Whenever I am in the US, especially in the suburbs, I am amazed how easy life can be. I just get into my car, without the usual 10 minute walk, and immediately drive whereever I want on a nice, wide street. Admittedly, I understand that for kids too young to drive this can be a problem, but for me US suburbs are always a welcome change.
Driving is hard. You are always starting and stopping for endless traffic lights, and when it's not the lights, you're stopping because you've got to weave around clumps of parked cars at the side of the road.
Everything takes so long! I have a parking space where I live, but not everyone is so lucky.
When I was living in the US (northern Indiana suburbs), I was so surprised at how easy everything was - you just get in the car, drive where you need to go on a street that's wide enough for two cars and not plagued with endless parked cars and clutter, park right outside your destination and you're done.
The doctor replies "Then don't move your elbow like that."
E.g. sounds like car ownership is more trouble than it's worth.
What followed was a period, after about six months of this, of abject depression. I turned up at the station in the morning, went to work, went to the station to come home, and messed around on the internet all night. Going anywhere other than work was not possible, especially in the evenings when the last train is at 9.30pm or so. The railway line I live on just runs into the city where I work, nowhere else, it's a minor branch, so going anywhere else was a lengthy and expensive undertaking.
It was starting to make me ill - I never did anything, saw anyone, just work-home-work. I had to buy a car to enable me to carry on living here, otherwise I would have quit. Now, I have a fairly active life, I have the opportunity to do all kinds of things, and my quality of life is vastly improved.
Not having a car is OK if all you want to do is go to work!
I'm just theorizing, of course, but I suspect her real issues have a lot more to do with cultural homogeneity and societal mobility. A community with people from all over the place, constantly moving in and out? Low trust and lots of alienation. My whitebread little Texas town, where every church is full on Sunday and the average person's been here for decades? We're completely car dependent out here, the streets are real wide, and for that matter, there's no sidewalks and barely any parks - but there's unsupervised kids running around all over the place, and I can't get through a supermarket trip without being stopped for a conversation with someone I've met. It's nice, and as far as I can tell, it's all without the benefits of urban planning.
Most people talking about the density issue are lamenting the lack of these middle choices. The places where a family would probably still need a car, but it would be conceivable to have a functional bus system to get you from one small town to the next, or into the city. Where you can still own a house with a yard, but walking to corner store wasn't a circuitous two mile hike with intermittent sidewalks.
 Before they were largely converted to glorified open-air-malls for the cul-de-sac dwellers to drive to on the weekends.
This can be casually done by noting average home build dates in various neighborhoods. Find a neighborhood with houses from the 40s/50s and note the layout. Then find a neighborhood built in the 70s and note the layout. You can do that with any number of real-estate tools and/or Google Maps.
Just in the county I grew up in there was at least a dozen of those small towns -- each with shops, mainstreets, mixed-use zoning, surrounding homes, often with train stations and/or bus depots (some surviving to this day), all very walkable and livable.
Then the farmland around them was cut up into suburbs in the 40s and 50s.
But even those were notably different from modern suburbs: walkable, smaller lots, still some mixed use with corner stores and restaurants. The cul-de-sac and single-use zoning atrocities didn't start showing up until the 70s, when they basically stitched the old towns and old neighborhoods together into one largely-unbroken stream of Modern Americana.
And again, the thrust isn't that we should all have small towns or that suburbs are wrong for everyone. It's that the old spectrum has been reduced to a binary.
You have suburbs and you have New York City.
The fact that 'US city' discussions always revert to talking about a handful of the oldest cities is itself a tell: if it didn't grow into a city before suburbanization, they didn't really grow into a city. Many look for all the world like a high-rise downtown bolted onto suburban sprawl like an upscale version of a big box strip mall. They don't really "count" as a city like New York or Chicago and we all know it.
The small towns exist, some moreso than others, but (at least the ones to which I refer) they don't really exist in the same way. The shops and amenities and zoning that used to make them work aren't there in many places.
In how many could you walk to a local grocery store, rather than having to hop in a car and drive several miles to a 'supermarket' or outright to a big box store? How many have a local hardware store, so you don't have to hop in a car and drive? How many have the apartments and lofts that make the place a viable neighborhood for people who can't/don't have a car? How many have bus routes to get you across town or to the next town? Many still have restaurants and small shops, but even the small town movie theatres are pretty much extinct.
Of course they don't exist in the same way. This is 2013. What you're describing is some sort of semi-mythical pre-WWII world.
Technology changes everything. TV killed small movie theaters. Netflix, etc. killed video rental stores. Amazon killed brick-and-mortar bookstores. Ubiquitous cars killed passenger trains, and meant putting the big shops on the outskirts of town made more sense than putting them in a smaller building right in the middle of downtown.
And guess what? If you live in a small, rural town, pretty much all those changes were huge net positives. (Presuming, of course, that you have a car, a TV, and Internet access.) Sure, you don't have a local theater anymore. But the local theater was the only way you could watch a moving picture of any sort back then. Now you've got 200 channels of TV and cheap streaming movies on a big screen right in your living room. That supermarket you disdain probably has 5x as many products as the old grocery store downtown did, including entire categories of food they probably never dreamed of carrying, and better prices to boot.
All that said, most of the small towns I'm familiar with have a grocery store within city limits -- and they're small enough places that means they are walkable, at least in the summertime. Indeed, every place I've lived since leaving my childhood home has had a grocery store within walking distance, even though I never even vaguely considered that a factor when considering apartments or houses.
And technology has little to do with this change. Plenty of places are still trying to run bus services. Because ubiquitous cars still aren't. But all the intervening challenges have made that near impossible to do (cost)effectively.
Similarly the theatre is gone because once zoning presses you into a car to get there, what's the real difference between 5 minutes to the local downtown or 15 minutes to the multiplex at the mall?
The root cause was largely a socio-political failure. Self-segregation, myopic zoning, a belief in perpetual growth all abetted by enough wealth on the part of the builders to not care about long term efficiency.
I'm not saying developers should switch to building whole towns. It would be a harder problem. The kind of people who currently build houses might not be capable of solving it.
What you're observing isn't the output of a free market; for that, see towns built primarily up until about the 1930s; these are traditional, walkable towns, with a coherent downtowns and organic patterns of settlement.
Since then, zoning laws and land-use planning have drastically altered the common patterns of development and led to the rise of master-planned subdivisions that are all too common today.
If not for the artificial segregation of residential and commercial uses and for equally artificial restrictions on density of development, modern suburbs would likely be smaller satellite towns, each with its own coherent walkable core, instead of megatowns with purely residential sprawl extending great distances away from the only urban core permitted to be developed.
I think zoning has a lot more deleterious effects than just creating alienating urban spaces, too. It influences everything from transportation infrastructure to energy consumption to individuals' emotional states to macroeconomic patterns. Out of all the utopian policy innovations that have backfired over the past century, zoning is probably the worst.
Houstonian here. What you say is correct --- but many, many neighborhoods in Houston have legally-enforceable deed restrictions : When you buy property in those neighborhoods, you are deemed to have agreed to a (typically, very-detailed) set of restrictions about what you can or cannot do with, or on, your property. Local homeowner associations can be pretty vigilant in seeking out and going after violators.
Moreover, some neighborhoods are in fact separate, incorporated cities that do have zoning laws. (I live in one such.)
Heck even if a neighborhood was originally all just houses when it was first built, unless some bureaucracy is actively preventing it some people will want to work out of their home and provide services for their neighbors.
Besides the ubiquitous grid-pattern in the US, other regulation such as zoning, maximum building heights, plot-sizes, and parking lots, only made things worse.
(of course there is a lot of regulation now in Europe, and there even was some historically, and due to scale increase the market likely would not be able to build beautiful cities anymore (and I am normally quite skeptical of the unbound market) but in this case it might actually have worked at some time)
Pining for a European-style urban environment was one of the reasons I left California and went back to the 'good old UK'.
In the smaller and traditional sense, absolutely, but many major European cities have had horrendous suburban explosions that are just as unappealing as US suburbs (except, plenty of buses and usually a train or two). It seems to be a 20th century thing, in my view, but then I wasn't around to admire the bucolic pasture of the previous centuries where I assume dire poverty was the norm, which leads me to question - at least we have housing for more or less everyone in Europe?
Visting cities in Europe is actually a very good way to design versus evolution. Cities that evolved their city are relatively easy to find. However, if you want to see cities that were designed, you only need to find the cities that were flattened in WW2, such as Rotterdam.
If the city is content with being a bedroom community, they'll allow developers to build anything. However, if the city wants to encourage more downtown or walkability, they'll only approve projects that offer wider sidewalks, business downstairs/lofts upstairs. Or they'll provide incentives to encourage this kind of growth.
My fathers civil engineering company is working with a small town on their 15-20 year master plan. You can see how they've blended their community values into the kind of development they want to attract (Shandon, CA):
"In order to achieve a compact urban form, the Community Plan encourages floor area ratios consistent with those found in small downtowns rather than in suburban settings."
"The neighborhood commercial areas are intended to serve a neighborhood’s daily retail needs. Uses typically found within these areas include markets, restaurants, cafés/delis,bakeries, ice cream parlors, pharmacies, laundromats, barbershops, hair salons, hardwarestores, gas stations, banks, offices, and other similar uses generally serving nearby residential areas."
And areas of cities (I think the term is metro-area, including feeder towns etc) compete within the city - Kent is a lot more expensive than east essex and both are roughly the same distance from London.
I am not saying the micro level analysis is wrong - just that only considering commercial house builders as the only agents with skin in this game is too narrow.
Each city mayor will adjust their regulation mix to get the best out of their towns - if we don't like the results that's probably because local democracy needs more effort from us than traditionally it gets - every city could be a pedestrianised beauty if getting elected depended on it.
But they compete as governments, rather than as direct builders. That makes it really hard for it to work as a market.
Cities can and often do act as independant (global) agents (bidding for Olympic games comes to mind, and offering special sweetheart deals to banks etc). London has a revenue and expenditure of roughly 22BN - putting it around 150th in the Fortune 500, and it is far mnore concerned with attracting and retaining talent from New York or Paris than from Sheffield.
If London fails to provide the right mix of house building and amenities, those people and businesses will (eventually) go elsewhere.
Humans do not physically move often or easily - but cities do rise and fall and compete with each other - they are the right level IMO to look at "good neighbourhoods" and if we want to solve the "livability" of cities, then cities (or possibly sub-city-areas) are the right sized unit for the discussion.
Its not about houses, its about neighbourhoods.
There is a problem of indirection, as chez17 alludes to. A "city" is too much: a place to do business, a place to live alone, a place to explore, a place to retire, and so on and so on. Some of these measures are so critical that failure can be crippling. Thus, a city might compete for the attention of international organizations like banks and the Olympic committee... but why? What's the actual value exchange happening there and how does it play out in the details? (I'm not asking "why should they", but "why are they".)
In answer to why - tax revenue is one less than compelling answer - my preference is to look back at the city states of Greece - they competed and fought for supremacy, for survival for riches - but mostly they fought because their city was their tribe and their home and the others were enemy. It's pretty human basic stuff I believe - nations are too big to get really worked up about but a city - it's the right sort of size.
It's not so much the city as the jobs a person can get. If you get offered a job in Boston or London, the odds are you're not moving to New York no matter how much you like it. Cities do compete a little bit (you get an offer in Boston and London), but overall it's almost exclusively where you can get a job.
A curious conclusion given the the politicians, bureaucrats, urban planners, and general busybodies that wield government power as a club to impose Their Vision on everyone else.
It doesn't break. It's being broken on purpose — you cannot own a town.
Towns that used to have an invested owner are often famous for their excellent design. See Zamość for example.
It was built around a textiles mill and was designed and planned according to the wishes of the mill owner, one Titus Salt. One of his stipulations was that alcohol was to be unavailable in Saltaire. The first bar only opened quite recently - called Titus's. :)
It's nice to live in the suburbs, walk to a movie, walk to a coffee shop, then walk to get groceries. It's almost as nice as living in a city, just with fewer overall choices, but nicer living arrangements.
Anyway, wandered off track a bit - it is possible to build a whole town (2000 homes) with one commercial super-contractor. However it is bumping into local democracy issues already so anything bigger is always going to need a proper mayor. Like a real city.
Utilities are controlled, we get our internet from Verizon (FiOS), trash, etc. but with the controlling agent as the broker and bundle negotiator.
There's a semi-elected board that runs the place, I think 7 of 12 are developer people and the rest are elected from the neighborhood. The condos each have their own controlling boards.
AS the neighborhood gets more and more developed, the developer will be ceding more and more slots from the board to elected officials.
I don't know if there are any plans for a mayor, but I think we'll end up with around 15-20k residents once everything is complete.
It more or less works.
If all that were cleared out of the way, it would be possible for the right kind of person to get the capital necessary to build an entire town. Disney's ideas are probably quite workable, given a truly free market.
It's an entire town designed by Disney, built in the 1990s.
The pink flamingo rebel from a few years back had to provide some good laughs.
The contrast is striking every time I travel abroad. I go to London on an almost biyearly basis where this contrast is really pronounced. Things as trivial as the way bathroom stall doors are built, to much more important components of city life, like the airport/roadway/metro signage, reflect the weight that each city/state/country puts on the importance of design.
Comparing London to New York City, it feels as if I'm better taken care of design-wise when in London, like the people running the city actually give a damn about making it easier for me to find my way around the city, with color labeling, maps that are easy to understand, typefaces that are consistent, big and bold for anyone to see. The tube stations are all remarkably consistent in both easily guiding me to the correct subway line, and cleanliness -- two things you definitively cannot say about NYC. The same goes for their respective airports, Heathrow and LaGuardia/JFK.
And I pick these two cities because they're the two big metropolises I've spent considerable amounts of time in, but the contrast extends far beyond them. You can pick Berlin and Los Angeles, if you want!
I don't know why we as a country don't see just how critical good design is. It seems as if it'd be almost un-American to care.
London has fantastic park / green spaces. In the Victorian and Edwardian eras paternalistic legislation required access to parkland throughout London, and it is virulently defended even today.
In New Jersey/Newark, it feels that such legislation should be fought tooth and nail by every right thinking patriot. In New York, they agree except for the nice bits.
edit: not sure I hit the right note - the US approach to such govenrment "interference" can be beneficial, but its really just part of the DNA, not a easy to change choice. I cannot imagine it changing much.
Sort of ballpark but not quite exactly true, and a story that deserves telling.
In Victorian and pre Victorian times wealthy landholders had extensive private gardens and follies, the money spent on and by top landscape designers to simulate Arcadia (idealised pastorial setting mixed in with follies after classical antiquity) was substantial and the passive aggressive competition to outdo others ratcheted upwards.
In Victorian times a philanthropic movement started to "gift" the concept of private parks and gardens to the public and the unwashed masses (well, to the middle classes more than to the actual unwashed and more seriously socially challenged).
Rather than being government required parks these were more individual gifts and many were passed into local government management using "peppercorn leases" (some of which I've actually handled) which bestowed the land to the public use in return for a nominal "rent" (a peppercorn a year, or somesuch) and under the proviso that the the land use be retained as public parkland ... if it is not maintained as such then the control of the land reverts back to the original owners and their estates (which now, a few hundred years on would be a nightmare of dividing up prime central city real estate between potentially several hundred related claimants).
The parks are a result of paternalistic (and often maternalistic) gestures which used land transfer legislation to ensure continued public access in perpetuity.
These days there may well be the odd case in which a centenary celebration for a park might well invite a descendent of the family that bestowed a park and "formally" give them a peppergrinder, I can't think of many off hand.
At some point it may be the case that (say) Hyde Park in Perth, Western Australia becomes delinquent in rent and the descendants of the <redacted> family step up and form a class action demanding the return of the Park to themselves by the City of Vincent (or whomever holds the deed at that point).
The City could settle by simply throwing them a sack of peppercorns to squabble over amongst themselves.
The spirit of the lease is a "forever rental" for a sum of something trivial of actual value ( tea, spice, pepper, etc. once were more valuable in English society ) to make it binding but trivial to pay.
The more interesting case would be if a council did something with the land or a portion of the land that was deemed outside the terms of usage ( a private residence for the mayor rather than a groundskeeper's flat, perhaps ) - if public access wasn't restored then there would be a case to claim back half a billion dollars worth of real estate.
That would be the makings of an epic legal shitstorm and drama.
Some parks have all sorts of trails worn bare through the grass so it looks like no one cares enough to use the sidewalks while others nearby have no trails. The others without the trails just wised up and paved where they had been.
The public realm in America has two roles: it is the dwelling place of our civilization and our civic life, and it is the physical manifestation of the common good. When you degrade the public realm, you will automatically degrade the quality of your civic life and the character of all the enactments of your public life and communal life that take place there.
Edit: There was some talk here a while ago about roads that were built by developers "for free" and then given to cities for maintenance. Sounds good on paper but results in ridiculous amounts of roads being built... Anyone remember a good link for that?
Also, OT, but "The New Topograpphics" is a great and seminal photographic book about the new American Landscape.
Many people reach a point in life where they want to live somewhere with a slower pace of life and less disturbance than the city. That's why suburbs exist.
Classical optimist / pessimist outlook on neighbors. You're optimistic you'd like your neighbors and so would everyone else. I live in a neighborhood stuffed with teabillies and multiple time convicted DWI alcoholics and sports/tv addicts. I'm perfectly happy not hanging out with the majority of them. Somehow, I'm guessing they're perfectly happy not hanging out with me. Now don't confuse wanting to associate with wanting to respect each other. VERY libertarian where everyone has the opinion "they don't mess with me, I don't mess with them" "no problem for me, means no problem for you". I REALLY don't want to live somewhere non-free where everyone is all into everyone else's business.
Technology means you are not forever enslaved to interact solely with people who's only connection with you happens to be, being nearby you. I like that.
Where I grew up, in the country, about 50% of the people had something to do with the community that they lived in. The other half were people living in the ex-urbs, commuting to the state capital an hour away or some other place.
A 5 acre lot ex-urb is the same as a half-acre suburb, just a bigger lot and bigger lawn mower.
The "city", even low-density parts of a city with say 50x100 lots and detached housing is different. You interact with your neighbors (for better or for worse), share public utilities and your kids walk to a bus stop or walk to school vs. get picked up at the door.
"We don't care how you do it up North."
Sure some of it is just Southern obstinacy. But some of it is an understanding that with a 67 billion dollar tourist economy and 8400 miles of coastline (more than the U.K.) replenishing beaches is a priority and snow plows aren't.
Likewise, European urbanism doesn't scale to the U.S. California has half the density of Germany. Washington is the median state for density it has 1/6th the density.
The ODP soccer program in Alabama regularly requires interested players from all parts of the state to convene at a single location. Alabama is about the size of England. You'd have to be daft to require all the top youth players in England to come to a single location for a one day training. You'd have to be insane to propose 10,000 miles of railroads for a population of 8 million.
U.S. development patterns aren't a function of bad planning. They are a function of distance. Paris is closer to Moscow than St. Louis is to Los Angeles and doesn't require crossing a continental divide.
That doesn't mean it can't be improved. Just that the solutions aren't a priori. They have to recognize the issues on the ground.
You need a route that has paths or roads suitable for biking, but this is not any different from cycling in the summer. I switch to studded tires in November (http://www.peterwhitecycles.com/studdedtires.asp) and wear clothing layers appropriate for the weather. My thermo tights are good down to 15 F or so depending on the wind. Below that I wear another bottom layer. One to four layers on top, warm windproof gloves, sometimes a balaclava, sometimes goggles. Below -5 F I usually drive. And when it has freshly snowed and the roads are a mess.
With a car, you're insulated from all that. You drive alone, you order your hamburgers from the drive in and go home and eat it alone. You avoid city centers since there's too much traffic there. You try to get your errands and hobbies done in industrial areas and suburbs by the outer ring roads circling the city. Your car whisks you there effortlessly, covering tens of kilometers in a few minutes. You live in a totally different world.
After a while you notice you haven't seen another person besides family and colleagues up close for a week. Your physical condition gets worse as well.
On the other hand, you might get into deep personal talks with your friends while giving them a lift in the night. You don't drink anymore. In theory, you could start a hobby that requires traveling to hard to get places with large equipment, but that might just as well be a fantasy that justifies the convenience of owning a car.
It's a striking contrast in life style. I wish the best sides from both could somehow easily be combined.
(If I didn't live in a North European city, I could bicycle much more. California weather could be ideal for something like that, if only city planning supported it.)
Nobody ever told me that this happens when you get a car?
For the past year I work twenty minutes walk from home, see my children for breakfast each day and actually recognise people in the local neighbourhood
It's soooo much better without commuting - by car or not.
The simplest rule of thumb is everything you need for life should be 20 minutes walk away. Schools, shops, doctors, work, parks. It is true of great cities (most of London is like that).
Recently I joined a community-based effort in Ann Arbor to create a large civic space / central park downtown. The city is planning to make downtown much more concentrated and I feel that hackers need to get involved in the process and make sure people are thinking about future needs. We've managed to change the direction of the discussion although it is still early in the game!
Every municipality has a mayor, City Council, relevant departments, as well as assorted committees and development organizations. All you have to do is show up with some other neighbors and you are having a big influence. You can bet that real estate developers are involved, pushing their own plans and visions through.
I'd personally prefer to live in a place with multi-acre lots and driving and no kids. Trees are fine, though. The great thing about the US is you actually have everything from dense SF downtown to fairly "German" Palo Alto to Atherton/Hillsborough/Portola Valley, all within the same job market metro area.
It does not really seem like a choice...
The towns that aren't like that are the exception.
I also lived in a residential neighborhood in San Francisco for a while, and despite being more walk-friendly (with restaurants/coffee shops nearby), I wouldn't see too many pedestrians. The situation was much better than Mountain View, but still very sparse. Despite the housing being more dense, I just don't see people on the streets.
I agree that the streets are huge compared to the rest of the world. Crossing a major intersection in Mountain View seems like an eternity.
Where were you San Francisco? While I've never lived there, I've done a few month-long stints. It always felt like people were always out on the streets when I've spent time there.
For an example: imagine the United States now, and then imagine it suddenly got ownership of all of Mars. It would drastically increase the total area of the USA, but it would not suddenly make everyone a nomad who has a hundred square miles to live in alone.
It was a very homogenous middle class world--how homogenous, and how kept that way, has been documented in civil rights cases in the years since.
I had a great deal of freedom of movement as a child. I could run around in the woods all day by myself if I wanted. In town, I could ride my bicycle anywhere starting from around 6 years old. I may have had a bit more freedom than other kids in the area, but not enough to shock anyone. When I got a bit older, I had access to snowmobiles and three/four wheelers - pretty much as soon as I had the physical size and strength to pull-start the engines and operate all the controls without assistance. This, too was not unusual in that area at that time.
My freedom of movement was pretty good when we moved to a city as well. The city wasn't especially designed to be bike-friendly, but it was possible to get most places without having to ride in traffic. A snowmobile was an option for a lot of things in the winter. Even when we moved a few miles out of town, it was practical to ride a bike to town.
Where I live now, I still use a bicycle for quite a bit of my transportation. It's a good workout and doesn't cost much to operate. There are a few places I ride that wouldn't be safe for a young, inexperienced or slow cyclist, but there are alternate routes available in most cases. Public transportation is not very good here, but it's an option that can fill in some of the gaps.
Germany certainly offers better parity between children and adults as far as transportation. Design may play a role, but it's also important to consider that it's 90 million people in an area smaller than Montana. Not owning a car can work for a greater percentage of people because economies of scale work for a larger percentage of possible trips. That, in turn allows all the infrastructure to be designed for a smaller number of cars per person, hence the smaller streets and multiple grocery stores in every neighborhood. This situation is probably objectively better when you're 12, but may not be when you're 21.
What's really different is parents in this time and place. They're now terrified of things that are less likely now than they were 25 years ago. It's that attitude we need to change more than anything.
Kids do continue to walk to school (but this has supposedly dropped from 90% in the 70s to 10% now for elementary school pupils ). Other statistics  note that TV watching is up 12% in just the past 5 years and time 'in front of a screen' is up 40% in a decade. A poll commissioned by the Children's Society shows that half of adults believe the earliest a child should be allowed out unsupervised nowadays is 14(!) - it was incredibly common for children to be playing on the streets from 7 or 8 in the 80s.
I guess all I'm saying is that even if you give Americans (or Brits) cosy neighbourhoods with everything hooked up just right, there's a bigger and more important problem to be dealt with to get kids out and to get parents to let them out.
I was born in '86 and I and everybody I knew were basically free roaming kids. I remember being about 5 and taking my bike and ride a kilometer or two away from home, just exploring by myself. That would get my parents arrested today. By the time I started playing video games I was already independent, so it didn't affect me. Got my own keys to the house at 8, came and went as I pleased as long as I call home to say if I'd be home for dinner or not.
I wish I could let my kids out when I have them, but I'm afraid that either they won't want to, or I'll be arrested for not supervising them every minute they're outside. And really, what fun would it be running around outside today? It's completely desolate, void of other children to play with.
See, I think a lot of parents share concerns like this (I have two myself but they're not quite at the right age) yet I don't think the actual laws have changed (?) so I wonder how fair it is.
I think a key part of the problem, if it's one, is that it's so easy to keep children entertained in the house nowadays and it's therefore easier to do that than let them "risk" being outdoors.
As a geek, if I hadn't had lots of friends, I could have easily stayed in the house playing on my computer all day in the 90s, but most of my friends didn't have such pursuits so had to go outside to alleviate their boredom. And.. all kids have become geeks now (in a sense we may have understood it in the early/mid 90s). Even the popular kid can stay glued to their cellphone or computer on Facebook or playing games for hours every evening without it seeming odd in 2013.
And if they can do that and stay safe in their own homes.. it must be tempting to many parents to let them do that.
- Chances are that the population of that neighborhood has shrunk because the average household size has gone down.
- Generalizing, 30 year olds with kids live in new neighborhoods, not in quaint rural towns where only the really well-to-do can afford housing.
When I was a kid in the USA in the 1980's it was this way too. I'd be interested to hear your perspective on this since I've attributed the playing indoors thing to the kidnapper/molester panic that ramped up in the 80's.
Edited to add: Just occurred to me it might sound like I was disagreeing, when actually I was agreeing and then some. It's just not that hard to find whatever sort of neighborhood you'd like to in the US, if you're willing to pay the price. (Which might be money, or having a smaller house, or living somewhere that isn't trendy.)
> Gehl's book Public Spaces, Public Life describes how such incremental improvements have transformed Copenhagen from a car-dominated city to a pedestrian-oriented city over 40 years. Copenhagen's Strøget carfree zone, the longest pedestrian shopping area in Europe, is primarily the result of Gehl's work. In fact, Gehl often uses the phrase "copenhagenize" to describe his vision of how urban centres can embrace bicycle culture and urban cycling.
That was 6 years ago granted. Maybe things are better now?
I think the main problem is that too many affluent families actually prefer a minivan-based lifestyle and the growth of online commerce and culture is going to make it even more enjoyable.
For those of us who prefer denser, walkable neighborhoods there are plenty of options but job choice may have to take a back seat to livability. I can see a renewed interest in that type of lifestyle but in the US the trend is driven primarily by younger people and will take some time to show results.
* The Timeless Way of Building (1979)
* A Pattern Language (1977)
* The Nature of Order (vols 1-4, 2002-2005)
Presents the reader with a series of patterns which describe well designed regions, town, buildings, decending right into rooms and living spaces. A fantastic read which has provided a vocabulary to describe the spaces I enjoy.
Blaming BigCorp seems misguided when we practically begged them to build it this way. It's like walking into McDonald's, ordering a dozen Big Macs, and then complaining about how McDonald's makes you fat.
They also have to contend with larger local populations, often with a stronger political voice. It's also more capital-intensive and planning-intensive to build in a city than to plop down the same McMansions on cul-de-sacs outside of town, so there's a lot less uniformity. So the answer to your rhetorical question is no, not like suburbia is.
Same roads. Same neighborhoods. Same places with restaurants and shops and a big parking in the middle of the square lot. Same toilets.
It's alienating because it feels "fake" nearly anywhere you go. Nature, in a lot of places, doesn't have its rights (just look at how some states are "divided" by a straight line: terrifying).
Probably one of the worst place for that is Irvine in southern California.
Even if it's not "cookie cutter" everywhere, all the neighborhoods still look identical.
These decisions may look pragmatic but to many foreigners it feels alienating.
There are few (affordable) places in America right now that you can live without complete car dependence. The poor, elderly, young, and disabled are in fact alienated.
It's easy to understand why this pattern of settlement began when you consider the novelty, freedom, individuality (which can not be understated as something Americans valued), and convenience that came with the availability of automobiles.
Somehow though, we've moved forward through almost a century of such development, placing the car above all else. I'm reminded of Raquel Nelson, charged with (but thankfully not convicted) manslaughter because a hit an run driver killed her child while she was allegedly jaywalking .
My mom volunteers for Meals on Wheels (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meals_on_Wheels), and a lot of the people they deliver to are in decent enough health, but just sort of trapped in suburban apartment complexes. They end up surviving through a mixture of charities like that one, and relatives who drive them around and bring them things. But many end up moving to assisted-living facilities after a bit, even though they don't truly need to live in a staffed facility, because the logistics of living in suburbia without a car are just unworkable, and they either don't know about or can't afford a more walkable area to move to.
Also, because Medicare covers nursing homes for people who can't take care of themselves (considered a medical expense) but not the lower-key assisted-living facilities (considered a residential expense, and more likely to be abused), people who run out of money when living in an assisted-living facility may be forced to move prematurely to a nursing home, if they aren't able to go back to living on their own. That ends up both worse for them and more expensive for the public.
Just as an example: blind people can't drive at all, but they can walk miles pretty easily and safely. And visual impairments of various sorts are, IIRC, the number one disability among the elderly.
Slower reaction times are similar: they destroy the ability to drive, but they're not a huge deal for walking up a flight of stairs.
I don't see many people out in wheelchairs either, and I agree accessibility for them could (and should) be improved. I do see quite a few people with walkers, though.
If you can think of more cities, let us know.
Denver is blessed with amazing central neighborhoods. I live in a house with a yard and the whole bit. Yet I'm 11 minutes by bus to Downtown. I generally ride my bike to work (we have an amazing intra-city bike path system) or take the bus. Because Denver is so incredibly compact getting around without a car is easy.
Our neighborhood has lots and lots of restaurants, coffee shops, dry cleaners, etc... so we almost always walk when we go out.
Point being: Denver certainly fits the bill.
It's also rather affordable. I'm a huge fan:)
They are small in proportion to the overall populations of the respective cities' urban areas, but that's almost entirely because public transportation has lagged the construction of suburbs and sprawl. Boston's T, or Philly's SEPTA were mostly constructed in the early 20th century so it's only those older areas that are feasible for car-free living. (The DC Metro is an interesting exception in that it's a much newer system, but it too fell out of step with development.)
In fact, I'd say that there's a sort of "car free radius" that's basically the edge of residential areas just before World War II. The suburbs that got built after that are hugely car-centric, ones built before typically aren't.
Also, there is a spectrum from being totally car-dependent to not owning a car. My parents live in the D.C. suburbs and they have more cars in their garage than people who live there. Because you can't even go to the drug store without driving several miles (and this isn't a far-flung exurb, they're only 17 miles from downtown) my brother and I each got a car as soon as we could drive. Meanwhile, I now live in Westchester (a suburb of NYC), and while I own a car I only drive it a couple of times a month (Costco trips mostly). The same is true for Chicago. Unlike in Manhattan, most people do own cars, but a large number of people don't use them that heavily because the suburbs are easily accessible by train.
From my experience I would say only the top 7 on the above list are fit for life without a car. Can't imagine not having a car living in Miami or Minneapolis.
full disclosure: I've lived in NYC without a car for 10 years, but grew up in Ohio completely car-dependent.
Edit: There are in fact many places that do meet the requirements of affordable and walkable, but a new concern in an age of urbanization is keeping them affordable. The desire for such neighborhoods is growing, but the supply is too low as of 2013.
Although being a single guy here, I think women see it as a red flag (at least from what I see on okcupid). Interested in moving to NYC unless I find somewhere cheaper and still interesting.
(Strictly speaking I'm a foreigner too, but I came here when I was 3 1/2 so I doubt it's memories of England that make me feel this way.)
On the other hand though, I agree with you. That same comfort makes it dissatisfying to travel at times. I live in an area of California surrounded by lots of historical smaller cities, but it's nearly pointless to travel to any of them because, aside from a few key features, they all look like the same place overall.
Don't even get me started about housing developments. Once you're lost in one of those, your best hope is to start leaving breadcrumbs.
Building more housing in a city is hard. You have to buy out all units in the existing building, and the current residents may be quite reluctant. And actually extending a city is even harder.
An interesting article from a little while back - "How Suburban Sprawl Works Like a Ponzi Scheme"