Suburbia and the American Dream

This article most certainly is in the category of “If you can only read a couple of posts, make this one of them”!

Article Link at Strong Towns: Suburbia and the American Dream

Suburban sprawl, characterized by enormous houses, big-box stores, massive park­ing lots, and high-traffic multi-lane roads, is in conflict with the tradi­tional wisdom about the connection between the built environment and the moral order. This doesn’t mean that all people who live in suburbia are somehow morally deficient, or that those who live in cities are angels. But there is, nevertheless, a relationship between the places we build and how we flourish as human beings.

The suburbs came to represent habits of materialism and isolation. Middle-class families left urban neigh­borhoods for larger, more secluded homes on the city outskirts, where drive­ways pushed homes away from the street and garages replaced the semi-public realm of front porches. Few suburbs had a clear neighborhood center. For the first time, it was easy and inexpen­sive to live, work, shop, learn, and pray in places that were miles apart. Because of the automobile, communities could now be physically separated from deeply rooted social bonds, places of worship, and civic institutions.

We find it easier to drive to a big-box store for all our needs than to patronize smaller local stores. Most of us are not yet willing to give up a 2,400 square-foot house with a giant front lawn, especially if we have chil­dren. We can’t imagine living any other way, though many of our grandparents raised families larger than our own in homes half the average size of a modern suburban house. Well-meaning parents have bought into the faulty idea that sprawl is necessarily better for raising and educating children.

Citizens and municipal governments alike are learning that sprawl is no longer fiscally sustainable and that there must be alternative ways to build. The price of gasoline and expense of car ownership underscore the practical value of mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods. The high cost of building and maintaining roads and infrastructure means low-density suburbs with lower land values take on so much debt from building sprawl that the payments last longer than the lifetime of the improvements.

In some cities, Form-Based Codes now address problems created by con­ventional zoning. They allow mixed-uses, require main street buildings to be closer to the street, deal with parking more sensibly, and ensure that build­ings aren’t too big for the neighbor­hood’s character. The small successes of the New Urbanist movement are knit­ting back together the threads of com­munities whose fabric was torn apart in the last century.


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