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Get a Bird's-Eye View of America's Housing Patterns
January 25, 2013 7:10 AM   Subscribe

See the big picture of how suburban developments are changing the country's landscape, with aerial photos and an architect's commentary
posted by blue_beetle (94 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
James Howard Kunstler - The Tragedy of Suburbia - TED Lecture

I disagree with some of the way he makes his points and some of his conclusions, but it's a good overview of the differences between architecture and whatever the hell suburbia is.
posted by tripping daisy at 7:25 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Like it--Saved to my Ideabook!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:28 AM on January 25, 2013 [9 favorites]


The commentary is incomplete because it fails to mention the soul destroying random or themed noun compouding street naming practices of suburbia.
posted by srboisvert at 7:44 AM on January 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


Previously (Self-link)
posted by schmod at 7:45 AM on January 25, 2013


Random? They're named after what used to be there. Oak Grove? Chopped them down. Vista Way? Can't see a thing. Sweet Spring? Filled with runoff from the lawns.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:46 AM on January 25, 2013 [15 favorites]


Probably better expressed in a comment to the author, but he's incorrect about the Columbus, OH example being the "end-of-the-line" because the power lines don't extend any further since:

1)They do, they turn sharply to the south (assuming north up)
2)Those aren't power lines so much as high tension transmission lines. They wouldn't terminate in a residential neighborhood without a serious substation.
posted by hwyengr at 7:48 AM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Looking at overhead shots like these remind me: A City Is Not A Tree
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:50 AM on January 25, 2013


Random? They're named after what used to be there. Oak Grove? Chopped them down. Vista Way? Can't see a thing. Sweet Spring? Filled with runoff from the lawns.

I've always found a wonderful irony in individuals living in subdivisions/towns/streets with Spanish-style names (Casa la Cuesta, San Juan Capistrano, Miraflores Rd, etc.) in southern California complaining about Hispanic immigration.
posted by andrewesque at 7:53 AM on January 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'd love to live someplace where I could walk to places I actually want to go and have a sense of community and civic life. I also don't want to live too far from my family. So here I am in the 'burbs. I couldn't afford to live in any of the nearby "new urban" developments anyway.
posted by ob1quixote at 7:54 AM on January 25, 2013


If you would rather read Kunstler than watch his TED talk, this old article from The Atlantic is good.

A person visiting somebody in the house directly behind them has to drive for five minutes to do so (or hop the fence) because other roads or pedestrian routes are not provided.

Even as a child (perhaps even more so because I couldn't drive) this infuriated me, but it seems to be the rule in the town where I grew up and still live. Augusta, GA is such a hot bed of NIMBYism that even roads that were clearly meant to connect were blocked off by developers after residents complained about the potential for increased traffic or ease with which people from outside the neighbohood (i.e. black people) could enter. See example here.
posted by TedW at 7:55 AM on January 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Fantastic article, great collection of images and categorization. It reminded me also of a previous MeFi post about Ross Racine's fictional suburb art, where he draws the logical and insane extension of these forms.

Flying across the US in a little airplane is a great way to see all these patterns in their natural setting. I've gotten a few good photos over the years: Mojave, Houston, Lake Havasu City.

Lake Havasu City has the distinction of being the absolute ugliest place I've ever seen from the air. The street grid has this curvy organic feel, like it's a town that grew naturally. But there's nothing natural about this little recreation town on an artificial lake And the residents are poor enough and it's so terribly hot and dry that the "landscaping" is all dusty blasted grey dirt.
posted by Nelson at 7:55 AM on January 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


srboisvert: The commentary is incomplete because it fails to mention the soul destroying random or themed noun compouding street naming practices of suburbia.

In my neighborhood we have the weirdly themed Steelhorse Drive, Leatherstone Lane, Bridlemine Drive and Ponymill Way in amongst the more normal Spruce Hollow, Aspen Grove, Willow Bay, etc.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:57 AM on January 25, 2013


As a city dweller "monotonous, sterile, inefficient and pedestrian unfriendly" would seem to describe most of those areas of tract housing.

Also what you do not see in those photos is the loss of weekends which most suburbanites devote to mowing lawns, blowing leaves, shoveling snow, planting flowers, and driving everywhere. To my way of thinking, if I can hear the sound of a lawn-mower or a leaf-blower, or if I need a car to get to the closest bar, this is for me utterly soul destroying and a place to run from.

I don't know if urban living offers any greater sense of "community." I would say the opposite. For me the anonymity of city life is a huge attraction.
posted by three blind mice at 7:58 AM on January 25, 2013 [8 favorites]


The commentary is incomplete because it fails to mention the soul destroying random or themed noun compouding street naming practices of suburbia.

I spent part of my childhood in a two street themed development. I lived on Merrimac and the next street over was Monitor. It was weird, but it had more personality than most of the developments in that area.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:58 AM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


It pissed me off that there were no links to the aerial views on Google maps, so I tried to find them. Here are the first half, in the order of the article:

Katy, Texas (couldn't find the exact location, but this seems pretty close)

Couldn't find the exact neighborhood in Buffalo, NY either, but look at these insanely long blocks!

Bend, OR (exact)

Bloomington, IN (exact)

Columbus, OH - I couldn't find this one at all, so here's something vaguely similar

Cameron Park, CA (exact)

Palm Valley, FL (exact)

Sausalito, CA (exact)
posted by desjardins at 8:01 AM on January 25, 2013 [9 favorites]


In my neighborhood we have the weirdly themed Steelhorse Drive, Leatherstone Lane, Bridlemine Drive and Ponymill Way...

Do all the houses have strangely over-insulated rooms in the basements?
posted by Etrigan at 8:03 AM on January 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Etrigan: Do all the houses have strangely over-insulated rooms in the basements?

I wish. We have to keep our bizarre sexual furniture in the guest bedroom like normal people. :(
posted by Rock Steady at 8:06 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


TedW: If you would rather read Kunstler than watch his TED talk, this old article from The Atlantic is good.
His website, and especially his weekly column "Clusterfuck Nation", is also quite good, if depressing.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:07 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


While we're talking about this, allow me to rant about one of my favorite urban planning pet peeves: Don't fall prey to the argument that high-rise development leads to meaningful density. High-rise buildings need to be spaced apart to work effectively, and when that's done, it generally destroys the walkability of a place along with any sense of community. "Superblocks" and overbuilt parking allotments make this even worse.

In DC, traditional "rowhouse neighborhoods" like Capitol Hill manage to pack 25,000 people into a square mile, while having virtually no buildings over 2-3 stories tall.

DuPont Circle and Logan Circle's "tenement-era" apartment buildings manage to bring those neighborhoods' density up to around 30-40,000 residents per square mile, while also supporting a thriving business district, and contain very few buildings over 5 stories tall.

Meanwhile, the area's high-rise neighborhoods (Southwest, Clarendon, Bethesda, and Silver Spring) often have far less density (as few as 10,000 residents/mi2 in SW DC), and at best only manage to break even with the more "traditional" low-rise urban neighborhoods (parts of Rosslyn and Ballston have about 40,000/mi2 -- roughly the same as Columbia Heights, despite having considerably taller buildings). Bethesda and Silver Spring don't even come close to Capitol Hill's population densities, despite being dominated by tall buildings.

Basically, what I'm saying is that everything we think we know about urban development is wrong. Low-density suburbia is a problem, but it doesn't have to be that way!. You can have your own comfortably-sized house, a small lawn, a garage, and live in a dense and walkable environment.

There's no logically-coherent explanation for why we stopped building rowhouse cities or "streetcar suburbs." They're perfectly sustainable models that can support us well into the future. We're not faced with a choice between endless sprawl and Corbusier Hell. There's plenty of evidence that the pre-WWII planning paradigms are perfectly usable today.
posted by schmod at 8:09 AM on January 25, 2013 [28 favorites]


Also, I don't like that Kunstler's blog has his photo on it. I always like to imagine him as being the real-life manifestation of Grandpa Simpson.
posted by schmod at 8:09 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Random? They're named after what used to be there. Oak Grove? Chopped them down. Vista Way? Can't see a thing. Sweet Spring? Filled with runoff from the lawns.
There's often a marketing angle, too. Around where I grew up, the town was named with the formula [NATURE_THING_1 + NATURE_THING_2], even though it was built on top of farmland. The neighborhoods/gated communities followed the same formula, or else they were named after ivy league colleges or famous 19th century poets. Everything about the place, right down to the name of the local mall, was designed to project a faux-New England charm, as if to say, "Hey, future parents! If your kids grew up on Baudelaire Court, wouldn't they be destined for great things? Wouldn't you be so totally proud of yourself for doing everything in your power to make sure your genetic offspring quickly and permanently rise to the upper ranks of society, where they will discuss French poetry and the stock market every evening while sipping brandy?" I've always felt this blatant marketing to a certain type of real-estate consumer demographic was central to suburbia's character. The only remnants of what was there before were streets named after the family that owned a large estate in the area two hundred years ago.
posted by deathpanels at 8:10 AM on January 25, 2013


I spent part of my childhood in a two street themed development.

Growing up, the subdivision adjacent to mine was Robin Hood themed. The subdivision was called Sherwood Forest, with street names such as Nottingham Place, Arrow Drive, and Marian Court. Sadly, rather than castles, the houses were just stock mid-60s split levels.
posted by hwyengr at 8:11 AM on January 25, 2013


And the residents are poor enough and it's so terribly hot and dry that the "landscaping" is all dusty blasted grey dirt.

I give them credit. The normal thing to do when you build suburbia in the desert is to take some of that water from the resivoir and irrigate your grass lawn.

They are at least landscaping *with* the land, rather than trying to turn it into the Midwest.
posted by eriko at 8:14 AM on January 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


The photos are a good reminder that "suburb" doesn't mean the same thing everywhere. I've moved a lot. I've lived in at least a half-dozen suburbs. Each one was different. One was the bleakest, most depressing place I've ever lived. Another was the warmest and most socially interactive, with neighborhood parties and everybody glad to watch one another's pets when folks went on vacation. Three suburbs I've lived in had stores within walking distance of my house. One also had a library, schools and a light-rail station within an easy walk. "Suburb" does not have to mean acres of tract homes miles from civilization.
posted by Longtime Listener at 8:21 AM on January 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


I got the exact location for the first Sun City, AZ picture, but I can't find the second.

Glenview, Illinois (exact)

Gated community - no location given for the picture

Chandler, AZ (exact)

Grand Junction, CO. I have no idea on this one, so here's the satellite view.

Highland Gardens, Denver, CO (exact)

CNU Baldwin Park, Orlando, FL

Holiday Park, Boulder, CO
posted by desjardins at 8:22 AM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


> DuPont Circle and Logan Circle's "tenement-era" apartment buildings manage to bring those neighborhoods' density up to around 30-40,000 residents per square mile, while also supporting a thriving business district, and contain very few buildings over 5 stories tall.

Meanwhile, the area's high-rise neighborhoods (Southwest, Clarendon, Bethesda, and Silver Spring) often have far less density


But the high-rise part of Bethesda is only a few blocks, and a lot of that is office space. Then there are a few streets of lower density housing and/or stores around that (plus Bethesda Row, I guess), and that's it. The rest is all upscale suburbs.

Superblocks aside, Isn't Bethesda's lack of density largely because it's not mostly high rises?
posted by postcommunism at 8:26 AM on January 25, 2013


I largely agree with schmod, although I did want to point out that height in DC is regulated. Not that this doesn't make those lessons applicable to other cities, but DC is a slightly unusual case in that the tallest buildings in the metropolitan area are not in the central city, which is the case almost everywhere else.
posted by andrewesque at 8:26 AM on January 25, 2013



I largely agree with schmod, although I did want to point out that height in DC is regulated. Not that this doesn't make those lessons applicable to other cities, but DC is a slightly unusual case in that the tallest buildings in the metropolitan area are not in the central city, which is the case almost everywhere else.


Similar to Paris, where the soulless high rises are in La Defense.
posted by ocschwar at 8:29 AM on January 25, 2013


I lived in far suburban Chicagoland for a couple of years and hate hate hated it. We had one car at the time and my husband had a 40 minute drive to work. Unless I dropped him off, I was absolutely trapped for the day. Now we live approximately here in Milwaukee, and even if both our cars blew up, we could easily take the bus or bike to work. Plus it's much easier to tell the houses apart.
posted by desjardins at 8:31 AM on January 25, 2013


Everything about the place, right down to the name of the local mall, was designed to project a faux-New England charm...

Whereas in merry New England, they were tight-fisted with the names so that every town has streets with exactly the same names: UNION, CENTRAL, PARK, MAIN, PROSPECT, HIGH, PLEASANT. Or even better, ADJOINING-TOWN-THIS-ROAD-MAY-LEAD-TO, or OLD-ADJOINING-TOWN-THIS-ROAD-ONCE-LED-TO, which leads to the perennial question: does the name of the road change depending on which direction I am heading? Or, when all else fails, just name the road after the town it is in. In the town I live in there is a TOWN_NAME RD, TOWN_NAME ST, TOWN_NAME AV... the digital mapping engineers must have been driven to drink.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:32 AM on January 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


There's no logically-coherent explanation for why we stopped building rowhouse cities or "streetcar suburbs." They're perfectly sustainable models that can support us well into the future. We're not faced with a choice between endless sprawl and Corbusier Hell. There's plenty of evidence that the pre-WWII planning paradigms are perfectly usable today.

Isn't the reason that people wanted big house and big lawns rather comfortably sized houses and small lawns? I'm with you in that I find street car suburbs and that density level to be pretty much ideal (I live in Park View in DC right now), but lots of people want more space than that. I'm not saying we should encourage them to have it, but that's why they stopped building street car suburbs.

I just got back from a trip home to see my family in North Carolina. Any of my relatives who aren't actually impoverish (and even some who are) live in suburban homes with big lawns, etc. Every single one of them is flabbergasted that I might prefer to live in a high density area. The appeal of big lawns and lots of room to avoid having contact with other people is strong for some people. For all the complaining of people who dislike suburbia about soulessness a lot of people really like living in those places.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:36 AM on January 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


And the residents are poor enough and it's so terribly hot and dry that the "landscaping" is all dusty blasted grey dirt.

In order words, a natural landscape? I'll happily overlook the lack of artfully arranged scrub and ocotillo as long as I don't see a lawn full of bermuda grass someplace that gets a few inches of rain a year.

if I can hear the sound of a lawn-mower or a leaf-blower, or if I need a car to get to the closest bar, this is for me utterly soul destroying and a place to run from

One of the disadvantages of urban living for some is the lack of opportunities to step outside your home and do something with your hands, to shape your environment. When I lived in Brooklyn I would sometimes fantasize about having a mechanical push mower and a yard.
posted by eddydamascene at 8:37 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


A short infographic for if the world's population lived in one city.

Supporting the idea that a low lying place like Paris can be more dense than what we think of as tall cities, etc.

And I loved La Defense. I couldn't tell you if I'd like to live there, but I thought it was really interesting and cool: how I lost touch of what was ground level, how I felt like the plazas I was walking through had thrumming activity both above and below it... how the monumental architecture dwarfed me, but had very poignant human sized moments too.
posted by tychotesla at 8:41 AM on January 25, 2013 [8 favorites]


I also like La Defense beacuse all the high rises and near future design was concentrated in one place rather than being scattered around the city and they good really good together cause its all the same aesthetic.
posted by The Whelk at 8:43 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


srboisvert: "The commentary is incomplete because it fails to mention the soul destroying random or themed noun compouding street naming practices of suburbia."

Hahaha - I was saying the other day (I do data entry on property) that if I made a subdivision, I would call it "Generic Tree Thing That Makes You Feel Peaceful" (Pine Dreams, Oak River, Maple Kitten Purring)...

There's one set of roads around here all named after Beatles songs - Blue Jay Way, Abbey Road, etc...
posted by symbioid at 8:44 AM on January 25, 2013


I grew up in the countryside and love my space and personal privacy. I hate having to keep my blinds closed. I close myself off, because of my social anxieties. If I lived in the country I would feel much more free to be me.

But goddamn do I hate country culture (even if I did like my neighbors growing up, I'm much changed and have a feeling my values don't match most of the rural areas these days). So I'm a city boy for culture, but country boy for personal existence.
posted by symbioid at 8:46 AM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Isn't the reason that people wanted big house and big lawns rather comfortably sized houses and small lawns?

That's partly true, but another major factor is economics. In the 1970s, the manufacturing sector collapsed in the US and we had a recession. Lots of people in the city were suddenly unemployed, and crime rose. People who could afford it wanted what they saw was a better life in the suburbs. Less crime, cleaner air, better schools (and at least in Milwaukee, fewer black people, which persists to this day). My parents moved from the north side of Milwaukee to a suburb in the next county over because our neighborhood and its school was rapidly deteriorating.

It's one of those tragedy of the commons situations - it makes perfect sense on an individual level, but it destroys the fabric of the community over time.
posted by desjardins at 8:49 AM on January 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


I live less than 5 miles from the Holiday neighborhood in Boulder, and have friends who live there. They are forced to drive about as much as we are (we live in a midcentury tract that is on a semi-curving grid) because there's simply no grocery shopping, retail or other services readily available there. There are a couple of trendy cafes and that's it.
posted by lonefrontranger at 8:51 AM on January 25, 2013


Another thing about urban density and high-rises is that it's my understanding that, at least in and around DC (but I'm guessing not just there), most of the high-rises are more than half empty, so they're not functionally increasing population density much, if at all. I know from living in Silver Spring a few years ago that a whole bunch of brand new, 75% empty high-rise apartment buildings didn't exactly make the place feel more welcoming or vibrant, nor did it stimulate the local business community outside of a single shopping area.
posted by Copronymus at 8:53 AM on January 25, 2013


oh, not to mention - my friend who lives in Holiday mentioned that those condos are built out of the cheapest, shoddiest ticky-tacky prefab materials known to man. Her walls are already cracking and the development is less than ten years old. She estimates it'll probably be another 2 decades at most before the whole thing is either turned into HUD housing / tenements or condemned outright and bulldozed to make way for the next "great idea" in urban planning.

not to mention they got rid of a perfectly functional, thriving drive in movie theatre to build that piece of shit. A lot of Boulderites used to "bike-in" or walk up with picnic blankets to the weekend showings on nice summer nights.
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:01 AM on January 25, 2013


Random? They're named after what used to be there.

There's a development in Brisbane (California) where the main entrance road is called Mission Blue Drive, presumably after the endangered butterfly whose extremely limited habitat the development is helping to eliminate.
posted by rtha at 9:03 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


> "They're named after what used to be there. Oak Grove? Chopped them down. Vista Way? Can't see a thing. Sweet Spring? Filled with runoff from the lawns."
I completely agree with your comment; but as an interesting aside from my academic training as a geographer:

Many, many U.S. counties have a water feature (creek/spring/stream/etc.) named "Sweet/Honey/Sugar" or similar. In some cases this was a name based on an assessment of the water's favorable taste.

But in many cases (esp. in the U.S. South and Midwest) this is a sort of an inside-joke -- with Scots-Irish origins, I've been told -- "Sweet Creek" and close cognates is often the place where a community diverted its sewage before there was modern plumbing.

As to your original comment, I'll add an anecdote: I once worked as a signmaker in a fast-growing city. The big signs at the entrances of subdivisions are a pretty high-dollar commission.

They had almost universally terrible names. They almost always ignored the history of the region (mid-Missouri), entirely, for the sake of making a comically horrible marketable pastiche.

The straw that broke the camels back was "Dakota Ridge". Not on any ridge, nowhere near the Dakotas, and the kicker? The art I was told to use was a silhouette of Monument Valley, which is in Arizona.

I quit shortly thereafter; not because of this one sign, of course... (but it didn't help).
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 9:08 AM on January 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


desjardins: "Holiday Park, Boulder, CO"

Oh boy, Boulder! If any part of Boulder is "sustainable" living I'll eat my hat. Holiday Park is so far outside of Boulder it's right on the county's border. It's sustainable so long as you don't cross Broadway to the east or Yarmouth to the south. Essentially that little neighborhood is good, and everything outside is a different story. This is because of Boulder's prior zoning laws, I think, which worked to promote tiny neighborhoods that would sustain property values.
posted by boo_radley at 9:08 AM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile, the area's high-rise neighborhoods (Southwest, Clarendon, Bethesda, and Silver Spring) often have far less density (as few as 10,000 residents/mi2 in SW DC), and at best only manage to break even with the more "traditional" low-rise urban neighborhoods (parts of Rosslyn and Ballston have about 40,000/mi2 -- roughly the same as Columbia Heights, despite having considerably taller buildings). Bethesda and Silver Spring don't even come close to Capitol Hill's population densities, despite being dominated by tall buildings.

I don't think these are particularly good examples. SW, Clarendon, and Ballston are relatively recent (as in, roughly a decade or less) residential hotspots that are in the process of adding residents, not well-established high-density neighborhoods like Capitol Hill and Dupont. And the high-rises in Rosslyn, Silver Spring, and Bethesda were (and may still be) overwhelmingly dominated by commercial space, not residential. Rosslyn is a particularly bad example, as the two most recent residential spaces are about 5 years old, and one of them shares residential space with commercial.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:08 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


andrewesque: "I largely agree with schmod, although I did want to point out that height in DC is regulated. Not that this doesn't make those lessons applicable to other cities, but DC is a slightly unusual case in that the tallest buildings in the metropolitan area are not in the central city, which is the case almost everywhere else."

I was careful not to mention any of the neighborhoods that contain buildings that are built up to the height limit. While many of the neighborhoods I mentioned are height-restricted via zoning, they (for the most part) don't have any structures that approach the citywide height limit. Capitol Hill doesn't even come close.

One exception to this is The Cairo in DuPont Circle, which predates the height limit, and is actually taller than the height limit allows. While it's got a handsome facade, it doesn't have any appreciable setback from the street, and just looks ridiculous in the context of the rest of the neighborhood. Today, nobody in their right mind -- DC or elsewhere -- would put up a 12-story facade with no setbacks at street level. Coincidentally, these traits are the very things that inspired the creation of DC's citywide height limit. NYC reacted similarly, but rather than restricting the overall heights of buildings, the city instead opted instead to mandate that tall facades be set back from the street, to reduce their visual impact at ground level.

Also, several of the neighborhoods/cities I mentioned aren't in DC -- Silver Spring, Bethesda, Rosslyn, and Ballston are all outside of the city, and as I mentioned, somehow manage to cram fewer people into buildings that are much taller than anything DC would allow. I believe that parts of Rosslyn are height-restricted due to their proximity to the 'River Visual' approach to National Airport.

Hoboken and the other close-in NJ suburbs of NYC have the highest population densities of any cities in the US, including NYC, and also don't have many tall buildings. These cities cheat by having a very small land masses without much green space, but the fact remains -- Hoboken, Brooklyn, and Queens all have very repectable population densities in the range of 50-60,000 people/mi2, and very few tall buildings.

(BTW, it's more meaningful to look at these things by census tracts, since business districts, industrial areas, and parks aren't lumped in with residential blocks)
posted by schmod at 9:11 AM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think this has been mentioned before on mefi, but the Citadel planned community - where gun ownership is mandatory - is the worst idea I've ever heard of in urban planning. Seriously? You're going to put the utilities right next to the amphitheater?
posted by desjardins at 9:13 AM on January 25, 2013


Copronymus: "I know from living in Silver Spring a few years ago that a whole bunch of brand new, 75% empty high-rise apartment buildings didn't exactly make the place feel more welcoming or vibrant, nor did it stimulate the local business community outside of a single shopping area."

I can tell you that those buildings are almost certainly 100% full today, and the residents are paying through the nose for the privilege. The real estate market here can barely keep up with the demand. It's a bubble.

That said, Silver Spring is a really weird case. It's a mix of old and new development, low-density and high. It was also was already a "railroad town" before Metro arrived, unlike the Arlington County suburbs. For whatever reason, Arlington had much more success adding density and urbanizing than any of the Maryland Suburbs did, but that's a topic for another day -- Arlington is arguably the single most successful urban infill development in the US in the past century. It's a painfully boring place, but they added a lot of density with very few pitfalls over a very short period of time.

Silver Spring has a lot working against it, and the city's surprisingly virbant downtown is actually pretty out of the way of most of the dense residential and commercial properties in the city. It also doesn't help that the whole city is bisected by a railroad with very few crossings. The one block of the East-West Highway between the Metro and Georgia Ave is half a mile long, with no side streets. It doesn't help that the buildings on that block were built with huge setbacks and plazas in front of them. It's no surprise that the place feels alienating.

The gigantic Summit Hills (Corbusier Hell) development up on 16th St is also a bit crazy, because it's the size of a small city, is a block from the Metro, but has acres of parking and only one entrance.
posted by schmod at 9:14 AM on January 25, 2013


desjardins: "I think this has been mentioned before on mefi, but the Citadel planned community - where gun ownership is mandatory - is the worst idea I've ever heard of in urban planning. Seriously? You're going to put the utilities right next to the amphitheater?"

Wait. There are cities with "recycling police?"

Where are they, and how can I move there?
posted by schmod at 9:15 AM on January 25, 2013


I think this has been mentioned before on mefi, but the Citadel planned community - where gun ownership is mandatory - is the worst idea I've ever heard of in urban planning.

I think that was drafted on the back of a Trapper Keeper.
posted by theodolite at 9:16 AM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you look at the aerials of Glenview (the mobile home and gated communities), you'll find an odd change in the landscape. The reason is that this is all the former Naval Air Station Glenview (see old photos and an aerial here), which was a casualty of a base-closure round back in the nineties, and which was hungrily devoured by the surrounding built-up suburbs. Given that this was all quite late in the game and there was plenty of time to plan for it, the ultimate chock-a-block land usage choices are pretty disappointing.
posted by dhartung at 9:18 AM on January 25, 2013


desjardins: "I think this has been mentioned before on mefi, but the Citadel planned community - where gun ownership is mandatory - is the worst idea I've ever heard of in urban planning. Seriously? You're going to put the utilities right next to the amphitheater?"

There's a ARMS FACTORY and gun reflecting pool, but no farmland? Honestly, this looks like a Dungeons and Dragons supplement more than anything else.
posted by boo_radley at 9:19 AM on January 25, 2013


(I love, love, love the citadel link BTW, it goes into SUCH DETAIL about things that do not matter! It's like the world's worst D&D camapign, although I'm honestly surprised every house wasn't it's own mini fortress with tiny suburbian castle towers and parapets.)
posted by The Whelk at 9:20 AM on January 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


(also, your go to fortress is a castle? Like serious, a castle? Cause I know quite a bit about castle living and military history and I'm pretty sure the castle stopped being a viable defensive structure in ....the 14th century.)
posted by The Whelk at 9:21 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, wait, it's going to be a company town. OK then.
posted by boo_radley at 9:22 AM on January 25, 2013


The gigantic Summit Hills (Corbusier Hell) development up on 16th St is also a bit crazy, because it's the size of a small city, is a block from the Metro, but has acres of parking and only one entrance.

Ugh. My ex lived in Summit Hills. I won't disagree with you on that one, it's basically designed to make you hate walking within the confines of the complex, nevermind the fact that it's just far enough in both time and distance from everything decent (including the Metro) to be a pain in the fucking ass to drive or walk.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:23 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


(...following up my earlier comment. In case anyone wants to feast their eyes on the epicenter of my personal and professional shame that is the Dakota Ridge sign: they're apparently still so chuffed by their terrible decision that it is featured prominently on their website. [imgur mirror] )
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 9:24 AM on January 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


(also, your go to fortress is a castle? Like serious, a castle? Cause I know quite a bit about castle living and military history and I'm pretty sure the castle stopped being a viable defensive structure in ....the 14th century.)


I'm kind of amazed that it doesn't even look like a star fort.
posted by ocschwar at 9:24 AM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


The commentary is incomplete because it fails to mention the soul destroying random or themed noun compouding street naming practices of suburbia.

My favorite version of this is the townhouse complexes in North York, whose streets are (almost?) invariably named Blankity Somethingway. The only one I can think of offhand is Maris Shepway, but there are lots.

Makes me want to be a developer in the area so I can build Ididit Myway, the neighbouring Getoutta Myway and the nearby Whatsa Henway.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:25 AM on January 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


(also, your go to fortress is a castle? Like serious, a castle? Cause I know quite a bit about castle living and military history and I'm pretty sure the castle stopped being a viable defensive structure in ....the 14th century.)

Obsoleted by gunpowder, ironically. It's too bad they didn't go for a Vauban-esque star fortress design because (a) it would make more sense unless they only plan to hold off guys with pikes and (b) there's more historical precedent for building a whole town inside one anyway.
posted by theodolite at 9:26 AM on January 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


One exception to this is The Cairo in DuPont Circle, which predates the height limit, and is actually taller than the height limit allows. While it's got a handsome facade, it doesn't have any appreciable setback from the street, and just looks ridiculous in the context of the rest of the neighborhood.

To be fair, The Cairo's crazy sign and random columns would look ridiculous in most contexts. Awesome, but ridiculous.

The one block of the East-West Highway between the Metro and Georgia Ave is half a mile long, with no side streets. It doesn't help that the buildings on that block were built with huge setbacks and plazas in front of them. It's no surprise that the place feels alienating.

A little amusing that you would mention that one block because I used to live there (with Copronymus). That block is really weird and the journey from it to the other parts of Silver Spring is really odd, although it's obviously pretty convenient for groceries and Metro access. I actually think the setbacks and plazas could be a feature if they weren't so constantly empty. There was a time when myself, Copronymus, and my wife would spend hours in the courtyard in front of the NOAA building playing cards, and we were pretty much the only people who were ever there on weekends. It was just this giant, mostly unused, and only quasi-public space that made the area feel rather empty.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:38 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Imagine you are a koala bear navigating the streets of Brisbane.
posted by swift at 9:52 AM on January 25, 2013


Yeah. I know exactly the plaza that you're talking about. It seems to have all the right ingredients for a nice public space, but the parts don't add up, and it just doesn't work for some reason.

Down the road, the "Canada Dry" building has a similarly alienating plaza (that they recently tried to spruce up with some gigantic granite armchairs that makes the place look even more absurd and alienating). Recently, they've been slipping some parks in between some of the new buildings on the other side of the tracks, and they look a whole lot more inviting.

There's ongoing talks about how to redevelop The Blairs, and their accompanying shopping complex. If it gets done right, it'll be a big improvement to the area.

Also, if you want a laugh, take a look at the original renderings for the new Silver Spring Transit Center, compared to what actually got built (and may need to be torn down because the contractor didn't know how to pour concrete, and nobody thought to check their work).
posted by schmod at 9:57 AM on January 25, 2013


The commentary is incomplete because it fails to mention the soul destroying random or themed noun compouding street naming practices of suburbia.

Near me, we have what I affectionately call the 'Drinking and Driving Development'.

It has a Zinfandel Rd, a Cabernet St., etc.
I can never decide if this is incredibly twee or biting social satire.

Because, on the one hand, you have to tell people (with a straight face) that you live at '1234 Chardonnay Way', but on the other hand, if you live among the little boxes on the hillside, you're probably going to do a lot of drinking...
posted by madajb at 9:59 AM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


but we need our cul de sacs fer when them agenda 21s com callin
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:59 AM on January 25, 2013


I don't understand the appeal of golf course "fairway housing". For homeowners, it means broken windows and a yard full of golf balls from errant drives (which will be found by your lawnmower, most likely). And for golfers, it means the relaxing landscaped vistas of green rolling hills have been replaced by ugly houses and fences.
posted by rocket88 at 10:01 AM on January 25, 2013


madajb: "among the little boxes on the hillside"

Oh, goddamnit. Just when I had gotten that song out of my head...
posted by schmod at 10:09 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I live in the part of Medford MA that was not touched by the mistakes of the 20th Century.
My house is walking distance to my Congressman's office, and to the diner we both frequent.

I ain't movin' for damn sure.

But east of 93, is Hell. We even have a Meadow Glen Mall, which did in fact replace a meadow and a glen.
posted by ocschwar at 10:09 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


srboisvert: "The commentary is incomplete because it fails to mention the soul destroying random or themed noun compouding street naming practices of suburbia."

Reminds me of this passage from Allan Sherman's brilliant, tragically out-of-print "The Rape of the APE (American Puritan Ethic)".
posted by twsf at 10:27 AM on January 25, 2013


I'm a big proponent of urban living, but disadvantages exist.

schmod: "many of the neighborhoods I mentioned are height-restricted via zoning, they (for the most part) don't have any structures that approach the citywide height limit. Capitol Hill doesn't even come close"

True, but Capitol Hill is also a historic district, restricting redevelopment.
posted by exogenous at 11:20 AM on January 25, 2013


(BTW, it's more meaningful to look at these things by census tracts, since business districts, industrial areas, and parks aren't lumped in with residential blocks)


You're right that a finer detail level is helpful for talking about density. But wrong about census tract boundaries. There are a small number of mega-sized areas that are distinct from residential areas, but 99% of the time, they are incorporated with residential areas. Washington happens to have a few notable ones; one with just the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery, one for National Airport and two for Dulles, and one with the Mall, Capitol, White House, Federal Triangle and monuments. But mostly, areas like Tyson's Corner are split up -- what I'd call the dense area there is in seven census tracts, two of which are entirely in the dense area, and five of which extend into the surrounding lower-density housing, one actually crossing the freeway to do so. Census tracts (or block groups) are a better way to look at fine detail, but in my experience, the Census Bureau carves them up with an eye to keeping enough population in each of them, parks and workplaces be damned.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 11:29 AM on January 25, 2013


I like neighborhood names better. I live in Bay View. Here's the view. Of the bay.

Or Shorewood. Here's the wood. On the shore.

Further west, though, you have such precocious nonsense as the Biltmore Estates and the Glengarry Highlands. WTF.
posted by desjardins at 11:58 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


schmod: "Basically, what I'm saying is that everything we think we know about urban development is wrong. Low-density suburbia is a problem, but it doesn't have to be that way!. You can have your own comfortably-sized house, a small lawn, a garage, and live in a dense and walkable environment.

There's no logically-coherent explanation for why we stopped building rowhouse cities or "streetcar suburbs." They're perfectly sustainable models that can support us well into the future. We're not faced with a choice between endless sprawl and Corbusier Hell. There's plenty of evidence that the pre-WWII planning paradigms are perfectly usable today.
"

Preach on, brother schmod! I live in a late 1920s suburb (my house came late..it was built in 1930). Until GM shut down the trolley in the 1940s you could get anywhere from here with only a short walk. The next street over is still extra-wide thanks to said trolley. We've got some grass, a garage, and all that good stuff, but I can bank, eat, get a key made, do my laundry, get my hair cut, buy books, find some ridiculous antiques, buy hipster clothes, shop at a real live head shop, get boozed up, buy insurance, and rent tools with only a very short walk. Sadly, the grocery store is on the other side of the goddamned highway they cut through here in the late 70s/early 80s. And until last year, I could buy a scooter, too.

No hipster coffee shops yet. Soon, though. There's one opening on the other side of the hipster hotel a few blocks from here.
posted by wierdo at 12:15 PM on January 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


exogenous: "True, but Capitol Hill is also a historic district, restricting redevelopment."

The historic district is actually quite small. This had some nasty effects, such as the time a developer bulldozed a whole block of cute little rowhouses (the whole 700 Block of 2nd St NE) because he was afraid that the Historic District would expand.

The historic district notably does not include Hill East, any of the awkwardly-named H St neighborhoods, or any of the adjacent low-rise neighborhoods such as Trinidad, Carver/Langston, or Kingman Park. Ditto for the neighborhoods along the North Capitol corridor (Bloomingdale, Eckington, etc). These neighborhoods share Capitol Hill's low-rise character, and actually often have greater densities than the "Historic" parts of the hill (which are dominated by single-occupancy 3-4 story rowhouses). The census tracts around the H St /Benning Road "starburst" are actually some of the most dense areas east of the Capitol, which is pretty surprising, because it's not at all obvious from a visual inspection. Tract 7901 is especially surprising.

I love this kind of planning, and it seems to be heavily in demand right now. I only hope that we can start building new cities according to the pattern, because I'm rapidly being priced out of my neighborhood. It's a completely unscientific observation, but I'd argue that density starts to have diminishing returns at around 30-40,000/mi2.

Sorry. I'll eventually stop threadsitting and talking about my city.
posted by schmod at 12:19 PM on January 25, 2013


There's a 70's-ish development near my suburb which somehow was able to name their streets from LOTR locations- Rivendell, Lorien, etc. The best, however is Isengard Ln, which which is wooded on one side of the street- on the trunks of the dead trees someone carved angry faces glowering at the houses.
posted by Esteemed Offendi at 12:22 PM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


desjardins: I think this has been mentioned before on mefi, but the Citadel planned community - where gun ownership is mandatory - is the worst idea I've ever heard of in urban planning. Seriously? You're going to put the utilities right next to the amphitheater?
boo_radley: There's a ARMS FACTORY and gun reflecting pool, but no farmland? Honestly, this looks like a Dungeons and Dragons supplement more than anything else.
The Whelk: I love, love, love the citadel link BTW, it goes into SUCH DETAIL about things that do not matter! It's like the world's worst D&D camapign, although I'm honestly surprised every house wasn't it's own mini fortress with tiny suburbian castle towers and parapets.
I disagree. That fortification design is so bad I think it's clear they never played D&D.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:25 PM on January 25, 2013


I don't understand the appeal of golf course "fairway housing". For homeowners, it means broken windows and a yard full of golf balls from errant drives (which will be found by your lawnmower, most likely). And for golfers, it means the relaxing landscaped vistas of green rolling hills have been replaced by ugly houses and fences.

I lived on the 3rd hole of a golf course for a couple of years, about midway down a par 4.
It was, quite frankly, one of the best places I've ever lived while in a city.

Basically, it was living on a park that occasionally people walked through. It was rarely crowded, mostly quiet, and after the last tee time, basically private.
My wife is a runner and she loved being able to step out of our back door and onto a landscaped running path in the early mornings, which she mostly shared with the grounds-keeping crews.

A couple of things will make your course-side living experience better:
1) Make sure you live at the beginning of the course. Generally, last tee time was 7ish where I lived. So the last golfer came by about 7:30. In the summer, that left us with a good 2 hours of daylight to enjoy our giant lawn.
2) Try and live on a dogleg hole that turns away from your house. This reduces the errant shots considerably.
3) Along the same lines, be out of driving range. Most really bad shots comes from the tee.
4) Don't park your car outside.
5) When the grounds-keeper are wearing full protective suits, it's probably better to skip your run that day.
6) Make friends with the beer cart girl. Tip well, and you'll never have to walk back to your kitchen for another drink.
posted by madajb at 12:42 PM on January 25, 2013


As I learned from the Tiny House book, most places in the US have minimum size requirements on houses. In my neighborhood it is 2000 sq ft.

There's one pretty dense unincorporated area south of Clear Lake called Bayview. It has some crime issues, and some of the houses have been left to rot... but the ones that have been kept up are these great 500-800 square foot houses with front yards, back yards, walkable streets, and the gulf 5 blocks away. Subtract the crime, replace the totalled houses with new ones, and you would have a dense, pleasant area near the water where everyone who lives there still has a freestanding home.

My wife and I only had three requirements for a house: it had to be in a neighborhood the kids could safely ride bikes in, not that far from work, and not be attached housing because we hate hearing other people through the walls and ceilings. That drove us to a 2300 sq ft house. We can't be the only ones making that calculation.

Modern soundproofing techniques could make row houses where noise was not a concern, if a builder would ever spend more than the absolute minimum.
posted by BeeDo at 12:48 PM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I disagree. That fortification design is so bad I think it's clear they never played D&D.

It actually just hit me that it reminds me more of like Warcraft 2 RTS maps.

Also, I found out the name of the type of place I grew up in! Multifamily Islands! I can call them that and not "you know those small apartment blocks located off the highway that you kinda see through the scrub trees is is always called like "Birchwood Manor" or "Woodbridge Estates" and all the lawns are dead and once a month a guy with a van smells meat lifted from Pathmark? That kinda place."
posted by The Whelk at 1:03 PM on January 25, 2013


It's pretty neat to look at an aerial of these; it really demonstrates the issues with them in a more complete way than driving through them. It does not, however, provide the utter sense of complete frustration resultant from inadvertently driving into one and getting lost, desperately trying to find a real road anywhere, trying to remember if you turned in on Maple St or Maple Dr and WHY ARE THERE TWO OF THE SAME STREET NAME ANYWAY GRAH.

Milwaukee's awesome and easily navigable street grid system warms the heart of my inner German city planner. It's also nice to see lots of green space spread out pretty well (I noticed this earlier after reading a previous article on how poor areas generally have less trees). I just hope they don't keep building massive condos right next to the lake...a handful are OK, but chill out on the megadevelopments, please.

Further west, though, you have such precocious nonsense as the Biltmore Estates and the Glengarry Highlands. WTF.

Well, to be fair, that is outside of the City of Milwaukee and possibly even outside the County (I can't tell exactly where the border is, but Brookfield, for instance, is in Waukesha County). Almost the entire area west of 108th st is filled with rich white people in giant houses who survive almost entirely on precocious nonsense and self-importance.

In case anyone thinks I'm exaggerating:
The racial makeup of [Milwaukee] county was 65.62% White, 24.59% Black or African American, 0.72% Native American, 2.57% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 4.25% from other races, and 2.21% from two or more races. 8.77% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. [ref]

According to the 2010 Census, 44.8% of the population [of the City of Milwaukee] was White (37.0% non-Hispanic white), 40.0% was Black or African American, 0.8% American Indian and Alaska Native, 3.5% Asian, 3.4% from two or more races. 17.3% of Milwaukee's population was of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin (they may be of any race). [ref]

The racial makeup of the city [of Brookfield] is 94.20 percent White, 3.83 percent Asian, 0.83 percent Black or African American, 0.09 percent Native American, 0.02 percent Pacific Islander, 0.23 percent from other races, and 0.81 percent from two or more races. 1.17 percent of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race. [ref]

Fun fact: the police out there are bored, self-important, and usually prejudiced against minorities and anyone that doesn't look WASP enough. Make sure you don't have any lights out on your car. Also, having known some people that lived there: rich white people have just as many problems as anyone else, they just pretend they don't and have the money for good lawyers.

I like neighborhood names better. I live in Bay View.

I'm with you on that, hailing from Riverwest here, unsurprisingly West of the River. They aren't all that literal, but generally on-point and at least not unbearably pretentious.
posted by nTeleKy at 1:15 PM on January 25, 2013


desjardins: "Gated community - no location given for the picture"

He says it's a mile north of the mobile home place in Glenview; I believe it's Royal Ridge in Northbrook (next suburb up) and GOD I remember being so pissed when that place was built (paving over some of the cornfields and undeveloped fields that helped keep the area feeling like small towns rather than a seamless pavement of suburbia), especially with GATES. Are you freaking kidding me? If you are so delusional you think you need gates to keep out the riff-raff on Chicago's North Shore, you need to -- well, I don't know what you need to do, but probably it should involve paying higher taxes because clearly you have more money than sense.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:18 PM on January 25, 2013


also raise your hand if you felt yourself reaching for the bulldozer button.
posted by The Whelk at 1:20 PM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Best bizarre neighborhood theme-y street names:

Liberty Drive, featuring cul-de-sacs called, from east to west, Circuit Court, Appellate Court, District Court, and Supreme Court. I AM NOT EVEN KIDDING. The rest of the neighborhood features patriotic names like "Freedom Trail" and "Constitution Drive." But the "courts" are the clear winners.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:23 PM on January 25, 2013 [4 favorites]



Fun fact: the police out there are bored, self-important, and usually prejudiced against minorities and anyone that doesn't look WASP enough. Make sure you don't have any lights out on your car. Also, having known some people that lived there: rich white people have just as many problems as anyone else, they just pretend they don't and have the money for good lawyers.


The small amount of time I spent near Milwaukee was the only time in my life I heard casual use of the word nigger. It's a wonder Milwaukee isn't surrounded by a moat, given how intent so many of the suburbs are obsessed with keeping blacks inside MKE's boundaries.
posted by ocschwar at 1:58 PM on January 25, 2013


Best bizarre neighborhood theme-y street names: Liberty Drive, [...]

LOL, I think I Supreme Ct is my new favorite fake-sounding street name. Any idea what's up with those bizarrely shaped...I think they're fields, to the upper right? It's really fractal-y looking, especially if you zoom out a bit.
posted by nTeleKy at 2:52 PM on January 25, 2013


Not sure exactly which thing you're looking at, but odd-shaped non-subdivision things to the northeast include a golf course, a teaching farm for the community college agriculture program, and super-gigantic commuter-college parking lots divided roughly in quarters.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:16 PM on January 25, 2013


If you mean the snakey green lines, those are streams in fields that have been harvested and the streams are too deep to drive farm machinery over so the brush is let grow there. It's a fairly steep bluff draining into a glacially-carved river, that's very characteristic topography. Try the topo map if that's what you mean.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:21 PM on January 25, 2013


It's a wonder Milwaukee isn't surrounded by a moat, given how intent so many of the suburbs are obsessed with keeping blacks inside MKE's boundaries.

It's why we don't have light rail.
posted by desjardins at 3:56 PM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


hwyengr: I spent part of my childhood in a two street themed development.

Growing up, the subdivision adjacent to mine was Robin Hood themed. The subdivision was called Sherwood Forest, with street names such as Nottingham Place, Arrow Drive, and Marian Court. Sadly, rather than castles, the houses were just stock mid-60s split levels.


There's a small housing subdivision on Mount Davidson in San Francisco that's also called "Sherwood Forest" and has, you guessed it, Robin Hood themed street names. I suppose it's sort of ironic since it's a pretty wealthy area that was historically home to many doctors (I remember reading that it was nicknamed "Pill Hill" at one point, although I hear there's a part of the Tenderloin that now has that moniker for entirely different reasons). Fun fact: Robin Hood Way is the highest elevation residential street in San Francisco.
posted by MattMangels at 6:00 PM on January 25, 2013


srboisvert: The commentary is incomplete because it fails to mention the soul destroying random or themed noun compouding street naming practices of suburbia.

(...86 comments later...)
I LOVE the nonsensical clusters of street names that pepper this country. See, a couple of years ago I worked for the Census Bureau, checking to see if their street database was accurate and fixing it where it wasn't (if you've ever used their data you understand what we were up against). It was awfully dull and repetitive, but occasionally you'd get a set of roads in one of the subdivisions with some truly bizarre names. Those really lived up the job. It was a hoot to see what is actually out there - I remember a cluster of Star Wars planet streets very fondly. I even started a tumblr blog cataloging my favorites...but the very next week I got a better job and the blog was abandoned. It's not just subdivisions, either. My absolute favorite was in the middle of a rural area.

Unrelated, but hey! My dad lives on one of those insanely long blocks in Buffalo! Yeah, they are almost uncomfortably long. You always wonder if you missed a turn or something.
posted by troika at 7:49 PM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had a friend whose job was coming up with these names - or rather, their equivalent in terms of a gigantic hotel/rec development which needed something like 10 sets of 12 theme-congruent names for banquet rooms, conference rooms, etc in different areas. The name sets had to be universally prestigious, not possibly offensive to anyone, neutral as to the room's purpose, easily pronounceable, and not duplicate other name sets of other big hotel/rec developments in the area.

The task was weirdly difficult. Prestigious fabric types? Chemical elements? History of the local area? We came up with a bunch but it was easy to see that it would get tough after a while.

I think I remember reading once that the weirdness of new-suburb street names comes from a legal requirement that new developments can't duplicate existing names (in the state? in the county?). So new developments in dense counties now can't use Prestige St or Meadow St, and are having to resort to Mayflower Artichoke Terrace or whatever.

If you are interested in the naming process, and naming fashions in successive generations of suburbs, you want to read Names on the Land by George R Stewart.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:37 PM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mayflower Artichoke Terrace

Thanks for the new band name, mate.
posted by MattMangels at 11:01 PM on January 25, 2013


*Hums cheerfully*
posted by DisreputableDog at 2:27 AM on January 26, 2013


> There's a development in Brisbane (California) where the main entrance road is called Mission Blue Drive, presumably after the endangered butterfly whose extremely limited habitat the development is helping to eliminate

I live by Serpentine Way, named after something far more terrifying than suburban housing.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:46 PM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


A gamer applies the housing patterns from this article to the latest version of Sim City, with interesting results.
posted by desjardins at 7:28 PM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


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