Saturday, April 28, 2012

The End of Suburbia: Death By Sprawl Parts I & II

I recommend this urban design series by architect Vanessa Quirk, "Saving Suburbia Part 1: Bursting the Bubble" and "Saving Suburbia Part II: Getting the Soccer Moms On Your Side". What's coming to light now are the cold, hard statistics: poverty in suburban America has increased by 53% in the last ten years, and the suburbs now have a higher percentage of the nation's poor than cities do. And this was true before the economic collapse of 2008. Furthermore, the average miles driven by people aged 16 to 34 has dropped by 23%, from over 10,000 miles per capita to 7,600 per capita.

"But, these are just facts and figures. It’s hard to imagine what it really means to be poor in Suburbia, especially when the ‘burbs persist in seeming so darn idyllic.
So let’s think about that idyllic suburban lay-out for a second: consider how it was designed, and for who (Commuters and Soccer Moms, ostensibly), and how it has grown along long, linear corridors. The suburbs are almost perfectly designed to make the lives of the “disencarchised” poor as miserable as possible."
My own experience in the suburbs was that it's nice to have a walkable/bikeable downtown shopping district, but if you don't have a bus system that connects you to a job, in a reasonable amount of time, you are totally screwed as a worker. Social critics like James Howard Kunstler have been predicting the death of the suburbs for a decade or more. Some urban planners are advocating for a redesign of the suburbs into small-plot garden developments that provide local food for residents. I'm putting my bet on the 'death by sprawl' camp: rising gasoline prices will take more cars off the road, while jobs migrate to urban peripheries where their workers can take public transportation to work. Some architects are predicting that mega-cities, like New York City, will also prove to be uneconomic in the coming decade of shrinking resources. Perhaps what we are witnessing now is an evolution in the relationship between society and environment: finding the ideal size and density of an urban centre.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post Shaun. Our new documentary begins where The END of SUBURBIA (2004) left off, with the question of suburban collapse looming. I agree with your "death by sprawl" analysis - What we're finding in Canada is the challenge in connecting our densifying suburbs (Toronto, Vancouver) as they grow into successful urban centres themselves. Similiar urbanism needs urgently to be adapted more in U.S. suburbs. It's one way we can start bringing people's ecological footprints down too. Our new doc DeepCITY will ask the question (and set our thesis) "what if cities could save the world?" . I will be subscribing to this blog, keep up the great work!
    -Greg Greene