Tuesday, February 22, 2005

From the Book Suburban Nation, the Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream

I have mentioned this book before, but I cannot be stronger in my recommendation of Suburban Nation, The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck, founders of the Congress for the New Urbanism

Here is the intro on Amazon. The contention of these architects and Urban Planners is that sprawl is destroying the very fabric of America and civilized society. They do not believe in "no growth" (they build homes and design communities) but in "smart growth" which keeps public spaces, parks, linear streets, a mix of residential and commercial buildings and a mix of socio-economic classes. They have built many communities with this in mind, including Seaside in north Florida.

Here is a provocative paragraph from the Chapter entitled "The Physical Creation of Society," which laments over the lack of public spaces (parks, walkways, squares- walkable spaces where we come into physical contact with neighbors to talk and interact) and need to be in the automobile for everything.

"In the suburbs, time normally spent in the physical public realm is now spent in the
automobile, which is a private space as well as a potentially sociopathic device. The average
American, when placed behind the wheel of a car, ceases to be a citizen and becomes instead
a motorist. As a motorist, you cannot get to know your neighbor, because the prevailing
relationship is competitive. You are competing for asphalt, and if you so much as hesitate or
make a wrong move, your neighbor immediately punishes you, by honking the horn, taking
your space, running into you, or committing some other antisocial act, the most egregious of
which have been well documented. Like drinking, driving has become a well-worn excuse for
all sorts of rudeness and aggression- "it couldn't be helped; he cut me off." The social
contract is voided. Why this is so is worthy of further study. Suffice it to say that only rarely
do two pedestrians gesture violently at each other as they pass."

As a minister this book gives me insight into some of the factors that combine for those in society and our congregations to feel isolation from the rest of those in their communities.

Can we destroy the suburbs and rebuild them properly?

link to New Urbanism website


james said...

Man. Reading that second paragraph hit home regarding the Boston commute. I feel like a very bitter individual when driving here. Mostly, because the rules of the road obeyed by the other 49 states, don't apply here.

I defintely contibute to this problem.

Anonymous said...

hey wait a minute isn't Milton Keynes in the UK a town planned from scratch,revolting same as Manukau City part of Auckland NZ where I'm from planned from scratch and without any soul and what about Portland Oregan where the new urbanists have imposed their will on the people and the shops at the transport nodes are unleasable because it's not what the market wants and who wants to live in a three level apartment next to a railway? In Dallas Texas there are no planning controls and housing increases in value at about inflation unlike planned cities where land supply is controlled where people like me make money by buying up multiple properties and riding on the excessive property inflation.sure if new types of developments are more popular let the market decide but dont let some townplanner fresh out of university impose his misguided ideals on the rest of us Simon B