End of the Suburbs Book Discussion Pt.1

While critical of her argument(s), there is compelling material in Leigh Gallagher’s book worth discussing.

I wanted to unpack this core summation of hers:

“The new homes and communities being planned for the next phase of our development will be better suited to our needs. They will factor in the mistakes of the past to make things better for our future. They will reduce our dependency on the car. They will be developed around places where people can naturally interact with one another. They will be located closer to where we work and closer to the things we need, which will give us more time with our families and friends and more time to pursue all of the things we like to do. These changes won’t happen overnight, but they will ultimately lead to more choice, more freedom, and richer lives. And that will be a happy ending for everyone.”

They will reduce our dependency on the car.

Living conditions that deny people the freedom to choose how they get around are falling out of favor. People may want to bike to a park or work or walk to church, restaurant, school or a neighborhood store. In most suburban subdivisions this is simply not possible, especially those without sidewalks and those with single-use zoning.

They will be developed around places where people can naturally interact with one another.

Again, if everything around your home is other homes, there are precious few options for public interaction, so-called ‘third places’. However, if you live in a traditional suburb (pre-WW2), you often can walk three blocks to a series of corner restaurants or shops, a local library or community hall.

They will be located closer to where we work and closer to the things we need, which will give us more time with our families and friends and more time to pursue all of the things we like to do.

Gallagher emphasizes how time is the most important commodity for more people, especially free time. Free time obviously takes many forms, but one type previously mythologized (solitary driving with the radio on/off, windows down/up) is no longer popular, especially with the young and the old. People desire time with friends or family, time for themselves to concentrate on a podcast or song, time to reflect and relax. This time is gobbled up by long auto commutes to work and shopping. 

The Older Suburb Advantage

As mentioned in my review, its hard for Gallagher to proclaim the suburbs are ending while she rightly qualifies that older suburbs are in so many ways better suited to emerging market changes and varied demand. Even better, older suburbs can respond without requiring new greenfield development or massive new housing developments that incur large legacy infrastructure costs or necessitate tax hikes. 

They naturally allow for mixed-use development and recasting, connected street and transportation networks, and meeting multiple housing needs and preferences. In the many cities and towns I have visited in the past decade from Washington State to Kentucky, I have observed those areas responding to market demand in ways that typical suburban subdivisions simply cannot*.

 

*My latter discussion will focus on how typical suburban subdivisions can escape this trap.

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