed. Parking space for visitors can be an issue with me.

Our kids go to school by bike. His kids can't. Although the school is not far, biking is too unsafe. They go by bus. The school even closes when there is snow, because that would make even the bus too unsafe!

Our kids play in the street with their friends, they walk up to each others houses spontaneously when they want to play. My friends' kids had fewer friends, had to set playdates, and played more online.

The conversation we had confirmed many more things from the article.

It all depends on where you live Maarten. I'm from Holland. Moved to a 'burb' three years ago after nearly 20 years in NYC. We picked a town where some of the things you mention are still a reality (spontaneous play, kids walk to school in groups, biking is difficult because... hills). Meanwhile, I know that the situation you sketch isn't the reality anymore in large parts of Holland either (many more cars, fewer new developments, not enough kids, many old people).

The article brings up many good points, but the suburb outlined in the article describes a very specific kind. Having lived in a metropolitan US area for 19 years, I relish the lack of noise, the extra space (1 acre) and suburban life in general.

PS It's a little disingenuous to mention the bus/snow situation. Snow days here (5 max) are rare and typically well-warranted. You really cannot compare a 5cm "snowstorm" in The Netherlands with the 1+ feet (40cm) that fell overnight last winter.

I'm sure the suburb you live in is much nicer than the suburbs pictured in the article. My friends' neighborhood certainly is. I think the US standard of living, if you're privileged enough to be able to afford it, is very high.

Still, if your house is on an acre of area, that must have consequences. It makes infrastructure more expensive and increases distances. Do the roads in your neighborhood have walkways? How many college/middle schools can your kids choose from? Is there community life / sports clubs / shopping / restaurants other than pizza and burgers reachable without car?

I mentioned the bus/snow situation because my friend told me the school had closed for something like 20 days last year and had to extend classes into summer to make up the time. And both of us have fond memories biking to school for 10km in -admittedly Dutch- snowstorms, having fun. The US attitude towards risk still feels silly to me.

The funny thing is that monthly living expenses (mortage + taxes) are less than our tiny apartment in NYC. Schools are great, which is why we moved, and cheap in context (compare $16k/yr in taxes to $36k+/yr for a 6yo in NYC private school).

Roads do have more potholes than I'd like, indeed expensive to fix/maintain. We do have walkways (this is not Atlanta/Midwest). One middle school, one high school, colleges are elsewhere (ie plenty). Loads of community/sports stuff (too much). Shopping nearby, but some requires a car (you get used to it). Note: it's actually a myth that the burbs have bad food (at least in relatively wealthy towns on the East Coast). Better than anything offered in my old home town in Holland (I do miss my 'patatje oorlog'). Obviously happy as a clam here. Don't think I could ever get used to living right next to my neighbors again ('rijtjeshuis')

Totally agree with you on the perception of risk. It's a shame. It wasn't always like that. I blame cell phones and helicopter parents.

PS I don't miss biking 10km in my rain suit (regenpak) Gezamenlijk afzien? ;-)

Yeah, I'd LOVE to live in a Dutch-style suburb that was great for biking and walking. Alas, my employer has no dev offices in the Netherlands. :(

Those tight, transit attached suburbs exist. Look to inner ring suburbs around northeastern cities. I live a in a safe, quiet neighborhood with parks, great schools, interesting restaurants, etc. I'm 10 minute walk from a 24 hour metro that takes me to a major urban center in less than 20 minutes.

Don't forget that US is really big and has lots of different types of suburbs. For example, Chicago has quite a few dense walkable suburbs with easy access to public transport

Chicago has basically two of those. :)

But if you relax the public transportation constraint, I agree: the list of Chicago suburbs that defy most of the characterizations in this post is pretty large.

Oak Park, Evanston, Wilmette, pretty much all of north shore

Sure, you can say there are four such suburbs: Oak Park/River Forest and Evanston/Wilmette. To me, each suburb pair is essentially one area, but I can't defend that argument with a straight face here. (I live in Oak Park).

We also have a lot of walkable, tree-lined suburbs without huge setbacks and, with the exception of blighted commercial drags like Butterfield and Roosevelt, few of the traffic setbacks and parking lot hells that this post talks about.

In Oak Park at least that's only because they kept getting rid of the parking lots, to the extent that there's now town valet parking (which is insane to me).

> There in Germany, Gröbenzell actually has a population density 30% higher than Seattle

Population density doesn't always tell the whole story. Portland, OR has a lower population density than Beaverton (one of the surrounding cities that is basically a suburb).

> where my kids have access to safe streets, parks, and decent schools

This all used to be easily achievable in urban neighborhoods. The elephant in the room people don't want to acknowledge is that suburbia has mostly been a way to flee from and exclude social decay. This is why people freak out about public transit to a lot of neighborhoods. The requirement of multiple car ownership in an area is a deliberately constructed mechanism for excluding lower socio-economic people.

If you shut down the public school systems and made all schools private with total freedom to deny any student entry, and you empowered a very aggressive police force (lots of stop and frisk, aggressively enforced vagrancy laws), then you'd see far more urban gentrification.

> The elephant in the room people don't want to acknowledge is that suburbia has mostly been a way to flee from and exclude social decay.

This is why I bought in a socially conservative neighborhood: people implicitly police one another into basic civic decency, and I'd much rather suffer an occasional scolding from a few overzealous busybodies than bear the burden of intergenerational poverty and crime. Sure, I may need to drive a bit to find interesting shopping and entertainment options, but at the end of the day if I'm going to make a commitment into an asset as big and un-diversified as a 30 year mortgage, I'd want just about every "negative" the author brings up. And if I'm going to get the fury from HN for saying it, so be it. I'm happy to give up grime, drug trafficking, and violence for an internet tongue lashing.

> few overzealous busybodies than bear the burden of intergenerational poverty and crime.

New York city in recent years has had about 350 homicides and 250 traffic deaths (600 total). The state of Virginia, which has the same population (8m people), has 700 traffic deaths and 300-350 homicides. In other words, you're almost twice as likely to die in Virginia (a mostly suburban and rural state), than in the densest city in the country.

When was the last time you heard about a middle class white kid getting shot in the inner city? How often do you hear about teenagers dying in car accidents in your "safe" suburb?

There is more to safety than simply violent crimes, non-violent crimes are a worry as well. I agree modern urban cores in American are just as safe in terms of violent crime as any suburb, but I would be interested in seeing how non-violent and property crimes compare. It wouldn't surprise me if they are just as safe as suburbs in that context as well, but it doesn't seem to be talked about nearly as much.

> I'm happy to give up grime, drug trafficking, and violence for an internet tongue lashing.

This statement assumes that if you did not make the choice that you have you would be assured to have these things happening right outside your door.

Sure. I imagine that many families moved to Sandy Hook, CT for safety and security. There's no guarantee in life. There's also relative measure: some of the old timers where I live feel the neighborhood has "gone downhill". Some people are frankly just happier living in a bustling and unstable place where they simply accept they can't let their kids go outside unsupervised until they're 18. I believe we'll generally be happier with where we live over a multi decade span by identifying our personal priorities and chasing the expected value. It's the author's judgmental and absolutist position that I take issue with, that things like tight uniform zoning, "parking first" space, and hierarchical traffic distribution must "suck". They in fact suck in his opinion.

Some people also like to live in communities where every house looks exactly the same with no variation, and where the local homeowners' association will send someone out daily during the summer with callipers to measure your lawn height (or fine you because a box was delivered to your door while you were at work and it was sitting there "too long.")

It does not necessarily mean that these are "good" things just because someone thinks that they are good things either though.

They in fact suck in his opinion.

Well, yes. And you, too, can have a blog!

I'm happy to give up grime, drug trafficking, and violence

Well, sure! Anyone would be happy to give up those things; me too! I don't know a person who would say, "I would like to live amidst grime, drug trafficking and violence, please."

... but it's a bizarre non sequitur, unless you're just grossly misinformed about how urban life works.

Bingo. Look at the re-conquest of New York City, which follows pretty exactly the pattern you mentioned. "All private schools" isn't even necessary de jure if you can do it de facto via magnet or charter schools and theoretically open neighborhood schools targeted at particular areas.

'Reconquest' of city's has far more components than most people assume. Gay community who mostly don't need good schools. Bad traffic to make suburbs less appealing. Video Games to keep young people entertained and not out damaging the community. Vastly reduced Lead levels to reduce violence. Reduced pollution to make city's livable. etc etc. Even the loss of manufacturing and retail jobs has been a net gain for city's.

It's far from any one thing.

PS: And if you want to go far afield reduced threat of nuclear war making city's a viable place for your population.

> Vastly reduced Lead levels to reduce violence

Can you expand on that statement?

Do you imply bullets (as in higher prices and gun control) when you refer to Lead or literally the reduction of the metal Lead in paint, etc.

And how is it linked to violence?

There's been a lot of research lately on the connection between lead, brain impairment, and violence.

One quick example, claiming cities in the 1920s that switched to lead pipes saw ~25% increase in homicides vs those that didn't. http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/jfeigenbaum/files/feigenbau...

Thanks. Will be interesting to read the paper.

There's a hypothesis out there, pushed by a few researchers citing each other (including one Bell Curve fan), that environmental lead from leaded gas and such caused reduced IQ and greater criminality among urban residents.

It's not actually a remotely mainstream view among any sort of scientist. However, it has a lot of currency among left-of-center people uncomfortable with the legacy of urban renewal (aka "bulldoze functional poor neighborhoods and stuff everyone in a housing project, then be surprised that things go badly") and the race-baiting nature of "tough on crime" measures that both parties adopted.

The scale is debatable, but there is a lot more evidence for this than you might think. It's also a lot more than just gas, paint, water pipes, sodder, even fillings also made significant contributions.

IMO, scale is not that important as the preverbial straw that broke the camels back is important, but so are all the others that get to that point. A leaning disability on it's own might not lead to violence, but it does reduce people's options even further.

PS: Mercury was also known to have neuron toxic effects. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mad_hatter_disease. However, lead is more of an issue at developmental stages. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lead_poisoning

My point is that I'm not concerned about what I, you, or other laymen think about the science, here. I'm concerned about what the scientific community thinks. The scientific community does not accept the claimed social effects for lead. It's quite literally fringe science.

Can you find any counter arguments other than just calling this fringe? I mean we did ban lead gas exit so presumably it was known to be harmful.

I accept it's not my specialty, but when you have a well known and reasonable method of action and supporting research it's a little harder to just dismiss.

The burden is on the claim, not on those pointing out that the claim isn't accepted.

Yea, no. That's not how science works, it's not a popularity contest. If you have both a reasonable method of action and can back it up with actual reasarch you become the default until actual evidence suggests otherwise.

Unless you mean that in the most narrow terms, as in literally just popularity.

Sorry, that's exactly how it works. You've pushing a claim. The claim needs proof. The burden is those pushing the claim, not the people pointing out that it isn't proven.

You might think that, but young post grads do a literature review not a survey. It might seem morbid, but science is often said to progress when the old guard dies off.

That's not to say it's going to win as the only explanation, just that it needs to be disproven not ignored.

Appreciate your point of view. Another poster mentioned a paper by James J. Feigenbaum† and Christopher Muller‡. Are they some of the scientists you mentioned and labeled as "fringe", in regard to their point of view?

Clearly, violence in communities are multi-faceted topic that cannot be easily explained by something so simple as Lead. However, it might be a possible contributor.

That being said, I do agree with you that the tactics of destroying communities and creating housing projects was clearly a novel idea with terrible implementations and less then desirable outcomes. I work with a lot of folk from housing projects and I've met some really smart people who, without a life line[0], will never get out of poverty. It's a shame really - just by law of averages, politicians should realize that some of the housing projects are harboring brilliant individuals that will never be able to contribute to society within their full potential.

My network tech is from Gun Hill Road in The Bronx, which has an incredibly high crime rate but he can take an engine apart, then back together, within some impressive amount of time judge by Local246[1] (Mechanics Union in NYC). In reality, he really shouldn't be working in our company but in some swanky car modifications shop but they won't hire him based on many different factors. Really, a shame.

[0] - I'm implying that someone would have to hire them to let an individual prove themselves.

[1] - http://nyclocal246.org/

They are fringe, yes. The lead-crime hypothesis may eventually come to be accepted, but it isn't currently, and outside of the laymen pushing it, it doesn't have much traction. It's not enough to note lead's toxicity and thus, bang, a massive sociological trend is explained.

Yes, lead might be a contributing factor in the Boomer crime wave - it might be proven, one day. But the laymen pushing the hypothesis start out with this is THE explanation! and then retreat to you can't PROVE it doesn't have an effect!. This is classic behavior by supporters of psuedo-science.

Well, speaking as a completely non-representative sample (size 1) of the scientific community, I thought the evidence was fairly convincing - they looked at the different rates as a function of when lead was removed from petrol which varied considerably at the country level.

However I did also flag that they hadn't considered video gaming as an alternative possibility (but that's just a private hypothesis of mine). Certainly not fringe science though.

Yes, but also pushing the more troubled denizens out of the city by letting the "affordable" housing stock diminish through less government intervention, which I'm among the admit to say has been a great help in its turnaround. The U.S. is a big country, and there's no reason why over 2.5% of the entire population should crowd themselves into its second most expensive city, many of whom aren't and won't ever be working jobs in industries that can't be found elsewhere in the country.

I think you're going to get in trouble with generalizations like this. Can you be more specific about the exact metro areas whose urban cores are unsuitable for children? My nerdoreceptors are lighting up with counterexamples, but rather than list them, I'd rather understand better what you're trying to say.

I doubt the suburbs are actually safer. I once did the math. If you add up shooting deaths and driving deaths, the rich suburb where I grew up is about as risky as one of the north side Chicago neighborhoods. And of course upper middle class white teens are going to be at lower than average risk of getting shot in the city, but at higher than average risk of wrapping themselves around a tree in the suburbs.

As for safe streets and good schools, it's a product of segregationist urban planning, not any intrinsic qualities of cities versus suburbs. We don't build public housing out in the suburbs, we do it in the cities. Our lack of transit makes it impossible for poor people to drive around in the suburbs. So our city schools are 90% low-income and have the problems that come with concentrated poverty.

Note that in places like Paris, the situation is reversed. Rich people live in the city (or out in the country). The suburbs are where the poor are herded into ghettos.

> I doubt the suburbs are actually safer.

You are correct. The average American city dweller now experiences a lower crime rate than in suburbia. (That is an average, obviously some cities are dangerous and some suburbs are very safe.)

> Rich people live in the city

Yes, this is the long-run, natural state of cities. It's why they exist in the first place. They are where economic activity is most concentrated.

American has had a weird 60 years where we inverted that situation, but it is already beginning to revert back to historically normal.

It could be SUV syndrome.

SUVs feel safer, and they're sold as a safe choice - even though in practice they're dangerous cars.

In the same way, suburbia has always been sold as a safe option, even though politically, culturally, socially, and ecologically, the effects are devastating.

Lol at calling the north side risky

the point is that the same demographics of middle class and wealthy people in the city are just as safe as they are in the suburbs. That is the north side vs. Chicago suburbs.

Nothing about the south side of Chicago being "risky" is an inherent result of being in a city.

You're right, making the entire comparison pretty pointless from the start, hence my original point, lol at calling the north side risky.

The choice between "dense urban core" and "suburb" is distinctly American. Especially in Europe, city (in the sense of "not suburb or rural" != center of a large (1M+) population.

In America, any region with a population the order of 100k or less is basically a shopping area surrounded by suburbs. The same is not true in Europe.

In Europe, you can definitely find walkable, breathable, friendly cities while still living in an area that is safer than (and has a smaller population than) the typical Chicago suburban area.

I don't think it's a distinctly American term. The distinction between the "city" and "suburbs" or "commuter belt" is pretty common in Europe too, at least in cities that actually have such a pattern, especially with a radial commuter-rail network and clearly defined commercial center. For example I don't think anybody that lives in Ishøj or Brøndby is under the impression that they live in an independent "city"; they live in a suburb of Copenhagen, whose main virtue is that it's cheaper than Copenhagen but has good access via the S-train.

A large proportion of the commuter belt of London, Paris, Marseilles, Lyon, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Brussels, Rome, etc. are places like that, some nicer and some more depressing, but definitely suburbs that exist mainly to house people who commute in to the city.

I disagree. Typical Chicago suburban area is safer than Europe. If you exclude homicides, most of which happen on the south side of Chicago, Europe has a lot more crime

Indeed; in Europe, you can find the same reproduced at the village and hamlet level, too.

It's a density issue, at heart. Any US "city" (if it should be called that) of 100K-500K occupies 10x-20x the surface area that it would in most parts of the world, removing much of the cohesion that leads us to call places cities or towns in the first place.

I think you're going to get in trouble with generalizations like "any US city", or even "any US city of 100k-500k". Can you be more specific about the faux-cities you're referring to, rather than nerd-baiting me to come up with a list of cities that defy your criteria?

I should know better than to use words like "any" with programmers, it's true.

In response, I started compiling a list, but then I realised I can't think of a counterexample. "Any" might be just about right. Do you know of one?

I'm thinking of places like Indianapolis, Fairfax, Macon (GA), almost all college towns I've been to...

The one that sprang immediately to mind was Ann Arbor, Michigan, because I used to live there. But I can come up with more, if you like.

Your argument is that mid-sized US cities with densities comparable to European cities are rare, and that this causes pathology. That sounds intuitively defensible, because America definitely has more space to play with for its cities than Europe. But let's try to be specific.

What's a model European city, so we can compare its density to some set of American cities?

I spent my middle and high school years in Athens, GA. It would not ordinarily be seen as a target for sprawl-bashing, given its ostensibly compact nature. And it's true, the downtown and campus are fused into something fairly livable.

However, as usual, 90% of the population doesn't live in that tiny core, but instead in the same kind of low-density layout one can find anywhere in America. While I haven't been to Ann Arbor since grade six or so, my recollection is that it's similar; wonderful UMich campus, nice downtown, but most of the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti area? Same old automobile folk traditions. Am I misremembering?

Re: comparing density --

Density is certainly not the only variable. In my article, I made the point about how proximity/adjacency != walking accessibility. That seems relevant, too. It's probably quite possible to build a place with a decently high density where a car is still required to go anywhere, or a relatively low-density but profoundly pedestrian-friendly hamlet.

I know Athens solely from REM and Elephant 6 music. I've never been there.

Saline and Ypsi are suburbs of Ann Arbor.

Ann Arbor itself is mostly walkable, tree-lined, mixed-use, and connected by public transportation.

More than 90% of the population of Ann Arbor lives in Ann Arbor and not Ypsi or Saline. :)

What are the rest of the variables? I'd like to drive to specificity. If there's a set of US midsized cities that defies your characterizations, maybe there's something interesting that ties them together.

I'm certainly not going to deny that there are crappy cities!

I'm not sure I've ever seen a midsized US city that defies my characterisations. I've seen plenty of cases where something progressive-sounding got built within them, but it was an island, unconnected and irrelevant. One mixed-use-sounding shopping strip with attached condos does not sprawl unmake.

New Orleans, Minneapolis, Oakland, Berkeley, Providence, Madison. There are lots of cities in that population range, and they aren't islands.

And, I just gave you a specific example that isn't "one mixed use sounding shopping strip with attached condos".

Of those, I've only been to Minneapolis, but I can say with complete certainty that it, too, is a suburban wasteland. Yes, it's got a downtown that's clearly seeing some promise, as is true of numerous cities (even the very same Atlanta), but all in all, it's almost entirely a driving city.

Biking around Utrecht is a lot more fun than biking around Ann Arbor.

The train to Amsterdam is better than the train to Chicago too (cheaper, faster, more frequent).

It's a bigger city than Ann Arbor, with about twice the density.

I think there are probably enough differences in land use planning that you won't quite be able to have a model city for Europe.

The train from Ann Arbor to Chicago? The nearest major metro to Ann Arbor is Detroit, not Chicago. Utrecht is just 30 miles away from Amsterdam. A2 is 250 miles from Chicago.

Sure, but you'd drive there.

The point of that was that it is connected to a rail network in a way that doesn't exist in Michigan.

Also, when I lived in Ann Arbor, we never cared about going to Detroit itself.

Utrecht is about as far from Amsterdam as Orland Park is from Chicago. Train connectivity between Orland and Chicago: also pretty frequent and reliable.

It's a little unfair to compare that particular run to the entire state of Michigan, which would be the 20th largest country in Europe if admitted to the EU, just behind Iceland and ahead of Hungary.

That's fair, I wasn't in NL long enough to really get a sense for distance. Took the train to Amsterdam once.

(we're both making some edits)

I think the higher density is part of why Europe seems to have more nice cities though. I actually kind of joked about that while I was there, that the publicly owned land in Michigan is roughly the size of the Netherlands (the national and state forests).

With high density, if you "need" cityscape you can just build a rail to where it makes sense to have the city.

You are mistaken to believe that only a suburb fits the quiet & safe criteria (or even is the best fit). A traditional european city apartment, with a central courtyard, parking in the back, mixed use zone, is likely safer and just as quiet, yet you are within walking distance of shops, schools and public transport and are still in contact with other humans. I can't imagine a better environment for raising a child (except maybe some kind of dense rural community).

This might be true but the option for Americans is the American city or the American suburb. A lot of bloggers who rail against the suburbs juxtapose it against some beautiful European city.

I think there's a handful of American cities with good urbanism, where as Europe has presumably thousands.

I grew up in two different environments:

A small, late 1800's built, pedestrian friendly town in a rural county, and later after moving to another house, in the countryside in the same county. In both places, there was a lot of economic diversity. Kids who lived in trailers socialized and spent the nights out with kids who lived in old houses, and vice versa.

Something I've noticed about people like you whose entire childhood was spent in the typical suburbs of the USA: You associate these awful places and their awful traits with "safety".

"Safe" streets, "safe" parks, "decent" schools: As a person whose raised my kids in an urban environment, the idea that these weren't available (without driving) in our location is a myth that only burbs raised people buy into.

Two years ago I moved to a part of the country (for a job) that has no urban center nearby. I now live in a subdivision. Never again. The neighbors don't interact with, let alone socialize with each other. The streets are vacant, because nobody walks because why would you walk to nowhere. Vacant streets means kids by themselves have no eyeballs on them, so parents don't feel comfortable letting them explore.

The most evil part of it all is the economic segregation. My kids currently go to school with other upper middle class kids. Nobody lives in trailers in their school, or even apartments. No economic diversity translates to minimal racial diversity. It's terrible.

I'm moving away from here in a few months, and I'll never live in one of these shitholes ever again. You can find nice suburbs that aren't laid out in pedestrian hateful designs like the typical ones you see these days.

>The most evil part of it all is the economic segregation. My kids currently go to school with other upper middle class kids. Nobody lives in trailers in their school, or even apartments. No economic diversity translates to minimal racial diversity. It's terrible.

That's by design. The suburbs have many laws built to enforce 1950s racial segregation without mentioning race. E.g. your house must be large by law, meaning the poor are entirely excluded. Streets must be built for cars first, then people, because the poor can't afford cars.

The irony, at least here in Atlanta, is that crappy car-only suburbs have become considerably more affordable than the re-gentrifying inner city. For what I'm paying here in Midtown, I could get myself a palace 30 minutes out, if I wanted to live the way I described in my article.

It's true in most places now. The suburbs are getting poorer as cities are now too difficult to build in and inner suburbs won't allow density, so the poor must go out as gentrification happens. The problem is transportation costs are very high in car centric areas vs. in cities so the poor get even fewer job opportunities.

We could easily solve this by removing the 1950s zoning laws as the poor would not move far, housing prices would be lower, and more walkable development would occur.

30 minutes out of midtown on a weekday is still midtown. ;)

That's very true.

> Suburbia exists because people want a quiet, relatively safe place for their kids to grow up.

And because it's the only thing affordable. Which does not get mentioned enough.

I would love to put my family in a walkable urban environment. But I don't have a $500k+ housing budget, so anything even remotely urban is completely out of the question, unless it's in the heart of some gangland territory somewhere.

It does get a lot of mention. If the overwhelming majority of housing development in the US is of the suburban sprawl type, it stands to reason that the few pockets of non-dilapidated dense urbanism will be expensive.

Amusingly, this is often cited as evidence of suburbia's unique capacity to provide "affordable housing". Scarce things are unaffordable. Who knew!

Yes, but it is annoying to get these mildly scolding articles about how I'm a terrible person for living in a suburb, when the only places in the city I could afford on my budget are classified as ghettos. They don't even have good transit access because the crushing poverty in that part of the city allowed the transit to crumble.

If anyone deserves a scolding, it's governments for their insane 50s-60s zoning laws and perverse incentives offered to developers of sprawl, and whoever else is responsible for the fact that suburbia is the only option you've got.

> Suburbia exists because people want a quiet, relatively safe place for their kids to grow up.

Yes, but people are making their decision based on out-of-date facts. Because in the United States in 2016, mortality risk goes down as population density goes up, and city kids are statistically safer.

The #1 killer of children in US is car accidents. Guess who gets in dramatically less car accidents? City kids who don't need to ride in cars so much.

The #2 killer of children in the US is guns, and child gun deaths are higher outside the cities, on average. People often don't believe this, but it should be obvious when you pause and consider where American gun culture is centered. It's not in the big cities.

Suicide and substance abuse rates are also lower in the cities. This may be caused by the many small towns with major meth and opioid epidemics pulling down the statistics.

(All of this depends on comparing apples-to-apples: being poor makes a bigger difference than the urban vs rural split, so you need to consider people at the same socioeconomic level.)

Ummm...guns are nowhere near the #2 killer of children in the US. Where did you even find get a stat like that? I'm looking and can't find anything that even resembles it anywhere.

Here are the top 3 by age group: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001915.htm

I should have qualified with "#2 cause of accidental death."

And as your link shows, "accidental death" is the #1 overall cause of death for children.

So it's the #2 category of the #1 category of risk.

Could you point me to that? I still can't find it.


"Safety in Numbers: Are Major Cities the Safest Places in the United States?" by Myers et al, Annals of Emergency Medicine

The statistic measured is "injury death rate" which explains the qualifier a little bit better and makes perfect sense. That's a fairly narrow field.

If a physical injury is to lead to death, having somebody else around to find you and provide aid / get you to a hospital is going to be less likely the more spread out people are.

This exactly... my friends live in the city and make the same amount of money as me. Pay 50% more for a house and pay for private school, an additional 20K a year.

Just to be closer to some nice restaurants? No thanks. my suburban life is quite and close to starbucks, Im satisfied.

You miss the idea, no fact, that the people in the city scoff at the idea of considering Olive Garden a fancy meal

Then people in the city are assholes for scoffing at the poor, because nobody in middle-class and up suburbia thinks that Olive Garden is fancy.

Funny story. I'm from a smallish town with an average income of about 40k / year and it was MAJOR news when they finally got an Olive Garden. Apparently there is some strict criteria that Olive Garden uses to place their restaurants and whenever the city finally qualified it was a huge thing for economic planners, all over the paper. My dad called to tell me about it.

Yeah, and they do the same thing when a McDonald's opens in a town for the first time. It doesn't mean they think it's "fancy."

There are many people, usually in so-called "urban planing" positions in cities, that believe that suburbs are something that shouldn't exist. They detest the option of suburbs.

No, they detest what suburbs are in the US. Which, besides all the problems mentioned in the article, are often funded via a Ponzi scheme of development: http://www.strongtowns.org/the-growth-ponzi-scheme/

Your completely un-sourced article has nothing to do with the OP article, which detests the option of people living in suburbs. Do suburbs pay for themselves? Maybe, maybe not. But you can't also then turn around and argue for cities that have massively subsidized transit systems that themselves, despite the massive subsidies, are breaking down and crappy.

> Your completely un-sourced article has nothing to do with the OP article

Yes, you noticed that I was addressing something in your comment rather than the OP, good job on noticing the obvious.

> which detests the option of people living in suburbs.

He does not, in fact, detest the option of people living in suburbs. He detests American suburban design. I'm sure he would love to live in a more European-style suburb, but in most of America (and especially somewhere like Atlanta) they don't even exist.

> But you can't also then turn around and argue for cities that have massively subsidized transit systems that themselves, despite the massive subsidies, are breaking down and crappy.

Wow, way to completely misunderstand both transit and sprawly American suburbs. Here, let me explain it to you:

Transit is subsidized, yes. So are roads built for cars, so are sidewalks and bike lanes. Every form of transport is paid for by taxes.

Property taxes are ostensibly designed to support the extra services and infrastructure that more people and businesses require. If the replacement cost of infrastructure for a new suburban development is greater than the amount of tax revenue those suburbs bring in, when it comes time to replace that stuff, the city will go into the red. Meaning, either it draws the revenue from somewhere else, likely the more economically productive urban core (or even more development, furthering the problem), or it goes bankrupt. That's not good!

This comment breaks the HN guidelines by being uncivil ('good job on noticing the obvious', 'Wow, way to completely misunderstand'). Please edit this kind of thing out of your comments here. We want thoughtful, substantive discourse on HN, and nothing corrodes that more than personal abrasiveness.



Understood. Apologies for my tone.

Actually it appears I can't edit my comment anymore.

If there were so many people in such positions who held that view, the inhabited areas of the US wouldn't be 90% sprawl.

> I hope they can safely reach the age where they can go off and experience the adventure of the big cities

Conversely, I feel grateful that my parents chose to raise me in a dense urban area, instead of moving out to some suburban hellhole in an attempt to give me a bubble-wrapped existence.

I mostly took care of my own transportation to and from public school from the age of 10 onward (walking or public transit), and was never robbed, assaulted, kidnapped, conscripted into a gang, or whatever it is that suburbanites imagine happens to children in urban environments. I'm not a drug addict, I don't have a criminal record, and I'm gainfully employed.

I would never, ever raise a child in a suburb unless I had to for financial reasons.

If you let a ten year old use transit themselves today, there's a decent chance parents will get a visit from the police. I think it's ridiculous, but that's how it seems to be.

Indeed; we learned this the hard way when I was growing up, in a graduate student housing complex consisting mainly of foreigners.

The one thing that dozens of nationalities could all agree on was their presumption that their ten year-olds can get home from school and fend for themselves for a few hours. Everybody knew everybody (quite literally), there were always adults out in the enclosed backyard, and there were periodic security patrols. I could think of few safer places to leave a child home alone. Until the harassment from the police started, it would have never occurred to any of us that this constitutes child neglect.

The entirety of Europe and many countries with colder climates, where suburbia would be unsustainable due to heating costs manage to raise children in safe environments just fine.

Unless you're citing studies that explicitly show suburbia results in better outcomes for children than being raised in urban environments ceteris paribus, it seems like the only argument you're producing here is your own lack of perspective and being unable to venture outside of personal anecdotal experience.

Suburbs are extremely exclusionary (to the point of being outright xenophobic), inefficient, and in most cases outright ugly, populated by cheap, run of the mill outdated construction from the pre 1977 era, when people burned tons of oil to heat the cardboard boxes that are most of the American 'burbs.

> many countries with colder climates, where suburbia would be unsustainable due to heating costs

Which countries are these?

I'd be interested to know this as well. The UK has plenty of suburbs, and it's both got a fairly unpredictable climate and much smaller amount of usable land.

Does Russia not have them or something?

The safety that someone under 12 requires is very different than the safety that someone over 12 requires. Seems like the teenage you were content with just cursing your dull suburban neighborhood, rather than setting your neighbors' houses and cars on fire for shits and giggles.

Yes, it is part of parental responsibility to provide an environment stimulating enough that vandalism, arson, or drugs aren't an attractive option.

>Suburbia exists because people want a quiet, relatively safe place for their kids to grow up.

No, that's not why modern sprawling suburbia exists. For most of American history, cities have been home to the middle class and wealthy. Not having to travel far for work or entertainment is a luxury, and middle class and wealthy Americans took advantage of it just like their world counterparts. The Bronx, for instance, was full of middle class families.

However, unlike many parts of the world, America had a terrible race problem. What do you do if you're a racist white American who holds that blacks are inferior, criminals, and going to rape your daughters after smoking the devil's weed? You enact legal prohibitions against them, of course. Squeeze them into one part of the city full of concentrated poverty.

But then courts started overturning legal prohibitions against minorities as attitudes against them improved. Schools were integrated. You even might have to work along side them. That's scary to racists who believed they were all criminals.

It's clear that racist covenants were on their way out, so directly mentioning race wasn't a good enough solution. But you still want race-based results. What do we do? Incomes amongst whites are higher today, and that was true back in the day. We can exploit that to keep blacks out, and as a bonus we can keep out the poor in general.

But we can't just slap up a 'no poors allowed' sign; that would be bad PR. What can we do?

Wait, I know! We can make it illegal to build housing that would be affordable for the poor. Since the poor are less likely to drive, we can also legally force all houses and businesses to cater to cars. If we couple that with laws that make it so our yards are big, and that houses, businesses, schools, etc. are all not near each other, then we can make it so that the poor can never afford these areas.

The beauty of this strategy is it allows co-opting non-racists. You're building the city of the future, as utopian 1950s urban planners thought. A world where no one has to walk because magical cars will save us from all social ills. Good schools, magically no traffic on the way to work, more space, who would be against that?

All we have to do is demolish large portions of urban neighborhoods, enact very restrictive zoning laws that exclude the poor and minorities, and then spend trillions (in current dollars) to build the interstates to make it all work.

Yeah, we'll wreck the environment, kill off passenger rail and public transit, cause urban blight, reduce economic growth, and drastically increase the price of housing (although that would take a generation or two to make it so the young couldn't afford housing, by which time we'll own housing anyways so that we can profit from that explosive housing price growth), but we'll finally never have to see a person with more melanin than us. It'll be great!

And that's how sprawling suburbs in America came about. There are harsh laws that enforce it, as otherwise it is not economical. Even just the laws that require free parking to be provided greatly increase the cost of construction and make many areas impossible to build in.

Yes, even Houston, the magical land without zoning (but many laws that are part of other cities' zoning codes, like minimum lot sizes, setbacks, parking requirements, etc.) has this. Even big cities like NYC, SF, Chicago, and DC got in on the utopian 50s vision.

You name your American city or town, and I will find the laws the force sprawling if they are online (not all towns have their zoning codes online). I can discuss at length the various enforcement mechanisms.

Houston is a lot closer to what everyone seems to claim that they want: it is pretty easy to live close to work with small local businesses that service the local community. The heat keeps the city from being walkable.

People from other cities tend to complain about the local of zoning. Zoned cities usually seem very organized and lack the funky house-business-house layout that Houston has. I prefer the lack of zoning, but it isn't for everyone.

Houston could be walkable, despite the heat. Its lack of zoning means mixed use is more frequent, but Houston has parking requirements, setback requirements, minimum lot sizes, max floor area ratio (which defines the max density), etc. The CBD however has no requirement for parking now IIRC so it will become more walkable over time.

Houston will never be Manhattan, but it could be way better.

I lived in Houston for a year and walked 2 mi home from school every day. While I would agree that the humidity (more so than the heat per se) was profoundly stifling to outdoor aspirations, my experience suggests that if a place is interesting enough and if meaningful destinations can be reached by foot, people will nevertheless walk there, in almost any climate.

Quiet safe urban areas actually exists in large amounts of Germany, while the only real urban areas that exist in the USA are in SF and NYC. SF & NYC have a sizable homeless population, poop on the streets and similar with large amounts of traffic. Suburban city centers attract the homeless and have a large amount of traffic because everyone has to drive in.

German urban areas tend to barely have any road traffic for the density since almost nobody owns a car, a quiet train that passes by once in a while and most things closing at 8pm latest. Need some medicine? The pharmacy is a 5 minute walk away. Board the metro in another 5 minute walk, get to work in 20m. There are barely any homeless or poop on the streets for the most part because they are actually put in social housing and programs (or jail) if the police find them doing that.

You tend to have about 10 square miles of urban area, with 7 story buildings as far as the eye can see and then a sudden drop off into small villages that are everywhere. You can rent or buy large 5 room 2000sqft apartments in these places and actually raise the typical 2.5 kid household in them. In the center of the block there are little common parks with a playground for small kids to play.

If you want your car and SFH lifestyle, the entire city is then surrounded by wooded areas with small villages that are everywhere. You can live in a small village and drive into work into the city about 30m away for fairly cheap. The villages themselves have small urban centers you can then walk into. And some of them have trains, so you can just take the train into the city if you want.

My experience is only with Germany, but I'm guessing there are many other places such as Barcelona, Italy or the UK that is designed like this.

>German urban areas tend to barely have any road traffic for the density since almost nobody owns a car, a quiet train that passes by once in a while and most things closing at 8pm latest.

Everything closes at 8pm? Jesus, I thought that silicon valley was bad, just 'cause it is hard to get a decent meal after 10pm.

Not everything, there are still a bunch of restaurants and bars and some 24/hr liquor / 7-11 type shops. The noise level although has never been a problem when those are open.

Experience: Living in a place that was right above a bar, a 7-11 and in front of a train.

Also the sidewalks are huge, they are as big as a lane of traffic. As a result cafes and such can easily have comfortable outdoor seating. And because everything is first floor businesses, there are a ton of cafes in a 10 minute radius. You could probably visit a new one every day. Compared to my current place in the usa where I have to walk a few blocks to get to the 'business road', where there is no apartments above the businesses. Not all places are as business dense, but there isn't as much stopping it than the USA lets say.

But yes, things close earlier in europe in general.

I'm not sure why people who can afford modern houses complain about noise levels; I'm living right under the flight-path for SJC and it is super loud. But if you close a double pane window? it's pretty quiet; my place has a third single-pane of glass on the outside of that, and if I close the doors and windows? the place is just about silent, no matter how many airplanes go overhead.

It's not a fancy building, either; the construction is typical of the late '80s, early '90s, I think, aside from the third pane of glass, which I think was a retrofit.

Supermarkets and shops are the real exception: most close at 8, some at 10. Restaurants, convenience stores, bars, nightclubs, etc all work basically like they do in the US.

> the only real urban areas that exist in the USA are in SF and NYC

I wonder where I was living then, since I've lived in several urbanized parts of the U.S., where I walked or took public transportation everywhere, but have never lived in either of those two cities. :-)

For just one small example of many: life in a subdivision cul-de-sac stops children exploring and becoming conversant with the wider world around them because it tethers their social lives and activities to their busy parents’ willingness to drive them somewhere. There’s literally nowhere for them to go.

What is this post talking about? I grew up on a cul-de-sac, and I was always outside playing with my friends. When I was a little older, my parents would let me roam the neighborhood with my friends. We played all sorts of games and got into mischief. There are many downsides to suburbs, but that isn't one of them.

I certainly prefer to live in an urban environment as an adult, but growing up my anecdotal experience was very different than that described in the article. As a kid in the burbs in the 90s, we'd roam all over the place. Hop on the bikes and ride downtown, tool around greenway close to the hood, take the bus to the mall, etc.

It's almost as if though there's a pattern in your activities that naturally gravitates towards more urban areas like 'downtown', 'hood', and 'the mall' ...

So the article is exactly correct.

Yes, children being restricted in where they can go is a completely unrelated phenomenon, due to trumped-up fears of crime. When I was a kid, my family let me bike for miles. You can go a long way in a suburb on a bike without encountering faster motor traffic than you might trust a kid to deal with.

I had the same reaction. I grew up in suburban Chicago and it seemed nothing like this. We walked to elementary school, to friends' houses, to the center of town for ice cream. When I was a little older we rode bikes all over creation -- to the hobby store, the mall, and plenty of adventures like sneaking into the abandoned Borg-Warner research facility in Des Plaines, or dumpster diving for discarded electronics at Motorola in Schaumburg.

And nowadays, even if you live in an apartment building in the city, there is no way your child is going to roam around and explore alone.

At least in many parts of the US. Here in Germany I see plenty of children roaming around in the city every day.

However, the culture of helicoptering kids everywhere (and hovering nearby, trying to control and risk-manage everything) is spreading to Europe more and more.

Sadly. This is one of the negative effects of having mostly-foreign entertainment media, and I’d hope that the effect could be countered soon.

Entertainment is one thing, but I think far from the only factor in spreading this.

I tend to think that US is just somewhat ahead in most developments, and trends then come to Europe. In addition to near-hysteric control of what children do, we'll have gated communities in fear of crime, we'll have politically correct "safe spaces" in universities, and whatnot current US phenomena.

That seems to only be true in some parts of the US.

Kids where I live do roam around the neighborhood, at least to some extent. I see them out and about.

Not where I live. My brother has a house in a neighborhood that's full of young families, but if you walked through it you'd think it was a retirement community - not a kid in sight. All the children are carefully shuttled from one supervised activity to another.

I'm not really sure why that is. Crime is almost nonexistent, and the weather is nice.

That's by and large what I've seen in Atlanta as well.

This graf occurs very early in the post and I winced at it too and had to mentally grit myself into reading the rest of the post. I agree, it's a silly argument and the post would be better without it. But apart from the imprecision of the term "suburb" (the list of suburbs that defy his characterizations is huge), the actual enumerated arguments of the post are much better supported.

In the burbs near where I grew up, there was nothing to do but drive drunk, if the accidents were anything to go by

I've split my life living downtown (SF, NYC, London, Melbourne, TO) and in the suburbs.

Outside my house the only thing I hear is the wind tossing about with the trees. Can't hear my neighbors or traffic or people on the street. Contrast that to when I lived in areas where the bars or homeless/mentally unstable individuals would keep me up all night.

And I love all the space. Yes, it's a double edge sword. But I have lot more space for my hobbies such as bike ownership/maintenance, musical instruments, photography studio... I can sit in my backyard and just meditate or play music. When I lived downtown, I had to rent space or just forego certain things.

Lastly, I like how there's less population density. Downtown, good luck if you want a seat at the nearby cafe. Whereas my local cafe which has ample parking also has ample open seats.

I'm not trying to say surburbia > urban living. They just have very real differences that suit different people and life stages.

To put the sibling comment more lightly, your idea of "living in the city" is very narrow. Most of the world lives in densely populated areas but do not have bars and drunk people in their doorsteps. The article does try to address this.

It's amazing all the people posting comments here who completely missed the point of the article.

The author is NOT saying that suburbs are bad. The author is saying that American suburbs are bad. There is a difference, and that difference is the entire point of the article.

Seriously, did you even read it?

Some of us LIKE American suburbs. The author is stating as an objective fact something which is entirely subjective in nature - a sadly common mistake among the overly cynical.

He's sharing his opinion. Do you really not ever say something like "X sucks" when it's just an opinion? I'm sure the author is well aware that it's not an objective fact.

Why are you assuming that none of us defending suburbs are American? There's a reason so many people like to live in them.

I'm not assuming that. If anything, I assumed that most people defending them are American, and that Americans are wrongly interpreting "American suburbs suck" as "suburbs suck" because American suburbs are the only ones they know.

Some people like them, sure. I suspect that much of it is just cultural momentum at this point, though, where people are unaware of the possibility of a different format, or don't have the option available, and that given a choice to live in a Euro-style or American-style suburb that were otherwise in a similar situation, many Americans would choose the European-style one. Might even split 50/50.

One thing I can't fathom about cities in North America is this sharp division between residential areas and shopping areas.

I'm by no means a world expert, but the places I've been to (Middle East where I grew up, Japan which I visited a couple of times) don't have this sharp distinction. Sure, there are residential areas and there are shopping areas, but every residential area will have many small shops here and there. You don't need a car to shop for groceries. You can just go down the street and there's likely a small store within 10-15 minutes walking distance that will have most of the things you need.

In North America it seems rather normal to have blocks and blocks of nothing but houses. To buy groceries, you need a car drive (anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes) to get to some plaza (or a mall) with big name stores like Wal-Mart or Target.

This has always bothered me. I think the only exception is the core downtown areas of big cities, but living there has its own downsides. Too expensive, too noisy, can sometimes be somewhat shady.

Walking to the grocery store sounds ridiculous to me. Even when I could see one from my house I never walked there to do the weekly shopping. I typically buy more than I can carry. I guess it depends on whether you have a big family or not...

"weekly shopping".

There's your difference. In those places, you do 5-10 minutes of shopping 7 days a week, instead of 60 minutes of shopping once a week. Those corner grocery stores are tiny, you can be in and out quick.

I really doubt any daily shopping can be done in 5 minutes. Most NYC grocery stores are very busy. Going to the store every day seems ridiculously inefficient, and corner stores rarely have everything, forcing multiple stops.

You can grab a meat, a veg, and a loaf of bread and pay for it with cash in under two minutes, let alone five.

Corner stores may not, but there are plenty of compact grocery stores in Europe that do. And yes, the five minutes should not be taken literally. On the other hand, if it's on your way home--which is usually the idea--you don't need to park, walk from your car to the store, go through a lengthy check-out with lots of items, hoof it all back to your car, get back out of the parking lot, etc.

I don't know about Europe but the in the Middle East you usually would just go straight to the shop keeper and ask for the items you want and he would have someone grab them for you.

See, the issue is that you're doing weekly shopping in the first place.

I typically shop on Sunday, which carries me over til Wednesday, then shop on W/Th. I know quite a few people that shop almost every day.

No no, it works differently. The concept of weekly shopping is completely alien and baffling to people living there.

This is the way it works:

Your wife/mom/yourself want to cook pasta today, but some ingredient is lacking (say, tomatoes). So you go to the store and get some tomatoes.

On your way you might grab two or three other items, but that's it.

There's no such thing as weekly shopping.

Yeah, hard for me to imagine, as we do a lot more that get ingredients for dinner. Packing school and work lunches, everything we drink, breakfasts, paper goods, cleaning supplies, personal care items, in addition to food, there's usually too much to fit in one large.cart.

Corner groceries in Europe have a surprisingly large variety. You may not be able to get everything you get at Costco, but you'd be surprised how much you can get, a little bit at a time.

I spent a few months living in Berlin and routinely shopped at places like Kaiser's and Netto. I never had any problems with product selection or diversity.

But yes, there are other differences in consumption patterns and psychology, too. As a general statement, everything in W. Europe is more minimalistic, since there isn't so much room to just store "stuff". It's hard to describe exactly what you would buy instead or what you'd do differently without knowing you closely, but I think you'd find it's a completely survivable adaptation. :-)

There's absolutely no reason to buy everything at once other than habit. It's not as though you run out of food and cleaning supplies and washroom items all at the same time.

In every suburb I've lived in, whether in Austin or Pittsburgh or San Jose, there has been a grocery store within walking distance.

I have lived in smaller cities where that's not the case, but not in the suburbs.

Seriously? Most late-20th century American subdivisions are built on the scale of a section, which is a mile on each side. Each section typically has a strip-mall type car-centered shopping area with a grocery store at one corner. Due to the fractal layout of the dead-end streets and lack of walking facilities it is generally at least a mile from any of the houses to any of the grocers. And that's for th people who are willing to walk down the side of a giant street-cross-freeway without sidewalks.

I live in a newer U.S. city and this couldn't be any further from the truth. e.g. Walmart is < 2 miles away.

You just happened to be located close to it. It's still designed to accommodate people coming in with their cars. Unless it's a different kind of Walmart, there is usually a huge parking lot, and entry on foot is a bit cumbersome sometimes.

I don't see how that rectifies the essential grievance. A Walmart ~ < 2 miles away is substantially similar to a Walmart 10 miles away for all intents and purposes. And, as I mentioned in my post, even if it were 0.25 mi away, there are all kinds of artifices in suburbia that commonly stop one walking there.

Do you walk to this Wal-Mart? I live one mile away from the closest grocery store and I still drive.

I am surprised to see all of the pro-suburbia comments here. I enjoyed this article and found it lines up with many of my criticisms of suburbia.

The suburbs to me are a soul sucking place that gives me the heebie-jeebies. With that said, my opinion reflects my experience living in Minneapolis. When I visit other cities like Seattle or San Francisco, I am turned off by the ridiculous density and the inability to go to a coffee shop and not wait in a huge line (looking mostly at SF here).

As a white person who went to an inner city highschool where white people were the minority - I notice a huge difference in my world view than people who grew up in suburbs with predominantly white people. The suburbs around Minneapolis absolutely disgust me. I work in the western suburbs of Minneapolis and constantly deal with co-workers saying underhanded racist/classist comments all the time.

Downvote away... but everything about this thread is disappointing.

There is much about U.S. zoning and housing that I believe is misguided. However, I'll say that the pro-suburbia comments in this thread are actually fairly well-written. Most of the anti-suburbia comments boil down to, "blah blah hellholes blah blah heebie-jeebies blah blah everybody's racist blah blah".

That is more of a Reddit thread than the usual HN. Much of this simply sounds like: (A) single renters under 30, or (B) European immigrants, incredulous that they can't double their own take-home pay while experiencing zero broader social differences.

blah blah blah everyones racist is actually a true statement about the Minneapolis suburbs.

I think what you are seeing is that not all suburbs are created equal. I grew up in the burbs and live in the burbs now. Nothing in the article matches up to my experience. I am also on the coast in a smaller city so it is hard to have explicit city and explicit burb.

That is definitely what I am saying. Minneapolis is an interesting place because rent/home prices are actually more in the suburbs than in the cool parts of the city. Furthermore, our highways are structured basically so that there are rings of highways that circle around the city. You can drive for miles on these highways and it is nothing but flat open land with cookie cutter houses and the same shops and strip malls.

We do have some big lakes and I can understand why some people like living on lakefront property with boats and whatnot. However, real estate is so cheap in Minneapolis that it boggles my mind more big companies don't open up shop in the city. Hopefully this is something that will change as time goes on and more people move here.

Minneapolis also isn't what it was 20 years ago. I grew up on the Northside, and it was a pretty economically depressed area still on the decline swing of things. This included most portions of NorthEast as well.

I'm glad I had the experience, but today the community is far more vibrant. I think you will see those rent/home prices invert rather rapidly as the current first time home buyer generation starts to realize Minneapolis is not the Minneapolis of their parents.

I also completely agree re: the soul-soucking nature of Minneapolis suburbia though. Can't imagine a more horrid place for mental health.

I tried living inland for a few years. Denver was an awesome place, but I just missed the ocean too much. Given the general push towards the coast, I think it seems to be the trend.

The cities in the U.S. where you can walk around are pretty much completely unaffordable to all but the extremely wealthy. My wife and I wanted to move to Boston but couldn't find a house in a decent (walking) neighborhood for under 500k. Of course this would be cheap compared to say San Francisco. Chicago might come the closest to being somewhat affordable in the walkable parts, but I haven't checked recently.

Come visit uptown Minneapolis some time. It is a vibrant place with thrift stores, co-ops, and delicious restaurants with fresh food and cheap happy hours. You can rent a studio/1BR for as low as $600. Houses can be had for as low as 100k.

I currently rent a 1br with a huge deck and skyline view of Downtown for $900. I can walk to the co-op and coffee shops, don't need a car for anything except getting to my silly suburban programming job in the winter.

> Houses can be had for as low as 100k.

Can they?

I'm looking at Redfin right now, and they claim the average home price in Uptown, Minneapolis, MN right now is $600k.

There's a few cheap 1 bedrooms apartments, but anything else is way in the realm of "completely unaffordable to all but the extremely wealthy"

I see lots of cheap housing in Minneapolis. But it's all suburban in nature. (Either actually suburban, or 'technically-inside-the-city' single-family homes that are effectively suburban.

The area around the new co-op over by 38th st and 5th ave - yes houses can be had for 100k.

That's hardly Uptown by any stretch of the word and the crime rate in the area is much higher than you're letting on (certainly compared to your average suburb.) As someone very familiar with real estate market in the TC metro, any home in Minneapolis that's below 150k is either in a high crime area, extremely lacking compared to other houses nearby (probably has no garage, no basement, backs up to train or highway), structurally deficient, or all of the above.

In the walkable parts of the city? I'm surprised, when I last visited Minneapolis I stayed at a 1br condo that cost (at least) 400k and was maybe 400 sqft.

Yes, the walkable part. I am guessing you probably were in a condo downtown by the north loop/st. anthony main. There are some pockets where condos go for ridiculous prices, but google "The Wedge Co-op" on google maps and street view your way around the neighborhood. I literally would sell my car if I didn't have a winter commute to the suburbs.

> inability to go to a coffee shop and not wait in a huge line (looking mostly at SF here)

To me that sounds like an extrapolation from only observing high-traffic areas like SoMa, not the neighborhoods most people actually live.

I went from mpls intercity elementary to suburbia middle school, and the contrast was just staggering. My elementary was like 40%-50% black, and then the rest white or Hmong. Suburb was 95++% white.

I'm white/Asian, and some of MY OWN closer friends would make weird comments like "some people in this group are less white" (implying that my brother and I hadn't yet scrubbed ourselves of our intercity accents). Not maliciously saying things like that, but just completely unaware.

But then I grew up and realized that it's like this all across the country. White flight is a real thing, and it's kinda scary.

I'm trying to find words to describe my distain for this article, but I can't think of anything that isn't seen as a direct attack on the author, which isn't my goal.

Basically America is bad because we had space for cars when they were invented?

There are plenty of places in America where you can get by without a car. I live in "suburbia". A small city of 30,000 in Indiana called Valparaiso. We have a vibrant downtown and where you can live, shop, eat, go to shows, etc. We have public transportation with a local bus line and also bus service into Chicago.

I think the author is just finding excuses for being unhappy.

> Basically America is bad because we had space for cars when they were invented?

I think you did an admirable job of expressing my source of dissatisfaction with the article.

That, and the author interjecting his personal preferences as architectural dogma - his passage about "No Street Enclosure" was very much of "I grew up in the tight spaces of old European cities, therefore preferring the tight spaces of old European cities is a psychological default universal in humankind".

I actually find it amusing that he thinks "parking in the rear" is some sort of architectural grand achievement, rather than the historical reality: it was something that emerged from streets strewn with mud and horse shit, allowing people to emerge from carriages on a clean, usually paved, surface. It was a practical solution to a problem that doesn't exist today.

Additionally, he seems to think the resultant alleys are "safe" (and, I don't know, maybe they are - I really don't know, and won't speculate), but in every European and Euro-style city where I've seen such "parking and garden in the back", the walls are all 10' high and topped with home-made barbed wire (usually shards of glass). It doesn't seem like the natives believe too firmly in the safety of these sorts of hidden-from-the-public-eye spaces.

Beyond that, there's plenty of false dichotomies.

Many of his other points are valid. They all just blend together in this general mash of "American cities suck because they're not like European cities; European cities are the epitome of human psychology and architecture."

Damn, Europe can be fucking beautiful. Just achingly beautiful (oh, so much of London). At other times, you can walk through street after street of 10' gates, marred only by graffiti and the occasional heavily-barred window (thinking of you here, huge swaths of Spain and Portugal). Then again, I can say the same of suburbia (see almost any part of Staten Island, New York developed pre-2000 or so if you want to see fantastic suburbs).

I think he's also looking at European cities with quite rose-colored glasses. There are nice European cites, and (perhaps more to the point) nice areas of European cities. I lived in central Copenhagen for years, and I really liked it! But they're far from universal, and European development models also produce vast swathes of neighborhoods and housing that suck. In different ways than American suburbia, but still not somewhere you'd want to live, given the choice.

Example of the European equivalent of suburbia, which I'd argue is overall a less nice place to live than American suburbia: the more affordable London suburbs, or even worse, the more affordable Paris suburbs. They aren't vibrant, quaint, walkable cities, but just huge expanses of low-quality commuter housing, with bad commutes. Realistically for many people, the European equivalent to a lower-middle-class Houston suburban house with freeway commute isn't a nice apartment in a vibrant city center, but a small, somewhat shabby terrace house way out near Luton with a 75-minute bus+rail+tube commute into London. Compared to that version of Europe, the Houston suburbs don't look all that bad.

London is three times the size of Houston. If you did the same comparison for, say, Birmingham you could easily afford to live in a good suburb within a 30 minute commute of central Birmingham

Saying London is Europe is like saying NYC or SF is the US. These cities are extreme exceptions to the rules.

I disagree with pretty much every conclusion made by the author, and yet agree that there is some truth there as well.

The bottom line is that all of this suburban sprawl is a result of the extra land available in the U.S. combined with the automobile and combined with the growing middle class. The lack of municipal support for public transport is the other biggy. You can't build dense if everyone has to have a car to get around, and if the best you can do is a mediocre bus service that caters to the old and poor, you're not going to choose to build dense.

t may not have been the best idea long term, but the choice for developers at the time wasn't "build a nice Euro model town square" vs. "Build a sprawling suburban mess". It was "build in this empty field" or "pay alot more money to tear down these old buildings and put up apartments to replace them". And the biggest money to be made wasn't in building up.

The only good news is that mostly people have gotten to the point where they're not willing to travel any further out, and so more new development is happening by building up instead.

very much of "I grew up in the tight spaces of old European cities, therefore preferring the tight spaces of old European cities is a psychological default universal in humankind".

Except I grew up mostly in suburban northern Indiana, suburban Houston, and suburban northeast Georgia. :-)

Whenever the author of an article I criticize shows up, I feel like I was over-bearingly rude. Was I?

Not at all!

Oh, good. It wasn't my intention to be.

> Basically America is bad because we had space for cars when they were invented?

American suburbs are bad for all the reasons listed. They force people to drive, making people fat. Ironically, they make traffic terrible at the same time, especially traffic into the nearby principal city. They kill child independence by making it impossible for kids to get around without adults driving them somewhere. They strongly economically segregate people so that people don't mix much with different demographic groups. And they're usually economically unsustainable, because they don't generate enough tax revenue to support their own infrastructure (something which isn't apparent until decades after initial construction, and thus easy to miss): http://www.strongtowns.org/the-growth-ponzi-scheme/

According to Wikipedia, Valparaiso Indiana was a regional transportation hub in the mid 19th century. I suspect it has considerably different city plan than more recent “suburbs”.

Try comparing an online map satellite view of Valparaiso to some new housing development from >1990, and you’ll observe dramatic differences.

Eh, I doubt it. Around the core -- maybe -- but Valpo (and Merrillville) are bedroom communities for Gary and Chicago. That's WHY there's a commuter train into Chicago. I expect it's brimming with white-dominated, cookie-cutter neighborhoods, exactly as described by the article.

Did you look? Judging from the satellite pictures, it’s a pretty sleepy small town, and there isn’t really anything outside the “core” (except farmland and a few terrible but limited modern-style housing developments). That core is made up of a relatively dense grid of small streets, with lots of trees and lots of small tightly packed houses. There’s fairly easy access to shops and so on, and while a lot of space is spent on parking lots, it isn’t out of control. The design is significantly different from more recent suburbs.

Looks pretty boring for anyone between the ages of 10–35, and probably still quite inconvenient for the elderly or disabled, but also reasonably walkable.


I used to have to work in both these cities when I did field service. Valpo is a little unique, though I suspect part of that is proximity to the beautiful Dunes lakeshore area. Merrilville on the other hand, is a standard, typical suburb. The intersection of I65 and Hwy 30 is suburban shopping central, mixed with large industry buildings.

> "I live in "suburbia". A small city of 30,000 in Indiana called Valparaiso. We have a vibrant downtown and where you can live, shop, eat, go to shows, etc. We have public transportation with a local bus line and also bus service into Chicago."

Then you don't live in the type of suburbia the author was referring to. A small city with a variety of activities close by and decent public transportation is a million miles from the type of monotonous residential sprawl the author is referring to.

I sometimes do short virtual walks around the globe on google street view (to clear mind) and your town is probably the best small town I saw (not in rich areas at least), Chicago area is probably the place I'd want to live in, if I was in USA :)

I'm guessing Google street view doesn't do a lot of photography between November and March.

Howdy neighbor, I'm in the suburbs of Indianapolis, and I am much more sympathetic to the article. I think living just outside 465 is more akin to the author's suburbia than Valprasio or Plainfield or Evansville.

I think this article is poorly descriptive of most of the older and most popular Chicago suburbs, but very well describes the Chicago "exurbs" and the Atlanta sprawl suburbs. So to me, it's not that the author is wrong, so much as semantically imprecise with the word "suburb".

I can't think of anything that isn't seen as a direct attack on the author

Don't worry, I'm not offended! :-)

FWIW, I spent my elementary school years in South Bend. Certainly, by comparison to the type of development I was taking aim at, typical in the Sun Belt, the older industrial cities of the Midwest are, on average, a lot more dense and livable.

Suburbia, with all their HOAs and such are the physical manifestation of the cultural preferences of a large majority of Americans.

The following quote perfect illustrates the goals:

"The idea, of course, is that the peaceful slumber of the suburbanite should not be interrupted by the noise generated by the transaction of commerce or any other public-sphere human activities"

Most Americans want to have an estate where they aim to live independently and completely unaffected by their neighbors. They don't want to hear them, see them, or ever have to directly interact with them unless desired.

This can be often rationalized as safer because if other people are physically less likely to interact in any fashion they are less likely to cause harm. It can also be rationalized as better financial sense as these "ticky-tacky" boxes are designed to be bland and therefore have mass appeal. HOAs especially help this as they prevent your neighbor's choices from impacting your resale value.

As long as Americans continue to value trying to live a life as separate and as unaffected as possible you will have something very much like Suburbia

Most who rail against suburbs (like me), do so because we have a different set of values and beliefs about community. For those who like suburbs it's about trying to build a personal community that you opt in to be part of.

This idea that community or your social network is something each gets to determine for themselves is seen in a lot of political debates. This fuels charter schools, school vouchers, zoning laws, etc. It's interesting because it cuts across political boundaries.

> Suburbia, with all their HOAs and such are the physical manifestation of the cultural preferences of a large majority of Americans.

My numbers put the number of Americans in HOAs in the suburbs at ~16%. Suburbs without HOAs ~37%. So, a small majority of Americans live in suburbs and a much smaller number live in a suburb with an HOA. More Americans live in urban areas (~26%) than in a suburb with an HOA.

As to preferences, my anecdotal experiences have been that I know people who moved to suburbs out of necessity due to cost, but I have never met someone, other than the homeless and those in subsidized housing, living in an urban area due to cost instead of personal choice.

Unless this is the speaker of a very similar TED Talk, this guy borrowed tons of soundbites in the process of writing this article.

Edit: just finished reading it. He has plagarized 10+ 'jokes', and most of his content was heavily 'inspired', from this excellent TED talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/james_howard_kunstler_dissects_sub... . Very very uncool.

Agreed, I noticed that too. I was hoping he'd just subconsciously lifted some phrases, but the amount of the overall similar content/structure and the specificity of phrases do really kinda push it to the level of plagiarism.

Hi, author here!

I am very familiar with Kunstler's talk and do cite it from time to time, but it's hard for me to see the basis for the notion that I ripped it off. Kunstler is hardly the only one to make New Urbanist architectural talking points or to formulate them in the way that he does, notwithstanding his rather specific sense of humour.

That said, I just rewatched Kunstler's talk (for the first time in maybe a year or two?), and I can certainly see why you say what you do, though I don't agree that it rises to the level of plagiarism; I sat there and made my formulations quite originally. It's probably a case of subconscious diffusion, as you suggest. I added a citation for his talk to the bottom of the post to reflect the discernible overlap.

That said, you really need to look at some other critical literature in this sphere. If you do, you might be led to accuse Kunstler of plagiarism! :-)

Thanks for adding the cite. To me that's enough to put this in the clear. It is a great summary of our problems here in the USA.

Cool, thanks for making me consider it. It hadn't even occurred to me.

Perhaps Mr. Balashov is thinking of the great urban centers of Europe like Moscow. Where it can take 2.5 hours to go 20 blocks and where the mass transit system embraces multi-culturalism and internationalism by only having signs in Cyrillic.

I am sorry that Mr. Balashov has chosen to live in Atlanta, but I suspect he has little knowledge of Omaha. Growing up in such a place is quite idyllic. The creeks, the parks, the forest and the fields encourage children to play sports, have pets, picnic and stare up at the sky from amidst fields of boundless green listening to the sound of insects and birds instead of sirens.

As Oscar Wilde said, "For heaven's sake, don't try to be cynical. It's perfectly easy to be cynical." It is easy to be cynical about suburbs and wax poetic about cities. Well I grew up in Kansas and have lived for 25 years in NYC (Manhattan). Also known as the capital of the world.

I've been to Paris, Moscow, London, Dubai, Cairo, Buenos Aires, Brussels, Prague, Budapest, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich, etc. And guess what I still love Kansas and Nebraska.

Loathing suburbia is snobbery and a failure of imagination.

My favorite Tarkovsky film is Nostalghia. The title refers to a very specific feeling that Russians experience when the miss their homeland.

Having lived & worked quite a long time in wildly different metro areas -- Santa Clara/Mountain View, Indianapolis, Austin -- this article raises more questions for me more than anything.

What is a suburb, by the author's definition? It seems like it's an area outside the urban core of a city, I guess. But here in Austin, I'm buying a house away from the urban core of downtown, in a subdivision, but it's in a largely undeveloped area 2-3 minutes by car (and 10-15 by bike, at most, thanks to the bike lanes that connect the subdivision) of a mixed-use development area with a lake, park, museum, shops etc. Is this suburban? I consider it suburban but I have trouble connecting what the author is talking about to this spot.

Now in Indianapolis, there were some suburbs. I lived in one growing up. It was indeed far from anything with absolutely no public transpo. Nowadays (I left in 2014) it's slightly better, in terms of availability, as there is a metro bus service. But the accommodation for the bus routes is awful. It's perpetually underfunded, the bus stops are often -- I am not joking -- in ditches, no shelters at the stops, etc., etc. It's almost like the city has gone out of its way to make it clear the bus is for "the poors." But what's the fix? Decades upon decades of urban planning have reinforced this notion. So... what is to be done about it?

In South Bay, I rented a tiny apartment (~650sqft) for, at the time, the outrageous price of $1200/mo. This was ca. 2008. I'm told such units are much higher now. In areas of such inflated housing prices, isn't suburbia supposed to be a pressure valve? People move farther away from where they work and play in exchange for lower housing costs? I am out of touch with the housing scene in the Bay Area nowadays aside from the same articles everyone else gets on HN, so my question is an honest one. But the author's disdain for suburbia -- supported by concrete reasons though it may be -- seems like it might not be so strident if he were living elsewhere.

> In areas of such inflated housing prices, isn't suburbia supposed to be a pressure valve?

All of his definitions of suburbia apply to Portola Valley, which I would never describe as being a pressure valve on inflated housing prices[1] in South Bay.

[1] https://www.redfin.com/CA/Portola-Valley/16-Santa-Maria-Ave-...

Did you mean to link to empty land plot? It's beautiful though, but doesn't look like what is being discussed in article.

He's attacking American-style, super-sprawly suburbs, not suburbs in general.

Well fine but that's what I'm saying in my first paragraph. There's a particular kind of suburb he's talking about but it definitely is not inclusive of all suburbs.

Indeed, I am referring to a type of sprawl commonly seen in, for example, new Sun Belt development. But that's a mouthful to put in an article title.

I tried to make that as clear as possible in the article by contrasting with "older" and "traditional" neighbourhoods, and by enumerating the cities that exemplify the phenomenon I am referring to.

At the same time, it's hardly a marginal phenomenon. As far as I can tell, it's what a large percentage of inhabited areas in the US look like.

I don't want to overstep, but I'm curious what part of Austin you are describing. I can't think of any place that is largely undeveloped but is a 2-3 minute drive from a museum.

Yeah museum was inadvertently misleading. Just talking about the Thinkery at Mueller. A children's museum. Was already thinking past that sentence as I was typing it out.

edit: Also, it's more than 3 min by car. It's less than 3 miles but definitely not doing 60mph all the way there.

Suburbia allows you to ensure that your neighbors are able to afford to buy, rather than rent, a minimum quantity of land & construction (and usually therefore have a large amount of their net worth locked up in the value of that property), that they can afford transportation to and from wherever the nearest commercial center is, tends to limit population flows, and insulates the neighborhood from anyone who doesn't have their own independent transportation.

This selects for a higher quality of neighbor, which has positive externalities (eg, "Good Schools" and low crime rates) that balance the obvious costs. Alternate legal mechanisms for enforcing these constraints have been banned, so we use the zoning code and make a lot of theoretically neutral noise about Property Values.

That's a really long-winded way of saying redlining ;-).

"Redlining" is a specific practice that has been banned for decades.

I used to live on the UES of Manhattan and now live in flyover country on a half-acre wooded lot in a house that is 6x larger than my studio apartment and yet costs less -- the extra space is quite useful for kids and a work-from-home office. There are pros and cons to both arrangements and I certainly miss some things that NYC had to offer, but articles like this exaggerate the advantages of city living. Other comments have pointed out some of them, so I'll point out just one item -- the geographic proximity of rich and poor in cities is way overblown. There may have been poor people living within a couple hundred yards of luxury apartments in NYC, but that doesn't mean there was any interaction between them. NYC is very stratified by socioeconomic status and living geographically close to people in other socioeconomic classes does not change that at all.

I agree. I live in suburbia and I feel like I'm slowly choked out of my humanity. Can't wait to move to a damn city or somewhere with more density. America's suburbia was designed for cars and cars only.

Here's an anecdote. My little brother has after school band practice 30 mins drive away. What does he do after school? He can't walk home, so he has to wait for me to pick him up. He can't go out to a movie with his friends because it would involved several parents taking the time out of work to send his friends there, and pick them up. He can't walk home or ride the subway because it's a freaking sprawl of highways. Bus stations are few and far between, and hugely unreliable. Instead all he knows is the highway that connects the school to home, and relies on my driving instead of his own two legs to get him home. I wonder why Americans are obese, hmm.

I watch animes that depict life in Tokyo. There is never a car involved. Kids just walk home after school, walking to a restaurant with their friends if they feel like it, hitting up a local 7-11. They can explore the local park, go to the movie theater, walk home with their friends if its on the same way.

I've stayed in Paris for 2 weeks and could literally walk everywhere. It's amazing how good it feels to see a cool gelato shop in yelp, proceed to take the subway with a bunch of strangers, walk a bit to the gelato shop, buy my gelato, and sit in a nearby coffee shop eating it. And want to check out some comic books? There's a comic book shop around a mile away, let's walk there.

People were not meant to live in suburbia. We are a social creature, we need to belong in a tribe, not a single home separate from the world.

On the other hand if he was allowed to walk home your parents would likely be arrested for child abuse.

I specifically looked up this podcast to show you guys because i find it relevant to this situation. I believe any parent will find it very interesting.


You realize children walk home from school all over the world right? This isn't something new.

not in America anymore.

There's a local elementary school nearby, I see kids walk home from school everyday. I'm not sure where you are pulling that data from. A young teenager can walk/bike home by him/herself relatively safely in most of America. Or are we just living in a world where a bit of hardship on a kid is "child abuse" now?

8 year olds and ten year olds use to walk all over the city in the 1970s and 80s

All (most of) those negatives you list I find to be positives.

I can't stand those "charming" dense, oppressive cities.

Consider the New England states, where there are a lot of organically-developed small towns that are low-density and low-population but still reliably avoid most of the problems in the article.

I'd agree about the negative impact of suburbia for completely different reasons. The culture created by it has the nature of a bubble where its occupants don't ever interact with anyone "different". Clothes, jobs, mannerisms, jokes, religions, activities, food...are all the same.

This dulls people's sense of empathy in a considerable and damaging way. Instead of being able to think critically and with empathy, suburbia drives people to view all of their sameness as a "good thing".

We need to break these bubbles, redraw our towns and cities with integrated services, focused on walking, biking, and as little driving internally as possible. You car for should be intra-city travel. Not for going around a fence to the grocery store that's 1000ft away.

> We need to break these bubbles, redraw our towns and cities with integrated services, focused on walking, biking, and as little driving internally as possible. You car for should be intra-city travel.

How about you live the way you want to live and let me live how I want to live?

I choose living in the suburbs because that's where I'm happiest right now. When I was younger, I loved the energy and action of the city. In my mid-40's, I love the peace and community of my suburb although I suspect once self-driving cars are within reach, I'm going to move even further away from the city.

It's the single largest thing that gets lost in this whole discussion: the idea of preference.

> How about you live the way you want to live and let me live how I want to live?

If the price of living where you want to live factored in the significant externalities of it, you might have a point. But suburban and exurban areas in the United States largely don't pay their way with regards to most governmental services (and have a significantly higher ecological footprint, also not accounted for).

I do not believe this is true. The way they arrive at such numbers is to assume that a highway between San Francisco and Los Angeles is there for the benefit of people in the Central Valley. It's not. There are significant services built outside urban cores for the benefit of people in urban cores.

That's not a problem with the suburbs, that's a policy problem. I realize that it costs more per capita to supply infrastructure to us out here and I certainly don't mine paying a premium.

Plus, moving suburbanites into city centers can cause problems too. For example, Austin has been building some very nice condo towers right downtown. These buildings have attracted people that, like me, want peace and quiet. So for the past few years, there's been quite a bit of tension between these new residents and bars and nightclubs that have existed for a long time. The bars have lost some of the fights and the character of downtown is changing.

It's well shown that diversity hurts civic life in communities. All at the same time being a great thing for businesses. http://archive.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2007/08/...

Sorry but forced integration is not going to make things better. There's a reason even diverse cities like NYC are still pretty segregated by neighborhood.

> the predominant suburban design of the US of the worst features of life here, viewed from the perspective of a European immigrant like me,

Really? As an immigrant, I always though the worst features of life in the US are the 10x higher murder rate, millions of desperate people with no health care, etc. and the crushing debt placed onto young people looking to educate themselves.

I would change those things long before changing urban planning.

And I've written about those, too. :-) But while it doesn't have the same rhetorical gravitas, everyday quality of life is surprisingly important to one's experience of a place.

Quite a bit of the crime rate comes from suburban development, and the highway system.

Yes of course. Suburbs and highways cause rape. Nice try.

how so?

I've yet to read a single article about why surburbia sucks that would be convincing to me as a better alternative than my life growing up in suburbia. If I wanted to play in a field, I went to the field. If I wanted to explore the woods, I went to the woods. Too far to walk? I had a bike, and a skateboard. I didn't have to spend my life walking on pavement from concrete box to concrete box, surrounded by indifferent adults... and just the idea of it sounds positively suffocating to me.

I didn't have to spend my life walking on pavement from concrete box to concrete box, surrounded by indifferent adults

I agree -- that sounds quite terrible indeed!

Suburbia, none of the benefits of the country with all the disadvantages of living in the city.

Actually, American suburbia is responsible for the widest diffusion of land ownership in history (even if it is only a 1/4 acre or so). So it has got that going for it.

I can see this. It tends to be the "safe" middle group between urban and rural while having none of the benefits of either.

I guess it all depends on what you want. From my perspective suburbia has all the advantages of both without the disadvantages.

Seems a lot of the arguments is based around the fact that suburban developments are poorly designed, not that the idea of suburban life is flawed.

The "kids have nowhere to go unless their parents drive them" argument I don't understand - is there something preventing a forest from being next to a block of flats? The point of not living in the city for me is being closer to nature. I live in suburbia because I (or my kids) can bike to the lake or walk in the forest. I agree an endless sprawl of square blocks is a bad idea - but developers and city planners surely realize that people aren't willing to pay for non-city life unless it actually delivers the benefits of not living in a city (space, possibility to walk, good air, low noise, safety, proximity to nature).

> Seems a lot of the arguments is based around the fact that suburban developments are poorly designed, not that the idea of suburban life is flawed.

Well, yeah. A well-designed area isn't "suburbia", it's "a small town that happens to be adjacent to a larger city".

So the term is a sort of derogatory used only for badly designed sprawling suburbs without proper access to e.g nature?

"Suburbia" as a term in the US pretty definitionally includes single-family homes on small plots, single-use zoning, homogenous family incomes and home values, and a strict street hierarchy with culs-de-sac. Add all these up and you tend to get 'bad design' by default. Remove these and you get something resembling an organically developed small town instead of suburbs.

I see. Still don't understand why these zones, however badly designed, aren't properly mixed with reasonably sized pockets of undeveloped land such as forests. It would make the value much higher, make the environment better, make people healthier and so on. It should be a no-brainer in terms of city planning. It doesn't have to be organically grown "proper" suburbs. They just have to be planned to get the same appeal.

In case anyone wants to study the 12 points over and over again I wrote them down:

1. Single-use zoning

2. Hierarchical traffic distribution

3. Set-backs from the street & parking ratios

4. Proximity does not mean pedestrian accessibility

5. Economic segregation by building type.

6. No street enclosure and definition

7. Useless, ugly and wasted space

8. Parking-first aesthetics, garage façades, no alleys, no interior yards

9. No street life or visible human activity

10. No public transport

11. Improper interface between city and highway

12. Lack of regional planning vision

A very interesting read about architectural patterns at various scales -from the home itself to the city and agglomoration- is Christopher Alexander's "A Pattern Language":


It contains lots of good examples on why some spaces are livable and why others are not. The book itself is a bit ideological but most of the described patterns are really great and give you a good understanding of why e.g. rural Italian or French villages have this nice vibe to them.


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