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Let's Build a Traditional City and Make a Profit (andrewalexanderprice.com)
295 points by Mz on July 30, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 218 comments

This might sound very un-enlightening, offensive or jarring to many in this forum, but I actually like my suburban living. I'll be first to admit it is selfish, wasteful to environment (I am watering my plants and grass and mowing it). But when I wanted to buy a home I wanted a home in the suburbs with trees and wide roads and cul-de-sacs and playgrounds and pool and close to work (10min, by car, 30 by bicycle). It is one of those elements that when it came time to put the money on the table I made the decision I would have probably "preached" against in a group of peers. That probably happens often (people say they want green but end up buying an SUV instead of a Prius).

This is probably sounding very wrong and boring to many people here who extol city living, enjoy the energy and vitality of the bustling city center. Public transportation, walk-able streets, stores, clubs, coffee shops, restaurants. But I would like that on vacation only for about a week or so. Then I want to go back to my boring suburban home with grass, trees an flowers around.

See, I grew up in a city and experienced that. And it was ok. But I like this better. I wonder if there is an element of that -- rejecting the places we grew up and deciding the opposite environment is better for it. I imagine a lot of people in US grew up in the suburbs and many now feel attracted to the city.

To take an opposite tack. I grew up in the suburbs. I've always wanted to go back to the suburbs.

Specifically I want a house similar to the one I grew up in. It had a pool. It had a semi soundproof family room on the opposite side of the house from the master bedroom. That meant my sister and I could have our friends over for slumber parties and stay up all night and basically make as much noise as we wanted and not bug our parents. My dad could practice his instruments (guitar, bass, drums) and not annoy the neighbors. We also had a garage full of tools. And we had a large dog.

Since I left I've only ever lived in apartments. I haven't been able to listen to music or watch a TV at what I consider a "good" level for an action movie where you "feel the explosions" etc. I've resorted to headphones when I'm by myself but that's not so fun when guests. I've never been able to play Dance Dance Revolution or Just Dance or any other video game that would have me making noise on the floor. Rockband Drums and Rockband singing is out of the question as well. Having a big dog with no yard seems kind of cruel in some ways so I've never had a dog.

So yea, +1 for the suburbs.

At the same time I like the city. I like being able to take public transport. I like all the variation, restaurants, events, museums, meetups, bars, etc. I hate the cookie cutter suburban shopping centers with their same 10 stores every 5 miles (one Bed Bath and Beyond, one Best Buy, one Tilly's, one Michael's, one Target, one Walmart, one Payless, etc...

Other than being rich enough to buy a house in a city or a penthouse it seems unlikely I can have both.

"Having a big dog with no yard seems kind of cruel in some ways so I've never had a dog."

A small tangent, but this line of thought has always bothered me. There are millions of dogs in shelters, both kill and nonkill - there's no way your small apartment is crueler than that! Dogs are happy anywhere with people.

It's probably better than being killed, but they're NOT happy, I don't have dogs in my house (really tiny by U.S. standards, normal by my standards) because it seems cruel to me (we did adopt two cats from shelters).

When I rented an apartment, a few floors down a couple had a German Shepherd, it was really unhappy and depressed all the time, it lived in a 50 square feet balcony.

It's really sad, but I can only adopt so many animals. Fortunately there are no kill shelters in my country, and shelters neuter nearly all the animals (my two cats are neutered).

I'm more worried about children in shelters (my GF works for the institution tries to find foster families for children that cannot be adopted, it's a really tough job):

I know its anecdote vs anecdote, but I personally know 5 renters in NYC with really happy big dogs :)

I never thought of it that way. It's clearly better to be a dog that gets left at home 8-10 hours on workdays than a dog that sits in a raised crate above it's own shit 23.5 hours per day.

It's not like suburban living is going to go away. The problem is that there is nothing like what the author describes in the US right now. You have what you want, but it'd be nice if there were something for those of us who don't want that. I think there is plenty of room for both.

> See, I grew up in a city and experienced that. And it was ok. But I like this better. I wonder if there is an element of that -- rejecting the places we grew up and deciding the opposite environment is better for it. I imagine a lot of people in US grew up in the suburbs and many now feel attracted to the city.

After nearly 20 years of on and off living in Italy and Europe, I'm still pretty happy with denser cities. I like being able to walk to the basics, even though we're now in the Italian version of a suburb. We have kids, and as a consequence, use the car more. But we still ride the tram downtown every now and then, and often walk over to the grocery store or park.

Wait until the inevitable energy crisis. When the average person simply cannot afford to transport themselves 10-20+ miles a day, suburbs will be abandoned.

That or adapt by loosening zoning restrictions and gaining some stores and conveniences of their own. Ultimately, I think this book was very convincing from that point of view:


Fewer regulations and more freedom to experiment would be beneficial.

Good on you speaking in virtue of suburbs.

There is a reason there are a lot of them - because they are a good product. There are bad ones and great ones, but most are good enough.

Some people like the hustle and bustle and meeting new people every minute. Others like a life of semi-solitude and private pursuits. The attraction of controlling what happens on your own patch of dirt is so strong it has to be inbuilt.

The key to suburban living is careful neighbourhood selection. When it comes to families, coffee shops and cinemas mean nothing, but parks, walks and schools mean everything. It's hard for young single people to grok that, but it's very true. The forces that make you choose a suburb for a family are much, much stronger than those that choose an inner city district.

The takeaway, as always, is match your living to your lifestyle.

"but parks, walks and schools mean everything."

Walks? The suburbs are terrible for walking. The pedestrian permeability of suburban streets are low, so walking to the store or to school often means going far out of your way, or crossing an arterial highway. This forces suburban residents to depend on their cars, even to places that should be a 5 minute walk.

If suburbs were redesigned to encourage walking, this wouldn't be a problem. The question is, how do we design an area equally suitable to walking and driving?

Yup, let me tell a story.

Last time I was in the US, back in May, I found myself staying in Murfreesboro (Civil War buff here!). But I wasn't right in the city center, such as it is, but rather on the outskirts, the suburbs. There were about 50 restaurants within half a mile of the motel, but to get to them, you either had to take your car, or take your life into your own hands walking across a six lane highway, which was the major access road to the Interstate. Of course you cross at the lights, unless you're completely suicidal, but here's where it all goes bad.

There were no pedestrian lights at the intersection.

There were no islands in the middle of the intersection.

At any given moment for the half of the road that was leaving the intersection, there was nearly always traffic flowing (no pedestrian lights you see)

That meant that you could cross the first half of the road, whilst that half was stopped waiting to get into the intersection. Tricky, what with turn right on red after stop, turn left on arrow and so on, but it could be done. But now, when you go to cross the second half, you have to watch behind for cars turning left into your road, as well as watching forwards for cars turning right. Both need to be clear, both rarely are. There is often not a gap between those cars running the amber light, and the cars from across the intersection starting, which means that a pedestrian can find themself stuck in the middle of a six lane highway with flowing traffic going passed on both sides of them. Fun!

Even after having run the gauntlet, you get to the other side, the one with the shops and restaurants, only to discover that there are no sidewalks - you either walk on the unpaved verge, unlit, with holes dug by groundhogs and rabbits, and metal stakes put into the ground for some long forgotten reason but never pulled out, or you walk on the road.

So much for walkability in the suburbs.

Not quite. So much for walkability in that suburb. I've seen it done a lot better in other places.

There is a reason there are a lot of them

But are there? I mean, worldwide? Seems to me that there actually aren't that many, they're just concentrated.

Some people like the hustle and bustle and meeting new people every minute. Others like a life of semi-solitude and private pursuits. The attraction of controlling what happens on your own patch of dirt is so strong it has to be inbuilt.

But are you actually more alone in the suburbs? I mean, except for the airgap that makes up for the shitty sound proofing that american homes seem to have, you're still surrounded by neighbors.

What we do here in my corner of Europe when we want to control our patch of dirt and be more isolated is that we buy a house in the countryside. This [1] is isolated, not a cul-de-sac with six houses.

[1] http://casa.brick7-pt.com/media/pt/93001_93100/93081_50beb62...

> But are you actually more alone in the suburbs? I mean, except for the airgap that makes up for the shitty sound proofing that american homes seem to have, you're still surrounded by neighbors.

The bummer about suburban sprawl is, even if the answer that first question is "no" right now, you'll need to move in a decade or two if you want to maintain that level of quiet. Eventually your suburb will develop every square foot as densely as it can.

No, the density of suburbs doesn't inevitably increase. Many suburbs have ordinances enforcing minimum lot sizes and maximum building heights, which limits the density of development. Suburbs do this to prevent the character of their town and protect property values of the residents.

This is why suburban sprawl is so wasteful - it spreads out, but never up.

> No, the density of suburbs doesn't inevitably increase.

This is a very badly thought out statement. The only way a suburb could not increase in density over time would be if it were to spring from the head of Zeus fully formed and populated at its inception.

The way reality works is, a bunch of land is owned by whoeverthefuck and is just green space and farmland until people start building on it. They don't fill up the entire suburb all at once. They'll build a few houses or a development, people who appreciate all the green space will move there, and the process repeats until the amount of green space starts to dwindle, the nature of the buildings themselves might change as land's value changes and the roads change, apartments are built instead of houses, etc. etc. The suburb's density increases.

I've witnessed this enough that your denial strikes me as strange. If you want to argue that the end result of such a process isn't great, I happen to agree...

"This is why suburban sprawl is so wasteful - it spreads out, but never up."

It's only wasteful if you have laws and regulations that prevent it from changing. Areas, and sometimes entire cities, re-invent themselves in different ways. In a normal, free environment as the needs arise the density will change appropriately.

On a side note, take a few hours off and try find some old photographs of cities (or towns if you go far back enough). Compare those to what the city looks like now, and you'll know what I mean. Everyone can be an arm-chair critic and talk about what's wasteful or not according to their beliefs. But things have evolved to this point over many generations, and many individual choices.

Read my comment again. I said that in the context of the exact laws and regulations you rail against. Obviously, there will always be a need for low density development, especially with a growing population. But the modern suburb is defined by restrictive ordinances that prevent high density development.

I meant preserve the character :/

I'm living in Manhattan and I don't meet anyone new on the street. What friends I do have, I never see, everyone always seems busy and uninterested in just "hanging out," which is what we did back in my slower hometown (something has to be planned here, and it better be good). It's actually ironic that I've never been closer (in physical proximity) to my friends (everyone is within a few miles of me) yet I see them much less than when I lived in a very sprawled out area (everyone > 10 miles away).

> When it comes to families... It's hard for young single people to grok that.

I'm tired of this myth that young families obviously want to move to the suburbs. My young family certainly doesn't. And all our peers with similarly young children talk about is wanting to stay, despite the temptation of cheaper square footage out in suburbia.

Because just like you're saying of suburbs, among cities there are "bad ones and great ones". I think many Americans have never actually experienced good cities, because we don't have that many of them, and the tourist parts of many of the good ones are not actually the nice places to live.

> coffee shops and cinemas mean nothing

My three year old would certainly disagree. This morning, like many mornings, it was he who suggested we should walk together down to our favorite neighborhood coffee shop. Naturally, we saw friends we know along the way, and played in our favorite park.

> parks, walks

Both of these are vastly better here in my city than in any of the surrounding suburbs. It's not even remotely a contest. You can't walk out in the suburbs, other than in tiny little circles that don't go anywhere. When we visit the suburbs for a week, my kid starts asking why we can't walk to X instead of getting in the car again.

Children especially suffer from this, because they're completely dependent until they can drive. There's no gradual ramp-up in their scope of freedom. And old people likewise suffer, because once they can't safely operate high-speed machinery, they're as dependent as children.

And the health statistics are obvious. The biggest statistical threat to your children's long-term well-being are metabolic diseases, all of which are lower in cities than in comparably affluent suburbs. Our suburban relatives tend to lose a few pounds when they visit for a week, without even trying.

> schools

This again comes down to "bad ones and great ones". We live Somerville, MA on the edge of Cambridge. You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a scientist. The level of intellectual stimulation, educated role models, general bookishness, and community commitment to art is nearly impossible to beat. We have our pick of educational options, including respected public schools, a constellation of private schools, and a deep and vibrant homeschooling community full of the aforementioned scientists and other assorted PhDs.

So while I don't expect everyone to want to live in the same kind of place, and I'm happy that other people are happy in suburbs, having kids is orthogonal to the question. For me, being a parent makes me more thankful to be living in a vibrant city.

I'm sure some people actually prefer suburbs. But many others would admit that they would choose to raise their kids in a city if they could afford to. It's obviously extremely desirable to very many people, otherwise it wouldn't cost so much.

I'm in Cambridge with 3 school age kids, and I never want to leave. High-five!

This is a romantic fantasy. One I sometimes share, but I recognize it as fantasy.

I understand the aim of what's being advocated here, and I really enjoy visiting cities like this (it saves on car rentals). But there's significant reasons people have spent a century or so trying like hell to escape these kinds of cities. Sprawl is a problem, but modeling cities after 15th century Italian towns is a mistake as well. I'd love to live in a place like this I suppose if we're all boutique shop owners and grocers this might work. But most people aren't these days. We actually have to get places that aren't necessarily right in our town.

One of the significant reasons we started moving away from this kind of development, even before cars became common, is that it traps people inside of them and prevents people from getting into and out of them. He uses Barcelona as an example, but he uses the Medieval part of Barcelona, not the 19th century bits.

So now we have to build extensive mass-transit. I'm thrilled as peaches to do that, but it's unbelievably expensive to finance. One of the reasons so many roads get built and expanded is that local governments can finance road development by forcing developers to build the roads or they won't get the zoning for their new mall or suburb (and the increased tax revenue is intended to cover long-term maintenance).

Brand new, above ground, subway/metro runs around $250 million per mile [1] in the United States (built on existing right-of-way). No developer can finance that. A brand new rural/suburban road runs $4-6 million per mile, and $8-10 million in urban areas [2].

I wish that humans had managed to develop a way of life and an advanced economy that made this possible. But we didn't. It sucks, but even if the car had never been invented, cities would no longer look like this.

1 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silver_Line_(Washington_Metro)

2 - http://www.artba.org/about/transportation-faqs/#20

It's funny you talk about transit not being possible to finance by developers, because that's exactly what happened in Japan. Well it's actually the other way around, railway operators like Tokyu, Tobu, Odakyu or Keio playing the role of developers. They're huge groups that also includes department stores, malls, development, construction, real estate...

1. They make a line that goes from one big Tokyo station (Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro...) to outside, that used to be farming lands

2. They pretty build mini-cities around their train stations (like Futako-tamagawa for example) with shops, housing, that's all walkable or bikable for people living a bit further

The result is a small human-size neighborhood with an easy access to Tokyo (because they built the train line). One example is Futako-tamagawa.

I wouldn't compare mass-transit costs in Asia with the U.S. For a wide variety of reasons I haven't even quite figured out (probably labor), laying new track in China, Japan and Korea is some incredibly small fraction of what it runs in the U.S.

For example, Phase 1 of Line 9 in Seoul cost around $875m or $52m per mile. This is in one of the densest urban environments on the planet.

That's 1/5th the cost of the per-mile system cost that I linked to earlier. Which was built on open and reserved right-of-way, all above ground, and didn't require massive infrastructure rerouting or other kinds of issues you might face doing the same work in a dense urban environment.

If a developer was putting up 1,500 housing units, I'd bet they could afford to split the cost of the mile of mass transit rail running by their development if it ran ~$50m per mile.

Some back of the envelope math.

Wholesale costs on new housing is around $80-90/sq ft. So a 3,000 sq ft. home costs the developer ~$250,000.

A quarter acre of property (fairly standard these days for new suburban development) in an undeveloped or rural area runs around $5-20k. So we're probably looking at a per unit cost of $300,000.

Financing construction of 1,600 units like this is $450m.

400 acres is under a square mile, but let's add in roads and green space and things and this development would easily be 1 square mile.

Let's say we want to put a subway stop right in the middle of this and run the track right on through in exchange for zoning the development.

In Korea, that'd be $50m.

In the U.S. that'd be $250m.

The developer isn't going to eat that, so they build it into their per-unit cost.

In Korea, that's a $31,250 additional per-unit cost. So my housing costs are about $330,000 per unit.

In the U.S. that's $156,250 per-unit. My housing costs are now $456,250 per unit.

The going price for single family homes in this area is $600,000. I can make a 45% ROI in Korea, while in the U.S. I'm only making 24%. My goal was to try to make 50% ROI.

24% is a pretty slim markup. Even if I boost the sale price of the houses (advertising easy access to the subway as justification), I'd have to hit $870,000 sale prices to hit 45% ROI and $900,000 sale prices to hit my target 50% in the U.S.

Are there enough buyers for that? Maybe. But it increases the developer risk substantially such that they may not bother at all.

This will also depend on the suburb and which city its located near, home prices in the surrounding neighborhood etc.

i.e if you built a new city like this, within 15-20 mins public transit of nyc you would get much closer to the ROI your looking at.

Hell now that I think of it Toll Brothers is doing that in Hoboken. A 900sqft 2bdrm costs just under 1m.

Hoboken, represent!

It's too expensive here, but it's such a great town.

Absolutely true. In a place where the going home price is $1m. This is a no brainer. In places where the going home price is $450k, it's just not going to happen.

Where can you find .25 acre of land in a development for $5000? Locally for me, in a more rural part of Pennsylvania it's like $20,000 to $40,000 for a .25 acre parcel.

Here's some for <$700/.25 acre, but it's 2.5 hours to anything remotely urban (Scranton).


Not individual .25 acre lots, but a committed developer can probably get it rezoned however they need.

It rises rapidly the closer in towards major cities.

If you're a large scale developer (of the sort that the county would hit up to help with transit development), you're probably going to buy a few hundred to a few thousand undeveloped/agricultural acres and get it rezoned.

This is a little better, $500/.25 acre and only slightly further than an hour from Pittsburgh. That's commuting distance for many people.


And here's some just an hour outside of Philly at $825/.25 acre.


>people have spent a century or so trying like hell to escape these kinds of cities.

I'm not aware of any evidence of this being true. If it were, I would assume that living in one of those places would be cheaper than living in other places (because it's less desirable to people), but the opposite seems to be true.

Old cities are kind of like trees, rings after rings after rings. If you look at one from far away, you can make some solid guesses as to when each "ring" of the city was built because the roads get wider and tend to get better organized as they optimize for logistics costs.


Look at Barcelona. It's a Roman colonial town so it's old. Can you guess which part was built first? How about which parts were built in the 18th 19th and 20th centuries?

As nice as the medieval quarter is for shopping, nobody really wanted to continue on with that kind of plan. By the 19th century (before cars) you ended up with a grid of broad roads and open boulevards. These things didn't happen to accommodate cars, they happened because medieval city plans scale poorly. It turns out cars fit really nicely within this plan.

Look at London. With 1/3rd the population density of Barcelona, it's cramped, and tight everywhere. Basic logistics costs are high because getting goods into and out of the city is difficult and time consuming. It's one of those weird cities that developed right along the traditional medieval plan like what's being advocated here and it's an expensive cramped and often unpleasant place to live. Even if London suddenly started building up and increasing density, the city road system couldn't handle it. It has to spread out because this kind of city plan scales poorly.

In some very old towns, ones that never really continued to develop, so they're left with the medieval "bones". Getting things like groceries to the shops is a circus of people physically moving hand trucks throughout the city. What's more expensive? 50 trips back and forth throughout the city with handtrucks? Or backing a truck up to a loading dock and spending 15 minutes unloading a few palettes of goods?

Other than tourists, this is why nobody likes to live in Venice, despite it being one of the specific examples given here as a model city. In the slow seasons, Venice is one of the most beautiful, walkable cities in the world. It's perfectly human scale. But it's a terrible, expensive place to live because every item in your local grocer had to be hand carried there.

> If it were, I would assume that living in one of those places would be cheaper than living in other places

Expense isn't just because of popularity. There are fixed costs to existing in places. Just like it's very expensive to live on an island, despite there being relatively few people there. These kinds of city plans are inherently expensive, they create almost an island in a way.

However, cities have other benefits, mostly in terms of job availability, and that attracts people to them. Because earning money can outweigh almost any other downside.

... the net flow of which reversed several decades ago. For the past 30 years, many American cities (the nice ones with living economies, think NYC, SF, Boston, Portland, Austin, etc) have been experiencing a steady influx of affluent white people, replacing the ones who fled a generation before.

Hence all the hand-wringing over "gentrification".

Really, this is just a return to the long-term normal of cities. Cities are centers of power and wealth. It was a weird American aberration that, for a time, "inner city" was associated with poverty and decay.

So Europe and Asia are fantasy continents then?

Congratulations, you've also named two continents have/are moving away from medieval style city development.

That looks like an incredibly expensive above ground subway/metro compared to something like a tramway network which seems like it would fit this style of development far more. I would expect you could finance a tramway network for the entire property for far less than $250 million.

Tramways work fine for intra-city movement, but inter-city movement really requires something more robust.

What if you combined a tram with a train? Oh wait, they already did:


Or do what actually happens in cities, namely hub'n'spoke: tram lines to each city's central station, high-speed/capacity lines between cities.

You can definitely force developers to contribute to Transit development. In London, for example, the developer for Battersea Power Station was required to contribute £100 million (~ $150m) to the extension of the Northern Line (part of the London Underground 'Tube' network).[1]

In a dense city like London, which doesn't have the wide roads and car-focus of US Cities, transit is important and the value of residential property here is very highly correlated with distance to transit hubs. For a developer, it can make a lot of economic sense to develop transit to new developments.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battersea_Power_Station#2012_re...

You'll notice that this additional burden caused significant development delays and issues over what, 3 or 4 different owners? IIR, the Northern Line extension deal was with one of the previous owners who went out of business trying to service that requirement.

Getting the developers to foot the bill has significantly increased the financial hurdle for developing that part of London.

The Battersea project is a poster child for why developers can't shoulder this kind of expense.

The Silver Line was built to serve the single largest commuter destination in all of Virginia. At that scale, rail transit is cost effective. Rail transit wouldn't make sense for a smaller scale development like the one described in the article. At this scale, dedicated bus lanes would make more sense and would be much, much cheaper than rail.

> One of the significant reasons we started moving away from this kind of development, even before cars became common, is that it traps people inside of them and prevents people from getting into and out of them.

This kind of development is constrained to really make car ownership a reasonable thing (I know I know, he has photos of 3 or 4 cars in some of his examples). So getting into and out of this kind small scale development requires something like rail for interconnections -- I agree buses or trams would be better for intraconnections.

While I agree with your points, I feel as if its not unreasonable to do this on a small scale where some of it benifts areas around it.

Yeah, I don't disagree. I think smaller office/commercial areas benefit from this kind of development style. A commercial core built like this really are places people want to come and be.

But the residential picture in these areas are a mess. That's why lots of cities have turned their medieval quarters into glorified shopping malls with hotels attached. None of the locals particularly want to live there.

From someone who has been blessed with having close relatives that live in a very rural environment, I've found that most of the benefits of suburban living are mere imitations of the benefits of rural living. The only one you really lose is proximity to things like work and brick-and-mortar stores. Everything else is like the suburbs but way better: near-zero crime, an intimate community (if there are even other people), a sense of autonomy, breathtaking nature, star-filled skies, insanely low cost of living. No need for playgrounds and pools, the kids can go explore in the woods and swim in the nearby pond/creek. Nobody will abduct or harm them because there are no other people for miles. If you want local produce, you can get some from a nearby farmer or just grow it in a giant garden in your front yard. The main downsides are distance from everything, and lack of any kind of culture. You have to make your own culture inside your home.

Isn't the "lack of culture" actually the "culture" of rural living? What does that even mean, lack of culture? There's lots of culture in rural living, its just not the same as city or urban or whatever you want to call it. There is music, and gatherings, and performances, and games, etc. Carnivals, dances (the square variety is well liked), singing (blue grass and country are popular), art (lots of art from rural dwellers). So While I agree with the beginning of your post... I too love rural living. I grew up farming, my parents still farm. The culture bit is just not true, you just might not like it as much as something else, which is ok.

Upon reflection you're 100% correct. You're right, there are some awesome folk traditions to be found in US rural areas. The only rural culture I was exposed to was hunting and fishing, which I enjoy greatly, but it's not exactly art or music. I think the problem may lie with my relatives. After thinking about it, my mom did tell me stories about how her grandparents and great aunts and uncles would get together and play the fiddle and sing.

That said, you have to admit, the art/music/gatherings in the country are much less frequent and much less varied than in a big city.

I'd argue that if you're only 10 minutes away from work by car, then you're not really living the "big wasteful" suburban life. Real sprawl (I'm unfortunately quite familiar with the kind outside of Toronto) involves long drives and frequent wrestling with slow traffic to get anywhere, especially during rush hour. Suburban houses are cheaper precisely because they're far from places people want to be.

That said, with Skype, remote work, Netflix, and Amazon Prime, I guess who really needs to go anywhere these days anyhow?

Of course suburban life is very appealing. That's why it's so popular. People don't do it just to waste resources or screw the environment. I like to look for the externalities and where they come from. For urban sprawl, my best theory is that government subsidy of roads and related infrastructure is the primary driving force (pun intended) of urban sprawl.

The interstate highway system certainly contributed to suburban sprawl, but for many suburbs, the racism was the driving force.





Look further and you'll find that US housing policy in the 20th century intentionally encouraged suburb construction and disinvestment in the cities.

There was also a concerted effort to increase the use of gas powered vehicles: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Motors_streetcar_consp...

Or maybe some people just wanted a larger house and larger backyard sometimes at a cheaper rate?

So how do you explain suburban sprawl in Canada and Australia?

I assume automobiles, racism, and consumer preference for large lots are still factors in Canada in Australia. But I haven't researched any specific housing policies that encouraged sprawl in those countries. I'm having trouble finding materials on the subject. You know any good resources?

It's worth noting that there's also a strong counter-incentive to avoiding urban sprawl. Given that cities are expanding, something new will need to be built. That's pretty much inevitable.

What's striking is how hard it is to take what's already present and build up, to modernize or expand existing infrastructure. Construction in a city is expensive, and a great many existing buildings break various codes (ADA, asbestos, etc) in ways that are more expensive to fix than from-scratch development is.

When building new is cheaper than retrofitting, people will tend to do it. Putting up a new building in Boston's financial district would likely mean knocking half a dozen valuable apartment buildings, and won't ever happen. Putting that office building up five miles away is cheaper, and Boston is already seeing a number of industrial parks on its outskirts for that reason.

The exceptions are places where land costs a fortune (NYC), zoning is impossible to deal with (San Francisco), or the sprawl is already so atrocious that "outskirts" is a death sentence for a new venture (LA).

Subsidies for expansion certainly matter, but even without them there are substantial incentives to choose sprawl over infill and development.

Boston is actually a great example of construction happening in the city. Most of Cambridge around Kendall is a giant construction site, especially just north of Broadway and around 3rd street, and the space between Kendall and Central. The Seaport district has many active construction sites around the "Innovation district", and a lot of that whole area is brand new, centering around the desire for large companies to move closer to cities.

Agreed- it's also driving a lot of new construction housing in the South End- cranes all over downtown it seems

Yeah, it's everywhere. Hasn't helped with housing prices any, though. I currently live in Somerville and I do love it (it's weird enough for me), but I wouldn't mind living closer to everything.

I'm also a Somervillian. And I will add that Somerville actually has a significantly higher population density than Boston. We are undeniably a part of the urban core, deeply integrated into the city. In a discussion about suburbs vs cities, we fall squarely into the city side, which is one reason I like it here.

Totally. Still about half an hour into Bston, though, which is kind of a drag. (I work at Localytics, and we're at 101 Arch--directly above Downtown Crossing. Not a terrible commute by any means, but closer's still better.)

Well, we've got the new green line extension going in, right? So that'll help out quite a bit.

Correct. There is some hope though because there's a money to be saved by reduce the operational energy usage through retrofit strategies. This can be as simple as reskinning a building - switching to more high-performance glazing or adding insulation - to reduce the lighting and thermal loads. The Rockefeller Foundation valued the U.S. commercial building retrofit market at $280 billion based on implementing improvements to achieve 30% energy savings in buildings built before 1980- but this would require financial mechanisms and structures to assure ROI for investors.

Cite: Franconi, Ellen, Kristin Field and Michael Deru, 2013. Building Performance Modeling for Gaining Investor Confidence. http://www.ibpsa.org/proceedings/BS2013/p_1401.pdf

Your theory is absolutely correct. The federal highway system did two things: 1.) subsidized once inaccessible land for cheap trac home development 2.) kill off efficient private transportation (trains, etc).

I am one of those that grew up in the 'burbs (30 years). Evac'ed to NYC and now I have pretty much the opposite reaction: 1 week in the suburbs is nice but afterwards it bores me to tears. And if I do need my occasional outdoors fix (which I definitely do), I can hop on a northbound train or rent a car and drive an hour up. Not trying to diminish your points, because I really like your perspective, just speaking from mine.

The last time I went home, the suburbs actually gave me a melancholy feeling. Having grown up in perpetually-sunny SoCal, the never changing weather actually gave me a sense of stillness and stagnation, as if nothing ever changes (good in some ways, bad in others). The northeast's jarring seasons combined with NYC's ambitious culture, on the other hand, seems to inspire action and progress - life is moving on with or without you. Purely a personal perception, I understand.

Though, on the flip side, when it's time for me to settle down and raise a family, I highly suspect I would want to return to the suburbs for that. Raising a child in NYC seems insane. Though to be fair, NYC does have its shares of suburbs in the outer boroughs.

Well, we're basically the same. As for raising a family, I'll never be able to afford to do it properly here in NYC, and the QoL of your average suburban commuter here seems poor.

I think people like you and I will soon be looking to escape to suburbs that offer a mix of both worlds -- rather than being a 15-min drive to the nearest strip mall (like where I grew up), I want a ~1600-2000 sq ft detached home (it can be a townhouse) within a 15-min walk to a walkable area of shops and services, and with a train line and/or cycleway to get me to the business district. Don't really know where that is though.

Time just posted an interesting article that seems related:


A really great documentary that partially covers the history of suburbs is called "end of suburbia". Its mostly about the theory of peak oil, and how that would destroy the "american dream". Despite all those flaws it has some interesting buts about suburban development itself, and some original implementations. Specifically, a lot of transporation from city suburbs to city centers happened via light rail, versus individual cars.

Personally I dont think the suburbs are going anywhere. Im absolutely fascinated by the possibilites of electric, autonomous vehicles, and the small house movement. To me, those elements in combination might strike a reasonable balance between the desire to have ones own space, and the transportation requirements.

Growing up and living in Brooklyn, I have a lot of different feelings but I'll leave that for another time. One thing that popped into my head though: For a lot of people in New York and I'm sure other cities, moving to the suburbs is cause for an eyeroll and a "Why?"

There's a lot of "I can't imagine living elsewhere" and a certain attitude that I find really funny.

I mean, I grew up here and love living here but boy oh boy, you can't even imagine living elsewhere? That says something sad about your imagination, doesn't it?

Why I dislike any kind of housing that gets city-level density: I don't like sharing a wall of my dwelling with others. I don't like hearing people easily through my walls. The suburban sprawl grants that.

That could be dealt with by beefing up sound insulation in your party walls. Maybe building code needs to be changed to deal with this, but my guess is you just lived in buildings where the architect/contractor got cheap.

ETA: To be fair, the architect/contractor/developer going for the cheap option is pretty common. Especially when it comes to something no one can see like insulation inside walls.

I live in an apartment in downtown Seattle and I've never heard anyone through my walls. This is a solved problem in new construction.

It's also pretty well solved in old construction. There are just a lot of post-war apartments built as cheap housing with crappy thin walls— those are where you hear your neighbors through the walls.

We've been in our current flat in Edinburgh for 9 years - we've never heard a single sound from neighbours and I know there have been families with young kids and teens living directly next to us.

It's not a really old property - ~200 year old townhouse converted to flats about 120 years ago.

Walls are roughly 1m thick sandstone.

That sounds amazing. I was just in Edinburgh and the build quality of all the stuff downtown seemed extremely high. "Not really old" is different here in SF, and the quality is terrible. Half the town was built as cheap housing for migrant/temp workers a century ago and the new stuff isn't much better.

I live in one of the older apartment buildings in SF, built in 1907. (Not much exists older than that, for... reasons) I can tell whether my upstairs neighbor drops a quarter or a dime, and I am regularly woken up by the next door neighbor's iPhone alarm clock. The whole building shakes slightly whenever a Bart train (which is pretty far underground) goes by.

Walls are roughly 1cm thick plywood, apparently. And yet it still costs a fortune!

'200 years old' is ancient in the US.

I live in a 100 year old brick tenement in Brooklyn, though, and hear very little of our neighbors myself— occasional creaking floorboards, and some sounds from the staircase near the front doors, but that's about it.

I also live in an apartment in downtown Seattle and I've never heard anyone through my walls. Maybe we live in the same building. ;-)

Three makes company?

I'm in an older (~1930) building in Belltown and have only heard my neighbor above me one time (I think a chair fell over or something). Honestly, the biggest source of noise for me is outside in the summer months when I leave the windows open.

I'm in a (very old) brick building in brooklyn and I have never heard my neighbors. I assume they haven't heard me either since I play my music at all hours and pretty much whatever volume I please. Honestly, usually my roomates on the other side of the apartment don't even hear me. This is definitely more related to new cheaply built structures than sharing a wall. I do realize that there are pros and cons to suburban living as well, but noise through the wall was your only reason.

Really? In an old building in Manhattan, and not only can I hear my neighbors walking around, flushing the toilet, yawning, but I can hear people in other buildings sneezing, nevermind when they decide to have a party.

heh, yeah I mean I'm on the top floor so I don't hear anyone walking around but I do feel bad for the people under me when I drop things. Maybe brooklyn is a different beast, I have friends that live in queens that are shocked when they come to parties in brooklyn that we don't get noise complaints (we are subsequently shocked that they are shocked). Perhaps the loudness of my neighborhood drowns out the sounds of my neighbors?

That's cheap and lousy construction, not inherent to sharing a wall.

That was part it. I grew up in an apartment building with solid concrete walls (so sound proofing for certain frequencies was good) but top neighbours have flooded us a few times. Public transportation was so-so. And getting places wasn't convenient always. Shopping for food involved walking more than we wanted (especially in cold or rain). It wasn't terrible and I can see benefits to it, but it was also not that great either. I had a choice and made the choice to live in the suburbs, and it was rather hypocritical, because I could easily see myself nodding and agreeing with most of the criticisms about the suburban life.

> Public transportation was so-so. And getting places wasn't convenient always. Shopping for food involved walking more than we wanted (especially in cold or rain). It wasn't terrible and I can see benefits to it, but it was also not that great either.

Before I was 10 I lived in an urban area. It was pretty much exactly this. After that we moved to an ultra-rural area. When I was old enough I swore I would move back and I did, but within a couple years realized that there are lots of downsides exactly as you describe here. I'd add that close proximity to near constant violence is also a problem in many urban areas.

I finally left when my downstairs neighbor was violently stabbed in his own apartment.

This was in one of the low-crime areas.

Just because you can see the flaws doesn't mean you're hypocritical. There are legitimate issues involved with suburbia.

All the places I have lived built before 1940 had thick enough walls that I never ever heard my neighbors through them. The materials make all the difference.

My question is re: Watering your plants and mowing your grass - using the pools, and playgrounds. Do you outsource these, do you enjoy them, how might you use that money otherwise?

Much of my suburban experience is that grass and planting are choirs that are outsourced - and that few people actually use the pools and playgrounds.

I'm a bit frustrated when friends talk of the desire for a pool when they never go to the pool (that always seems empty) that they pay dues for.

I've never been to my community pool, but it is packed every weekend. I live near the ocean and own a boat, so that is how I spend my summer Saturdays.

I enjoy the cutting the grass. My yard takes about an hour to do the whole cut/edge/trim. I view it as exercise and time to think.

> I view it as exercise and time to think.

That's kind of interesting, but it's how I view my commute (mostly walk|bike given bearable weather) in NYC.

I get to enjoy the modern stylings of a postage stamp sized property with an oversized house. Where most older homes would have people in the backyard, I'm in my climate controlled living room.

I hire a guy to come by every two weeks and mow my lawn. He charges me $30 each time. I used to do it myself, but I decided to spend my time doing other things. If I did it myself, yard maintenance is unbelievably cheap and not all that time consuming, a half hour every 2 weeks. I probably didn't even get through 3 gallons of gas over an entire season and I've had the same lawnmower for 6 years. I don't water my lawn, it's pretty brown right now.

I use the pool system (we have 4) a handful of times during the summer, but I don't mind paying for it as part of my fees since at least I have the option. The pool houses double as community centers and party spaces which is nice. I can take cheap yoga classes in one year round, I think it's $5 a class.

I don't use the playgrounds and don't have any kids, but my wife and I make extensive use of the private park and trail system in my development. The central park is about a half-mile long (almost exactly long as NYC central park is wide), wooded, filled with trails (a circuit is about 2km), a small lake, adult exercise equipment, tennis courts, a field hockey pad, a basketball court and a few open green spaces. But there's something like 20 more miles of trails and smaller parks and green space all throughout. It's all immaculately maintained.

At one end of the park is a small amphitheater where they throw a summer concert series. We get our own 4th of July fireworks show too.

If I lived in a dense Manhattan style city, I'd probably end up spending it all on building fees, higher rent and significantly higher grocery prices.

That last sentence, plain and simple, is what it comes down to. Suburbs are cheap and that's why people live there. Cities like Dallas are built on that idea.

I water the plants every couple of nights in summer, takes 10 minutes. Mowing the lawn takes 30 minutes every couple of weeks. A small exchange of time to have a backyard for the dogs to play in and to have fresh tomatoes. As a bonus, I refuse to water grass, so I rarely mow in the dry Seattle summers (worry not, it comes back just fine when the rain starts in November). This Indiana boy feels kind of stupid mowing in December, though.

Outsource? Bah, I grew up mowing acres so I can manage my lot that is measured in square feet. I'm not paying someone for a task that takes 30 minutes. What's next, pay to have someone load the dishwasher? There is no mower maintenance: it's battery-powered.

Pools? I know of one house within a several mile radius of my own house that has a pool. It's right down the street, the dogs and I walk past it all the time. I've never seen anyone in it, and I'm not even sure that they fill it with water anymore. It's Seattle, you'll never use a pool.

Playgrounds? The park 400m from my house always has someone using it even in the dark and rainy Seattle winter. The wide gravel trail a block from my house always has traffic. Even during a run at 5 a. m. on a dark, rainy December morning, the mutt and I will see someone out there on the trail.

Maybe it's Seattle, maybe it's just my neighborhood, but folks do get outside and utilize what's available to them.

It is a community pool so I pay someone to maintain. I would rather not mow the grass if I didn't but it is extra exercise. And I am not bothered enough by it to outsource it. I do enjoy taking care of the flowers and watching them grow.

Pool is used pretty often by the family (so far).

I'm from the UK and a lot of people don't like living in the city for one reason, a garden. People want to have there own private piece of garden where they can buy plants. Gardening is massive in the UK and is not seen as a chore.

As with anything else, it's all economics.

When the day comes (inevitable, in my opinion) that energy prices make it impractical for the average person to transport themselves 20+ miles a day to work, school, shopping, etc, the dynamic will change. All but the closest suburbs will become for the wealthy only and urban housing will become dense by necessity.

Except now the closer in suburbs(and urban housing) are for the rich. I live in DC, and pretty much everywhere in town is pricey, and the close suburbs that would be somewhat convenient(bethesda, arlington being the exemplars) to "town" are extraordinarily expensive. The (outer, not as nice, inconvenient) suburbs are the new hotbeds of poverty, and I've only been here for ~8 years but even in that time a lot of affordable neighborhoods have priced longtime residents(who don't own) out.


Exactly. Cheap energy (and therefore, cheap transport) allows one to live in a relatively low cost-of-living area where land is cheap (suburb), but work/shop/recreate in a higher COL area (city). The rich can afford to live in the more expensive areas like Manhattan, while the working class have to live hours away from where they work (New Jersey, upstate NY, etc).

In the modern era of stagnating wages, this is the primary way a working family can give themselves an effective "raise", by living in a cheap area and working in an expensive area. It should come as no surprise, therefore, all the megacommutes people are doing as a result.

I grew up pretty much in the European countryside, and now live in the city. I'm sure there's some sort of "I want to live differently from my parents" mechanic at work.

What bothers me with suburban living in the US is that you give away the convenience of the city and all you get back is a backyard barely big enough for a barbecue. Here's the house where I grew up in France: http://i.imgur.com/ETum2lk.jpg

It's 10 minutes by car to the center of the nearest city, Rennes (pop. 200,000), with good hospitals and good schools and pretty much anything you need: http://i.imgur.com/3DkTrwC.jpg

And 5 minutes from a smaller town with a small supermarket, bakeries, and bi-weekly farmer's market that covers everything needed for daily life: http://i.imgur.com/GDSpg3f.jpg

In comparison, a suburban home in San Mateo, CA, where I lived for a year felt very cramped: http://i.imgur.com/9Nkm3wO.jpg (quick collage from Google Maps, might not be exactly at scale)

Of course, San Mateo is just 20 minutes away from an international airport and destroys Rennes in job opportunities in the tech sector, but it seems that suburban homes in the US are all built on this same cramped model regardless of their location.

I don't have kids yet so I'm probably missing something though; my brother with two small kids just moved from a downtown apartment to a small house and seems to be enjoying his small garden a lot.

All depends on where you live, you need to use comparable areas. I am twenty six miles from work, I was closer but they moved and while I would not mind moving closer the housing market really hasn't recovered to make it feasible. Regardless of that, the primary reason I like being out in the country is that it is quiet, it is also fairly dark excepting for the odd street lights. It is also safe, I have left windows open all day while at work, I have done so at night. Heck I have gone to work and the garage door didn't close.

All the conveniences you list are likely in both housing plots you show. The difference is familiarity. I can go about ten minutes in multiple directions from my house and pass four or more super markets, a dozen or more doctors offices, a full blown hospital and a few satellite facilities, and countless places to eat and such. Yet I make jokes about being past the banjo line because being just a few streets off the main roads its completely peaceful.

and its not unique by far, fortunately being in the tech world I can work from home and I do so at least once a week. As more employers realize the savings of letting employees work from home i expect this type of living to become even more popular.

I could go join friends downtown, live behind locked doors. Hell they even have to buzz me in the lower door! Yet I can't be down there an hour without hearing a cop go by and frankly I don't need the noise and worse, the filth.

To be fair, you get much bigger yards when you get out of the Bay Area and out of urban California and into more 'middle America' kinds of places.

You're right, it doesn't make sense to compare a smaller city surrounded by farmland with one of the biggest urban sprawls in the USA. I posted this under the strong influence of nostalgia :)

The author is asking us to think beyond cars is very relevant out site America. America can afford its suburbia because it was a sparsely populated land when the Europeans started settling. This is a luxury densely populated parts of the developing world cannot afford. A post-automobile era is surely a welcome thought when we plan future human settlements.

In the US, higher density goes hand in hand with higher homelessness and crime. I'd prefer more density than traditional suburbs, but if it's dense like a European town you'll have panhandlers and pawn shops all over.

I don't know... I grew up in a city and I live in a city now. Suburbia too me, is basically like Florida... You go there to grow old and die.

Or you go there to better protect your kids and get them better schools.

Or you go there for a bit of a quieter life and don't mind the commute, or to get a garden. Or to be able to go for country walks without having to hop on the greyhound. I see no appeal in city living.

Are you from the UK? I live in the Suburbs of northern Kentucky, actually right on the cusp of rural and suburban, but there are still a lot of roads but with no or almost no sidewalks and more than enough traffic to be dangerous. Because of how the streets are laid out with culs-de-sac, it takes 30-40 minutes to walk to the nearest grocery story. There are no real places for 'country walks' since everything is private property.

In Scotland we have the a law that allows us to walk freely through farmland and land so long as we respect rules.


Well said. Most of the major reasons people are attracted to the suburbs is due to having children. People with children want a larger home, great schools and low crime.

Until these "new urban" environs offer that, it will be difficult to attract most parents with children to move there.

High population densities encourage smaller homes and more crime (even if the crime rate is the same, more people = more crime) However there is no inherent reason that cities should have worse schools than suburbs. Larger facilities should have more capacity for specialized courses and and extra-curricular activities. I have to conclude that poor city schools are the result of a deliberate policy.

I think it's because in the U.S. most of the school funding comes from property taxes


Property taxes are not significantly different between the city and suburbs so that reasoning doesn't fly. Besides in my state (Michigan) a portion of school funding comes from the state coffers. This funding comes with strings attached as it is tied to standardized test scores. This is a devious and destructive technique to funnel more money to affluent schools and away from the inner city.

That's fine, but the burbs are exactly that, the suburbs. You will find suburbs like you describe around any of the towns given here as examples.

You'll always have the suburb option. I think the question is more around the extent of 'automobile-centricity' we want.

I live in a community called Serenbe. (http://serenbe.com) which has taken a much different approach to suburban new urbanist development. It's built around an organic farm rather than a golf course, it's got miles of green space and trails, and a fantastic commitment to ecology and the environment -- for example the outdoor irrigation system is built from gray water from the homes in the community.

Also: it's got some great restaurants and about 80% of my diet comes from food that's made within 25 miles of where I live now. To get to a restaurant, we take a brief stroll through the woods.

Smartest thing I ever did was move here. I've spent my whole life trying to work with governments (mostly federal) to use technology to improve service delivery and if I'm honest with myself, it's been mostly discouraging. But since I've moved here, I've met with the mayor and we're beginning to do amazing things.

What makes an amazing place to live, though isn't the lack of automobiles (as the author of this post seems to believe), or great architecture -- but rather an attitude of community. That you all have a shared role in the success of each other's life environment. Human beings are wired for that, and both urban and suburban environments tend to separate us from that.

Wow that is fascinating. Your community has a pretty excellent website. Slick design, lots of high end photography. Which means someone spent a lot of money on it. Meaning someone is raking in big bucks by promoting the town.

Took a look at real estate prices relative to the area, confirmed - wow 4x higher prices than anything else in the area. Pretty amazing feat of real estate marketing to turn a chunk of rural Georgia into the equivalent of California home prices by leveraging sustainable growth. If developers can build a community like that and turn a profit at the same time that's a pretty promising future

Actually, not just money. It means that the community is able to draw in lots of talent, and the entire community is committed to the success of the community. So I'm not certain, but those high end photographs could have been taken by a resident who just wanted to make the website that much more awesome.

And this speaks to my overarching point: Small, dense communities work. Dunbar's number. When you have a group of people, all of whom know each other's names (we're wholly organized on Facebook, actually), the social cost of being an asshole is REALLY HIGH (as a recovering asshole myself, it's part of the reason I moved here). You can't honk your horn at somebody without the risk of that being your neighbor.

But most people don't have horns. They get around by foot, bike, or sometimes even a golf cart.

Developers need to get a clue and copy this model or else they are going to be unable to sell suburbs to Millennials. The only reason it's so expensive there is because this is such a rare type of place to live.

Yea exactly. There are a bunch of news stories floating around about how developers are in crisis struggling to sell homes to younger homebuyers, and as someone in the demographic of who they're struggling with, its such an obvious reason as to why.

A large portion of the generation who grew up in cookie cutter 90's exurbs have absolutely no desire to live their adult life in areas with those types of development patterns. Developers and city planners need to get with the program or the american suburbs are going to go through serious decline soon

That looks like a pleasant enough development, but the commute to any employment center with jobs allowing you to service a half-million dollar mortgage seems rather unpleasant. And, of course, all that driving offsets a lot of other environmental benefits.

Sure. If you have a job where you have to commute in every day, I can see how this wouldn't be a great place to live. But there are enough people -- especially the self-employed -- who can sustain this community it seems.

That's a really cool place. Something that's been a continuous source of frustration for some people in my neighborhood are HOA rules preventing us from putting up solar panels on our roofs. I think it's up for review this year, but it seems like it would be a natural thing for this community.

Is the farm run like a co-op?

The farm is an independent organization that's funded by additional closing costs (1%) of housing transactions, and by its own revenue stream. It's now a profitable business selling produce to a lot of the restaurants in Atlanta.

More about Serenbe here: http://terrain.org/2012/unsprawl/serenbe/

Dang, that looks really cool. How does membership work? Do you just need to pay rent to live there? Do you know of other similar communities?

It's a great community. There's not really any membership. You can just show up and live here like you live anywhere else. And should you choose to buy food from the farm, you go to market on Saturday. Or you join the CSA.

We visited Serenbe recently. It was lovely. But we wondered--what is the employment base for the homeowners? Do people live there year round?

A lot of people are telecommuters -- my wife and I both work out of our home, and what matters to us more than proximity to office is proximity to airport. It's a 20 minute, no-traffic ride to a world-class airport from here.

Lots of consultants, a few commuters (people carpool) and even a few farmers -- my neighbors are making a killing raising sheep at ManyFold Farm.

This looks really interesting but very family oriented. Do they have real-estate that would be appropriate for single people?

No, not yet. They're building a rental property very soon -- http://serenberealestate.com/?property=textile-lofts . I suspect this will start attracting some singles. But it's mostly true, you're not going to fire up Tinder and find a date at Serenbe.

I wish someone would make a serious successor to SimCity - an actual simulator that modeled theories from the field of urban planning and allowed people to experiment with different layouts, policies, etc. This would be a very different piece of software from the vanity building placing games on the market today, and something much more in line with Will Wright's original vision.

Agreed. I'm a masters of architecture candidate working in this area[1] and I would add that to engage in contemporary urban theory would require a much more sophisticated urban simulator than is achievable with the current state-of-the-art. Contemporary urban theory goes beyond issues like outdoor comfort and appropriate formal scale (which is what this blog post seems concerned about) to additional issues like hyper and mega-city growth and resource conservation. Taking this into account requires multiple simulations that would be able to model the inherent trade-offs of urban design.

Traditionally there has been software like Esri's CityEngine - http://www.esri.com/software/cityengine - which procedurally generates[2] urban geometries based on user-defined typologies and land-use. However CityEngine is just a geometry generator, and therefore far too basic to be used for contemporary design which must also negotiate factors like building daylight accessibility or positioning transit nodes for optimum walkability.

A decent urban simulator therefore needs not only a procedural city geometry generator, but also simulators for walkability, building operational energy use and environmental simulators (ventilation, solar radiation etc). MIT's Sustainable Design Lab is developing the first (I believe) serious integrated urban modelling platform: Urban Modelling Interface (UMI) - http://urbanmodellinginterface.ning.com/. Unfortunately UMI doesn't at this point include a way to procedurally generate urban geometries.

A combination of CityEngine (with a much friendlier UI) and UMI would provide the kind of complex simulation environment that I think a realistic urban simulation game would require.

[1] https://github.com/saeranv/cactus (Almost have a proof-of-concept ready for this).

[2] Using a shape-grammar engine - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shape_grammar - which operates in a recursive manner and is thus a reasonable imitation of actual urban growth.

I would eat a game like that up.

SimCity has so wholly established the popular concept of what a city simulator should be that everything else, from Cities XL to Cities in Motion, is inevitably built on that template.

Don't get me wrong, the SimCity series is great, but the domain of urban simulation could be vastly wider than what fits within the boundaries of the Maxis tradition. Different things could be abstracted; other things could be simulated in greater depth.

I'd love to see, for instance, less reliance on detailed buildings and more reliance on realistic building plans. Or less direct control over construction and zoning, having to go through councils and referenda, or backroom deals to get things done (imagine all these things having various stats for rolls like an RPG).

I've thought about the same idea. But I do not know how to actually make the simulation a sandbox for interesting experiments, rather than just having the results depend on whatever assumptions the game designer made.

There is a lot of research into the computational modelling of urban dynamics. A good place to start would be Michael Batty's seminal book on the subject: http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/cities-and-complexity

At least, you will see how certain micro-assumptions play out when put together in a simulation.

When in doubt, go more granular. Think Dwarf Fortress.

Easy to say, I guess.

Great idea, I've been thinking about this one for years. Maybe the goal would be to make life happier and more interesting on the street-level.

I can still see Sim City moving around on the backs of my eyelids.

If you want to found a city, here's a suggestion for its location. It's a crazy pipe dream but here goes: build a city next door to Sydney, Australia, on the other side of the Great Dividing Range.

Background: Sydney is a well developed city with a population of 4.5 million. It is built on a coastal basin, bounded by the Pacific ocean on the east, a mountain range (Great Dividing Range) on the west, a river/green belt on the north and national parks on the south, with expansion happening in a south-west direction. Real estate prices are high compared most other cities. To the west of the Great Dividing Range is the beginning of the flat interior of Australia. The first significant town to the west of the Great Dividing Range is Lithgow.

Running east to west, the Great Dividing range is delineated by a steep climb at the suburb of Glenbrook, and a steep descent at Mount Victoria. There is a winding highway and railway connecting these two points, so the trip from Lithgow to Sydney is slow. As the crow flies, the distance between Glenbrook and Mount Victoria is about 45km.

The plan would be to build a tunnel under the Great Dividing Range, install a high speed train in it, and cut the travel time between Sydney and the west of the range to minutes. Tunnels longer than 45km exist today, so it should be doable from a technical standpoint. The project could be paid for by the increase in land value to the west of the range.

As an aside, there are ongoing proposals for a high speed train (HST) along the eastern seaboard of Australia, linking Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane, all major cities. The seaboard is rugged and heavily populated, so some proposals have the HST to the west of the Dividing Range. A new city, to the west of the divide, could act as a junction between a north-south HST and a connection to Sydney, providing a ready made economy.

Tunnels are crazy expensive. The article's ideas runs into the millions. The tunnel would run into the billions.

Yes, but even if you were to build a tunnel from Lithgow to Emu Plains (on the Western edge of existing Sydney), there's still another 40-50km (as the crow flies) before you reach central Sydney.

Australian HSR will never, ever happen.

I wouldn't be so sure. I believe the Melbourne->Sydney route is one of the busiest in the world for planes.

Even if the train follow the existing highway it would do pretty well - it's almost entirely straight and flat.

I am sure.

Sydney is getting a 2nd airport. Air travel is easier to build, easier to expand and requires no private property resumption, wildlife corridors, bridges or tunnels.

There is also zero population density between the two cities.

It won't happen.

Never ever is a long time, and you won't be able to say "told you so" until the end of never ever.

The most jarring thing about visiting the United States for me was the car-centric design of the cities.

We lived in an apartment in Palo Alto, and doing the most basic things was impossible without a car - grocery shopping, going to the office, going out for dinner or to a meeting. Even bikes weren't really enough. Eventually we caved and had to pay the extra expense of renting a car through a car sharing site.

San Francisco was really not much better - to get there, the only viable option was either to drive or to take the CalTrain - always extraordinarily crowded in the busiest hours, not to mention slow and with long waits in between trains. Getting around in the city on foot also presented an ordeal, but at least MUNI and BART helped somewhat.

This added a huge expense for our company that would have been completely unnecessary in other cities - including the rental price and fuel, the car ended up burning about $800/mo on its own. Not to mention the amount of time wasted driving around to get basic things done like visiting the bank or the supermarket.

It became clear to me why companies like Uber were making a killing in the U.S - public infrastructure was so badly supported that there is just no way to live without access to a vehicle. I can't imagine what it must be like for the working poor, who must pay for the expense of a vehicle just to subsist.

And many people accept this as if it's the only way to live- it doesn't really get challenged, since a lot of people don't know anything else. After living in Japan I find it crazy. At least I live in an area that has some decent bike paths so I can do stuff that most Americans would consider impossible, like walk 7 miles to the airport...

The article's unreadable without the photos and we seem to have DOSed whatever's serving the photos. Is there a mirror?

I suspect it's just as unreadable having to scroll 3-600 pixels between sentence fragments.

No, the bits I got to before catching up with the image loading were quite pleasant. It works because the images are actually illustrating and adding content; unlike e.g. the pictures embedded in most news stories, which are really a whole separate piece of content that forces you to jump out of the flow of the story if you want to consume them, these are part of the flow of reading the post.

Except when they fail to load, unfortunately. Content this size should really be hosted on S3 or equivalent, but the author probably didn't expect this scale of traffic.

Amen. But good luck getting it past planning.

We don't build even mediocre cities anymore because, for the most part, we've made them illegal.

Well how about we get in front of city council and advocate for some changes? I've done it in Ann Arbor for a city park and people really do like it when local geeks and other folks not usually going to these meetings stand up and have something to say.

Christopher Alexander wrote extensively about humanistic cities in "A Timeless Way of Building", "A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction" and many other books. His focus was in studying how people have built villages and cities over centuries, how patterns have emerged and how these patterns affect the daily life of the inhabitants.

Came here to recommend "A Pattern Language" -- truly a transformative book. The article touches on a few of the patterns it lists, but I think this nascent project would benefit greatly from the author reading it through.

For instance, just building narrow streets is not "all we need to do" as the author states.

Full text available on Archive.org (but it's worth buying a copy for the illustrations alone): https://archive.org/stream/APatternLanguage/A_Pattern_Langua...

It's interesting that a second article from this site has made it to the HN front page. I've been digging into this concept a lot since the first article was linked from here.

I think traditional, walkable cities are a great idea whose time is more than overdue in North America. Places like Quebec City are a good example, but what really fascinates me is Tokyo, a behemoth of a city with so much that is walkable with one-way streets and wide sidewalk areas, and you can get to anywhere easily via buses and rail links. All these simple one-way streets, connecting to arterial roads with 1 lane in each direction, connecting to highways, create an absolutely massively distributed road system.

If you think i'm exaggerating, pull up Tokyo in Google Maps and pick a spot at random in the surrounding metro area and go to Street View, you will always always land on a one-way road, often with people walking on it.

I did as you suggested with Tokyo and that is indeed impressive. People walking everywhere. One-way streets really do make a ton of sense for cities.

I love the idea of building a city as a startup, and competing with other cities by being a superior product.

However, my vision for the perfect city is quite different than OP's.

My ideal city:

* Density is between 5k-8k per square mile (twice as dense as Palo Alto, half as dense as Cambridge, MA)

* The density and layout should support a high walkability index. There should be a grocery store, barber, coffeeshop, pharmacy, etc, within a half-mile to a mile of most housing.

* Housing arranged in blocks, with a shared yard for all people on the block. So each house would have a small patio owned by the home owner. Behind that would be a collective yard/green area shared by all the neighbors on the block. This shared area might have a basketball hoop, swimming pool, jungle-gym, soccer nets, BBQ pit or whatever the residents wanted. It would be behind all the housing, and thus insulated from the city. The block should be small enough that pretty much any parent can look out their window and see their kids playing. Basically, any parent should feel perfectly safe just letting their five-year old kid play outside in the common backyard with other kids.

* The road system should be optimized around bicycles, scooters, and microcars (like the Carver or Automoto, because bicycles are not so good for older people in the winter). Roads would have two narrow lanes in each direction, a left-hand lane for 25MPH scooters and roadbikes, and a right-hand lane for slower bicycles and roller bladers. Cars would only be allowed on main arterials, driving a car on the bike roads would require a $10 per day special pass. Optimizing around bikes and mini-vehicles allows for getting between point A & B very quickly, but limits congestion, pollution, and the expense of a full-sized car.

Things I don't like about OP's dream:

* it feels to claustrophobic. I like green space.

* walking is just much slower than biking, so I prefer biking.

* it is really not pleasant to have both bikes and mopeds using the same narrow streets. One of the least pleasant aspects of traveling in a a classical city core is having the mopeds buzz by you at 20MPH.

* row housing looks nice from the outside, but severely limits the amount of sunlight coming inside. I greatly prefer standalone units that have windows on all four-sides.

* In general, I think that very dense, old school cities can be more pleasant to visit for a little while, than to actually live in long term. There is a reason why most people in those countries do not wish to live in such housing or build more housing like it.

The biggest problem in general with doing a city-as-a-startup is jobs. Due to the winner-takes-all nature of the economy, the highest paying jobs are concentrated in a few metro areas where the big winning companies reside. I'm not sure how you bootstrap the economy of the new city.

You've just designed most European cities, except for the standalone blocks.

See Dan Gilbert & Detroit. It's essentially what he is doing though it's reliant on existing architecture.

You mean buying blighted property, hyping it as "cool" to sell it at a profit, then leaving the suckers to live in a area with high taxes, poor services, abysmal schools, and high crime?

I've always thought about doing this in an area within commuting distance of a city with a good job market, to help bootstrap itself. There are some smaller cities on the east coast that have some large sized areas with very cheap properties.

I have had similar thoughts in the UK, where there is a serious problem with housing.

> [...] driving a car on the bike roads would require a $10 per day special pass [...]

Or just determine the maximum number of cars you can support, and auction off the permits. (That's what they do in Singapore.)

In the US that is considered to favor the rich too much. A car (or two or three) is part of the american dream, and restricting that based on class would get very unpopular very quickly. You would see civil action similar to that in SF against the google busses.

This being a for-profit endeavour, they would just sell extra permits to anyone who asked.

Not necessarily - if gridlock is too bad then owning a car isn't worthwhile. In theory, an auction system and good planning ought to keep permit levels at the point where selling another permit would push down the value of all the permits to a a net loss.

In practice, it's going to be a lot clumsier than that (say, take last year's number and add 3%), but auctions and long-term planning can still rein in sales.

Not necessarily. Constrained supply can provide for pretty good profits.

I really like your city plan. Ideally I want to live somewhere I can walk or bike to everywhere I need to go but still have the neighborhood feel that I grew up with.

Well I live in Palma de Mallorca (Balearic Islands) but work from Madrid. I've give up in living in Madrid because I can´t stand the fact that anything you do needs a 30 min by car or subway minimum. I've also lived in Barcelona and other small cities like Salamanca that would be a better example of a walking city.

I have chosen to commute a 1 hour plane to work (I work in 3-4 days spans and then several days off, so it´s doable) because I rather go walking everywhere, or if I have to take a car, it only takes 3 min to get there.

- More dense cities are more pleasant to live. - More slow paced live. - You meet people you know all the time (you don´t stop to talk to unknown people usually), which is nice and necessary. We are social animals after all. - You usually end knowing most neighbor businesses owners and clerks, also you also get to know other neighbors around your street. - It´s very productive, you can get most stuff done in 15 min tops.

But to do it from scratch there are certain parts that you mention that must be taken in to account.

- You need green parks than old medieval cities, they must be a central part of the planning. They give air, and the much needed green surroundings we need. They also help giving more luminosity to the city. Old cities were that tight because they needed to be inside walls for protection, that´s not the case any more, and density it´s not such a priority anymore. - You MUST limit the size of the city. Above 200k and 300k residents, it starts growing too much and expanding to levels where you need mayor infrastructure to handle the volume of people getting to popular locations. The effect of a small city is lost (or at least you start loosing it). It would be better to build a group or constellation, of small cities connected by train, and surrounded by parks and industrial zones. - Parking is a mayor problem, you can deal with it, if you plan for big parkings outside the city and good public transport, and mandatory parking below the buildings (if you are starting from scratch, in Barcelona is impossible). Also if it´s well planed a lot of people don´t need to own a car. -Sunlight is a problem for row housing, but if they are well designed and oriented ( for example if you have a narrow street at the front, you get a big patio), with interior patios and attics, you can get a very nice urban landscape (with terrace gardens included) for the upper floors, and the patio to the lower ones. Patios are a central part of some urban Mediterranean cities, most live was lived facing to them. -Bikes are better channeled to more central and wide streets, and only allowed to go to the narrow ones to get to the destination (going slow at that parts). This is something that small cities like Ferrara (Italy) have pretty much nailed, but others like Palma de Mallorca are slowly iterating to solve.

Living in a small city makes you change the way you live, it´s a different mentality, sometimes people from Madrid or Barcelona get shocked by the change and can't handle it. Their usual complains are:

-I can't get all the options I got on my big city (theaters, museums, events, parties, etc..). Well this is true, but the fact is that when asked this people usually don´t go out of their neighborhoods, and rarely go to the theater or museums. You can have the same rate of Museum visits, going as a tourist once a year. -People is more nosy and opinionated about your live. Well this is true, and can be difficult to adapt for city or suburb people. But I´ve noticed that most internet social apps are designed to replicate this nosy live. We are social beings, and when you live isolated in a suburb home, you still need to be in contact with people.

At the end it´s very very pleasant to go to buy bread and start talking with one neighbor or a friend for 10 min (if you want of course, you can always go your way saying hello). Even now a day it´s much individualistic than it used to be. My grandmother used to tell me how they all knew each other, not only in their street, but in their neighborhood. This happened when everybody had problems to get food or money, and people had to help and get help in a daily basis.

We need people around and small cities give a nice compromise between the small tribe that we evolved in and the big community where everything it´s possible. Every time I read comments at HN about social Apps(to get new contacts) or being a loner, or an introvert, I see that those are problems that are seem to be much smaller here in southern Europe. Here hardcore introverts still exist, but they seem to be more scarce, and people use social apps a lot, but they still see each other in a weekly or daily basis (that is, when living in the same city). Dating apps are used, but you still can go out, and meet people you know that will introduce you to new people.

"You need green parks than old medieval cities, they must be a central part of the planning"

Worth comparing the Old and New towns of Edinburgh - the latter has lovely shared private gardens as well as public parks - shared private gardens are ideal as far as I am concerned as I like gardens but hate gardening!


We have access to lovely large gardens 10 minutes from the center of the city:


I love Edinburgh, I was there last year and found it an amazing city. IMHO you need parks (between large and small, squares, public open spaces) not more than 5 blocs away from any street. It really makes the city breath.

Every city needs an ancient castle on the eroded plug of an extinct volcano as a centerpiece ;-)

You've described Celebration [1], the town developed by Disney.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celebration,_Florida

I've always imagined that a "human-centric" city of the future would simply move most of its automobiles one level up or down. Many dense cities already have subways. It'd be expensive but not inconceivable to move all car-width roads into an underground level or onto dedicated skyways, although the latter seems more likely to create issues with lighting and whatnot.

In Seattle, we're tearing down a horrible ugly elevated viaduct on the waterfront and replacing it with a deep-bore underground tunnel. It's turning out to be a difficult and expensive mess, but the promise is a much more appealing human-centric waterfront/downtown core.

Why would you need ubiquitous automobiles in a human scale city, though?

I'd rather have sky walkways above ground-level cars for a lot of reasons; Hong Kong's central district does this quite well.

Most of the examples of "good" architecture seem to come from Japan, so let me chime in that from my little experience of walking through these kind of Japanese streets that they are very pleasant and inviting for traveling in by foot, and mix very well with car and public transit thoroughfares used to separate small neighborhoods/precincts.

Japan's low-crime culture helps a lot to keep such density pleasant.

If you're interested in this topic, I highly recommend this long series of articles: http://www.newworldeconomics.com/archives/tradcityarchive.ht...

If we wanted to build the ideal city and cost weren't a concern, we could really expand on the use of underground for transportation. The best cities for humans tend to have great subway systems, but in theory we could do a lot more. Basically all parking and most arterial roads could be underground, leaving above-ground an almost-entirely pedestrian paradise. Sure, driving in an endless tunnel doesn't sound terribly pleasant, but the idea is to get people from A to B efficiently, then out of the car. Unfortunately building this kind of infrastructure under existing cities would be prohibitively expensive.

Under a new town you might be able to do it much more cheaply (which isn't to say cheaply in an absolute sense), but of course the economic incentive isn't there at that point.

That said, with services like Uber, and much more so, driverless vehicles, hopefully the desire to bring a car along wherever we go will begin to ebb in the near future, making the narrow street vision described here much less of a compromise. I imagine those times when you need a car to get somewhere, spending some of the time weaving around through carts and pedestrians would be much less frustrating if you can kick back and read a book while it's happening. Even more though, there would be less concern of servicing parking for these sorts of regions, so you could still have a few arterial roads to get in and out, far less wasted parking space, and no need to build underground mazes to accomplish it.

Unfortunately, putting fuel driven cars underground is incredibly dangerous. One major fire could asphyxiate many people. Even in reasonably small tunnels there have been major disasters: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mont_Blanc_Tunnel

Good point (although you would hope better ventilation could help with that?) Regardless, we should be (finally) seeing more electric cars in the near future (not that they can't catch fire). Anyway, I don't think underground road situations are actually practical, just that it would be nice to use that third dimension more in an ideal world.

Yea, current electric cars don't really solve the problem as batteries are prone to fire. If we want underground vehicles, we need wire connected electric.

AKA subways, really. And cities with excellent subway systems really do come close to this ideal. It makes it feel like anywhere in town is walkable.

I feel a little bit of cargo-cult in the article. The fact that someone spends money to go in some crammed place depends on a number of factors like the touristic quality of that place (which is mostly related to its history), on how's it being promoted outside, on how different it is from other places (with a zillion of details that makes the given place it special compared to other ones), and many other factors. The fact that it is crammed may even not be important at all!

This article on an urban planner's objection to suburbs on financial grounds (most succinctly put as suburbs are a ponzi scheme) is relevant for thinking about why this project is -- relative to a more suburban/sprawl alternative -- less costly than it seems:


small city in austria, pretty much like described by OP. then a strip mall was built outside the city, cafés, bars and a cinema included. the inner city died out in a matter of months - only the elderly stayed.

small mom&pop shops in the city you can reach by foot? sounds nice in theory, but this also means running to 10 different shops, lugging your purchases around for the whole trip. honestly - driving to a strip mall where you can buy everything and store the shopping in your trunk is just a lot more convenient. i mean, as soon as you have to get in the car to do the shopping, the strip mall always wins. i live in a big city and do the grocery shopping per pedes almost every day - but i don't need much (don't have to shop for a 3-4 hungry mouths).

it might work as an alternative - for people that are fed up with the car centrist society and actively seek out a place where the community takes its place. i'm just not sure that small, village friendly businesses would be competitive when strip malls are around.

I really like the original idea of epcot - create a city as a rolling 'city of tomorrow' with rapid iteration on design - the way we approach at lot of things we're unlikely to get right the first time.

Say what you want about Walt Disney - epcot as originally envisioned would have been amazing.

On a serious note, what would the requirements/steps to move towards this be?

My guess is some combination of:

- Money

- Initial pre-committed residents

- Habitable land

- Management

And then the main thing left, is, I believe, approval?

Which leads to my questions:

- What is the legality? Where is it legal? Where is it illegal? Or if legal, what are the chances/what is needed for approval?

You need a few hundred acres of property and you need to get it zoned appropriately. Then you need to get either investment money, or court groups of developers to build this.

Establish a development committee and some staff to bringing commercial businesses and people looking for office space (so the people living there have some place to work). Local county/city transport authorities to build transit links into the development. Ensure they can get into and out of the area cleanly, it won't work if it's an island. Most of your population will be commuting into and out of it no matter what you do.

Build it in phases and sell it as you go. You'll need to build the residential sections first (businesses can't survive without customers).

Hire an advertising team to draw people in and blanket the region with adverts. Work with local real-estate brokers to hi-light this as a destination they should show all clients during a house hunt -- even people not looking for a place like this.

His ideas are great!

There must be a way to finance the planning and construction of a neighborhood along these lines, or finance the political effort it would take to designate a zone "traditional".

In an immediate sense, we can encourage trad neighborhoods by asking city councils to slightly change laws that allow smallness and interestingness to take hold. Let vendors set up stands. Open up alleyways. Close off a few streets to traffic.

Another way is to go big and get mega developers to build post-shopping shopping malls that are actually traditional cities. But the big approach has not worked so well in the past!

In India, the population density around many streets in the city is very high. As a result, all streets appear traditional human scale though they are not designed for that. http://im.rediff.com/money/2009/apr/28city5.jpg http://cdn.citylab.com/media/img/citylab/legacy/2012/09/06/R...

Why not make a housing sandwich? (of sorts)

Like this:


It costs a bit of land, but the area would be much nicer.

Mostly because if you're trying to do this kind of thing, you're trying to maximize activity per frontage so that there are enough people on the street to enliven it. If you have public right-of-way on both the front and back of the buildings, you've doubled the frontage without increasing the activity, so the place is only half as alive. In the very center, you might be able to do it; as it gets toward the edges, you need all the activity you can get.

Well I have two suggestions, go aboard a mega cruise ship to see how you can make an enclosed area look inviting and varied at that. I would aim for an enclosed space even with separation of buildings and such simply because it will allow you to heat and cool it efficiently and have open areas pretty much immune to weather.

There are some amazing resorts constructed this way and no reason a whole town cannot be as well.

Fun exploration. I'd love to see something similar but for a city design built around shared self driving cars. I don't put much fundamental value in walkability. I put value in being able to get to a variety of types of things quickly and easily. Keeping those things within walking range of each other is one way. Autonomous vehicles is another.

The term "over-engineering" comes to mind when arguing self-driving cars vs walking. Also, cars keep us lazy and fat.

Over engineering? How so? Self driving cars would be amazing for improving our lives. Simply eliminating wasted time in my commute would be killer. I could spend that time doing whatever I wanted. Napping, reading, or by simply spending 90 minutes of my 8 hour work day on a laptop in an autonomous vehicle with LTE.

Blaming cars for people being lazy and fat is itself incredibly lazy.

It just seems out of place in this conversation. This is about discoverability while you're talking versatility. It's about having people around, being a living, breathing city.

While having a network of isolated silos with 45 hour commutes in autonomous vehicles is an interesting idea, it is in direct conflict with the vision espoused here. It'll be hard to reconcile the two.

I want to clarify that I find self-driving cars an amazing engineering achievement and will almost certainly make roads safer. However, I would almost certainly spend the extra 90 minutes a day in a self-driving car catching up on sleep, assuming the auto-drive was reliable enough to not need human oversight in case of emergency. And this doesn't even address the pollution issue from excess driving.

Also, there is plenty of evidence that sitting and driving, instead of walking, affects obesity rates:


you could do the same on public transport...

Or maybe question why you have the long commute at all...

> Founding our own town is tempting - rural land is cheap

You guys in the US are so lucky! Large areas of land all for the taking.

In my country, most of the land is built full. Cities and towns do not end, they just touch other towns and the residences continue. What land remains is either designated forest land, or for agriculture. You are not allowed to build residences on those.

Out of curiosity, what country are you talking about?

A small European one :)

LOL his plan is to find buyers of land for $348,000/acre ... That is, the first half of his buyers will make that investment knowing that the neighboring parcels will be mostly undeveloped until a critical mass of them are sold.

There is no way to get that off the ground. It is like if nitcoin started at $1000

Interesting article, I agree with most of the authors ideas. Converting double-lane streets to uni-directional, and planting trees on the other half + larger sidewalk, would brighten up many streets as well.

I suggest using a CDN for the images. It took me ~10 min to load them. E.g. fastly or CloudFront.

Funny how everybody here doesn't care who their neighbours are. That's at the top of my concerns when moving. I've visited american suburbs and it impressed me as antisocial, selfish and lacking culture. Like a small town filled with nouveau riche.

Really sounds like the author just needs to move to Europe or Asia...

I want a walking city with no cars. maybe golf carts. If we could just remove all the cars from san francisco I would be happy

Would this even be legal, given fire codes?

It works fine in a bunch of the rest of the world.

OK, but not so close to the highway, nobody should have to live there it will be loud and highly polluted.

Public transit is good. Definitely include it in your city.

But what you really need to kill automobile dependence is a way to transport goods throughout your city without a human to shepherd it along. You need to have train cars that can automatically load and unload palletized goods, and a package routing network for smaller items. Your pizza delivery will consist of the restaurant putting your food into a standardized container and pushing the "send" button. When you shop, you send your purchases directly home from the store instead of carrying them with you for the rest of the evening.

Cars aren't just for getting to distant places fast. They are also for moving stuff around too heavy for you to carry around everywhere you go. I once bought an air conditioner window unit in downtown Chicago and took it home on the El. That was such a hassle that I became much less reticent about giving up my parking spot afterward. It wasn't long after that when I stopped walking the six blocks to Jewel to buy as much food as I could carry home in my arms and started driving across the state border to buy as much as I could store in my home without spoilage.

City simulators that track the movement of people are fine, but they are incomplete if you can't also track the non-people items that also move around and transform within residences and businesses. Food, water, power, clothing, necessities, luxuries, raw materials, sewage, and trash all move around semi-independently, and in most cities, a lot of that moves around in a human-piloted vehicle.

Power moves through conductive cables. Drinking water does through pipes. Data goes through glass fibers or conductive wires. Fuel gas moves through pipes. Sewage moves through pipes. But then we have garbage trucks, delivery trucks, and cars moving everything else. Where are the pipes for that stuff?

Intermodal containerized shipping changed the world. But you can't exactly manage your household deliveries with a metal box 20m long. But thanks to them, most everything that makes it to your house once fit on a pallet or inside a shopping cart. Construct a container standard around those sizes and make your transportation infrastructure handle the containers, and your city no longer needs postal workers, delivery drivers, solid waste collectors, or anyone else whose entire job is to take things and move them to other places.

But something like that is going to be more expensive, and it has to be 99.99999% reliable. You'll need to be a lot more dense than suburban housing to afford that, especially when you have to invent and bootstrap all the tech yourself.

Edit: I bet you could probably get bootstrap funding from the logistics command of a national army and trial the system on a military base. What you would likely end up with is a rugged plastic cube-shaped crate with 4-way entry for forklifts and handtrucks, and attachment points for parachutes, chains, ropes, or tie-down straps. That would be your large container. Your small container would probably be a little less than 1/8 the size.

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