Archive for the ‘economics’ Tag

Video on New Urbanism Neighborhoods

Take a bit of time to watch this video made by the Congress for New Urbanism. It explains why America has become so suburbanized and car obsessed. Building codes generally forbid building mixed used development as a way to avoid “the hassles of city life.” Having building codes where only one type of zone (such as commercial or residential) separates these different types of areas from being integrated together. In my mind the stratification caused by consistent one-type zoning is similar to the Jim Crow laws- a regression and obstacle for integration and social equity.

This video puts a lot of emphasis on low carbon emission neighborhoods, and I believe they are targeting the wrong characteristics and benefits of New Urbanism. Yes, low carbon is good but it likely isn’t a primary deciding factor of most Americans. Americans would rather live in somewhere exciting- a place that is unique in its own right. Some people might like where they live because it’s a small town. Others might like where they live because they have little space to maintain, or a lot of space for a large house with a large backyard and pool. Economists have always said you cannot explain preferences of people, so urban planners need to account for the different living styles some prefer. This is the greatest challenge for planners. At the same time very few Americans have lived in a planned New Urbanist/ Old Urbanist/ Traditional Neighborhood style environment, and have yet to decide if it is good or not, only the connotation formed by their previous experiences. Hopefully some of these videos will change some minds.

Max Stember-Young, Rutgers University Student Intern, VERTICES LLC

For additional information on New Urbanism, check out www.newurbanism.org

Advertisements

History of Suburbanization

Ever since the 1950’s, America has been suburbanizing. As GI’s returned from service after WWII, they were given subsidized loans to buy new houses. Developers took advantage and bought cheap land outside main living areas and developed them into single family homes. It was “The American Dream” to have your family own a single family house with a front and back yard with a driveway and garage for your family car. Take a look at any advertisement for a car from those times and you will see they were sold as family items. It was all about family- moving to the suburbs kept your kids safe from all the crime, pollution, traffic, etc that American cities had been known for. Afterall, cities were the first places immigrants would come to (New York because of Ellis Island for example). Immigrants most often would have very little of anything if not nothing at all, fueling the benefits of theft and reputation. Cities grew to be known as unsafe because of the rampant crime and violence associated with it.

1948- A typical photo promoting the suburbs as family places. Derived from: www.urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com

1948- A typical photo promoting the suburbs as family places. Derived from: http://www.urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com

The saving grace from this was the car, which allowed for suburbanization. You could now live outside the city where it was safer, and commute to your work place in your car. Llewellyn Park, NJ, what many scholars call the first suburb, was designed by “a New York business man who practiced the religious doctrine of the Perfectionists, who believed that spiritual or moral perfection could be attained, and planned the development for fellow believers.”  Naturally, more developments sprung up along roads and highways (as well as train and trolley lines) into the city, as people needed to commute to their place of work. The suburbs were desirable, expensive, and dominantly white middle to upper class families. The problem now was that the stay at home parent (in the 50’s, the American Dream said the mother was to do this) needed to still run errands, so a second car was needed so the mother didn’t have to carry the groceries over a long distance over busy roadways; more space was needed to house the car at home, more space was needed to park it at the shops, and more roads were needed to deal with the capacity of all the cars driving different places. It was great for the economy- Americans needed more and it put millions if not billions to work on roads, new houses, real estate agents, bankers, insurance agents, car manufacturers, engineers, etc., etc.

Only now are more people starting to realize this is not a sustainable economy.

As a result of suburbia, architecture and social life as suffered. Many places are biased in terms of age. Children cannot go to downtown areas, visit their friends, or even play at the park without a parent driving them as it is unsafe to walk on the roads, or too far in distance, and there is no public transport because it is not economically sensible or sustainable. Architecture suffered because businesses that survived during that era moved their buildings back to allow for excessive parking in front. Architecture didn’t matter from the street if the building is separated by 100’s of feet of (often empty) parking pavement. Think Big Box Retail.

Severely underutilized space, a product of the 1950's culture of suburbanization

Severely underutilized space, a product of the 1950's culture of suburbanization

As new generations have replaced the old, the 1950’s dream has started to fade. It was successfully passed down to at least one generation (children of the 50’s and 60’s), but as the newest generation of young adults arises, hopefully the collective image of American cities can change.

Max Stember-Young, Rutgers University Student Intern, Vertices, LLC

Quoted material drawn from: http://www.sha.state.md.us/keepingcurrent/maintainRoadsBridges/bridges/oppe/suburbs/B-1.pdf

Picture from: http://farm1.static.flickr.com/43/108082998_12da719cd5_o.jpg