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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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? ;-)
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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?
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.
It does not necessarily mean that these are "good" things just because someone thinks that they are good things either though.
Well, yes. And you, too, can have a blog!
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.
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.
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?
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...
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.
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
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.
Unless you mean that in the most narrow terms, as in literally just popularity.
That's not to say it's going to win as the only explanation, just that it needs to be disproven not ignored.
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, 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 (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.
 - I'm implying that someone would have to hire them to let an individual prove themselves.
 - http://nyclocal246.org/
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nothing about the south side of Chicago being "risky" is an inherent result of being in a city.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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?
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.
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!
And, I just gave you a specific example that isn't "one mixed use sounding shopping strip with attached condos".
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 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.
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.
(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.
I think there's a handful of American cities with good urbanism, where as Europe has presumably thousands.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Amusingly, this is often cited as evidence of suburbia's unique capacity to provide "affordable housing". Scarce things are unaffordable. Who knew!
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.)
Here are the top 3 by age group: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001915.htm
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.
"Safety in Numbers: Are Major Cities the Safest Places in the
United States?" by Myers et al, Annals of Emergency Medicine
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.
Just to be closer to some nice restaurants? No thanks. my suburban life is quite and close to starbucks, Im satisfied.
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!
Actually it appears I can't edit my comment anymore.
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.
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.
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.
Which countries are these?
Does Russia not have them or something?
Yes, it is part of parental responsibility to provide an environment stimulating enough that vandalism, arson, or drugs aren't an attractive option.
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.
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 will never be Manhattan, but it could be way better.
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.
Everything closes at 8pm? Jesus, I thought that silicon valley was bad, just 'cause it is hard to get a decent meal after 10pm.
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.
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.
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. :-)
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.
So the article is exactly correct.
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.
I'm not really sure why that is. Crime is almost nonexistent, and the weather is nice.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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. :-)
I have lived in smaller cities where that's not the case, but not in the suburbs.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
To me that sounds like an extrapolation from only observing high-traffic areas like SoMa, not the neighborhoods most people actually live.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Except I grew up mostly in suburban northern Indiana, suburban Houston, and suburban northeast Georgia. :-)
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/
Try comparing an online map satellite view of Valparaiso to some new housing development from >1990, and you’ll observe dramatic differences.
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.
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.
Don't worry, I'm not offended! :-)
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.
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.
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.
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! :-)
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.
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.
All of his definitions of suburbia apply to Portola Valley, which I would never describe as being a pressure valve on inflated housing prices in South Bay.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I can't stand those "charming" dense, oppressive cities.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
I agree -- that sounds quite terrible indeed!
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).
Well, yeah. A well-designed area isn't "suburbia", it's "a small town that happens to be adjacent to a larger city".
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
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.