DESIGNING SUBURBS: BEYOND NEW URBANISM

New Tucson Housing Project

It is not primarily the fault of land developers that the American suburbs are thought to be dysfunctional and mundane. The blame belongs largely to the influence of boiler-plate zoning regulations combined with design consultants who seek the most minimum criteria allowed by city regulations.

Yet for all its problems, decade after decade 80% of new home purchases are not urban, but suburban. Some (architects, planners, and university professors) suggest we should emulate the dense growth of other nations not blessed with the vast area of raw land within our country, yet most of those countries as they prosper strive to emulate our American suburbs.

The planning of our cities is about design. Yet, for the past quarter century a highly organized group consisting mostly of architects (acting as planners) have pushed a New Urbanist agenda that is as much about social engineering as it is design.

Their ’The Congress of New Urbanism’ (cnu.org) preaches of the world to come where all people of all races and incomes live in harmony along straight streets where densely compacted homes are aligned perfectly along a tight grid. This ’New Urbanism’ is exactly how cities were designed before contemporary suburbia. In this sense they are not so much new, but as they themselves suggest “neo traditional”.

To convince others of the evils of suburbia they present the worst suburban examples lacking proper design as emblematic of their essence. Their solution is to forever banish suburban growth by whatever means necessary—usually through regulation — that essentially eliminates choice for the  consumer.

For most urban planning professors there appears to be just one singular solution: ever higher levels of density and a return towards the urban core. Young students study such models but, from my experience as a land planner, are grossly under-educated about what works in suburbia, where the majority of growth has been, and, short of a total political triumph of “progressive” planners or another catastrophic recession, will continue to take place.

One tragic result of this anti-suburban meme is that very little attention is played to how to improve suburban development, where design standards have stagnated since the mid-1950s. That is, until now… A new era of innovation made possible by technological advancements solves most, if not all, of the suburban growth problems, in a manner that deflates the New Urbanist ’one solution fits all’ agenda.

Read entire article here: http://www.newgeography.com/content/005178-designing-suburbs-beyond-new-urbanism

CONCLUSION

If land developers stopped contracting (paying) engineering consultants for mundane plat geometry to regulatory minimums and demanded better, change would be immediate. If universities taught design and collaboration instead of social engineering, we would have hope for a better future, both suburban and urban. If consultants imagined themselves living in the neighborhoods they design, we would have change. Complacency—not the idea of suburbia—is the primary cause of unsustainable growth. Suburban developers today must rediscover of the innovation that characterized the first wave of builders, who created, however imperfectly, an unprecedented wave of property ownership and privacy. Our challenge now is not to reject suburbia but to look for something that goes beyond replicating tradition, but actually improves how we live and interact with the natural world, and each other.

New Geography Article by Rick Harrison dated Feb 26 2016

This essay is part of a new report from the Center for Opportunity Urbanism called “America’s Housing Crisis.” The report contains several essays about the future of housing from various perspectives. Follow this link to download the full report (pdf).

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