Suburbia was our manufactured manifest destiny
March 13, 2013 7:11 AM   Subscribe

The Top Ten Influences on the American Metropolis of the Past 50 Years

1. The 1956 Interstate Highway Act
2. Federal Housing Administration Mortgage Financing
3. De-Industrialization
4. Urban Renewal
5. Levittown
6. Racial Segregation
7. Shopping Malls
8. Sunbelt-Style Sprawl
9. Air Conditioning
10. Urban Riots of the 1960s

...plus the 10 Most Likely Influences for the Next 50 Years in one handy jpg
posted by spamandkimchi (126 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
Fuck Corbusier.
posted by schmod at 7:16 AM on March 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


Fuck Robert Moses.
posted by Ghost Mode at 7:17 AM on March 13, 2013 [20 favorites]


Fuck Robert Moses.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 7:18 AM on March 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


9. Air Conditioning.

I swear, air conditioned subway cars reduce violence, crime, and general unhappiness.


Also, this reminds me of the story an artist friend, who has lived NY's SoHo since the 60's tells. Apparently, when Robert Moses was reordering things in NYC for the automobile, he had a plan to run an elevated highway across manhattan connecting one of the east side bridges to the Holland Tunnel. The artists, having just settled in SoHo protested, but the only thing that stopped it was an economic downturn. All of SoHo and Tribeca would never have developed as they did.
posted by R. Mutt at 7:22 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Found it:

The Lower Manhattan Expressway....It was to be a ten-lane elevated highway stretching from the East River to the Hudson River, connecting the Holland Tunnel on the west side to the Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges to the east. The road would have required the leveling of parts of the Little Italy and SoHo neighborhoods.
posted by R. Mutt at 7:30 AM on March 13, 2013


Fuck Corbusier.

Corb's influence over the American city is greatly exaggerated. It's minimal compared to the influence of Henry Ford, to throw out just one name.
posted by WPW at 7:33 AM on March 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Replacing "urban renewal" with "smart growth" is changing the name only. The city planners who built housing projects and concentrated poverty and crime and dependency into tight critical masses of misery will just go about the next 50 years doing the same stupid things, only smarter.
posted by three blind mice at 7:37 AM on March 13, 2013


William Levitt was on the cover of Time in 1950.

I found this link about Levittown, some cool photos and some useful information about life in the early suburbs.

I know I've recommended the book The Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism by Adam Rome on Mefi before, but I want to recommend it again, it covers the rise of the suburbs quite extensively, including Levittown, the solar home and septic tanks. Good book.
posted by IvoShandor at 7:39 AM on March 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


Fuck Robert Moses.

Bastard never even learned to drive.
posted by The Whelk at 7:40 AM on March 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


The 60's riots should be way higher on that last. I'd put it at number 3. And I'd argue "Sunbelt-style sprawl" is a product of these other influencers, not an influence itself.

Also, missing from the list of influencers over the next 50 years is the growing trend of millenials who prioritize many other things over owning a car. Even auto makers are concerned about it. Freedom used to be about owning a car. Now it's about owning a smartphone.

Declining car ownership means that the market for suburban homes (and jobs) will shrink, and truly urban environments will become increasingly attractive. That frankly casts many of the other influencers in doubt, including the "suburban political majority" and "perpetual underclass of inner cities." Obviously there is still urban poverty, but continuing to say urban=poor is seriously misleading.
posted by dry white toast at 7:43 AM on March 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


Of the ten influences listed, 1,3,4,6,8, and 10 were actively exploited by Moses in his quest to obtain and hold onto power. For all I know, he probably had a hand in 5, too.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 7:46 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Obviously there is still urban poverty, but continuing to say urban=poor is seriously misleading.

Yeah, obviously, seriously misleading.
posted by IvoShandor at 7:49 AM on March 13, 2013


dry white toast, have mercy on the list of future influences - Fannie Mae compiled this way back in 1999, back when pagers were still a viable option for hip kids.

Gentrification/the return to the city ought to be on there, or maybe that's covered by #1 "growing disparities of wealth." I sporadically read the NYT's Real Estate section and then regret all the Realtor(r) boosterism.
posted by spamandkimchi at 7:58 AM on March 13, 2013


IvoShandor, I assume you were being sarcastic in the wording of your link, but I never said systemic urban poverty wasn't a serious issue. But painting everything that isn't "suburbia" as urban poor is just inaccurate.

Better to highlight the displacement of the urban poor as downtowns become increasingly appealing to the wealthy as a serious issue for the next 50 years.
posted by dry white toast at 7:59 AM on March 13, 2013


Freedom used to be about owning a car.

This is a huge lie, though, and I have to imagine it has always been. A car is a tremendous albatross around the neck of anyone who owns one, both financially and mentally. I can remember the first time I (a non-owner) realized just how much time all my friends at work who owned cars spent thinking about them and talking about them and the best ways to drive places and get cheap gas and the best times and ways to avoid rush hour traffic and on and on and on. Owning a car is a massive drain on your wallet and your attention, and I will avoid owning one as much as I possibly can.

Of course, if you're a true gearhead this will sound like insanity, but I don't think that's true for the vast majority of people.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:03 AM on March 13, 2013 [11 favorites]


I live in an inner-city neighborhood that used to have three major business districts before the sixties. Then they put three highways through and bulldozed the central district and dropped a suburban style shopping mall on it. The one business district looked like this before the sixties and now looks like this.
posted by octothorpe at 8:03 AM on March 13, 2013


But painting everything that isn't "suburbia" as urban poor is just inaccurate.

Of course it's inaccurate to say that, that's absurdly broad.

But it isn't seriously misleading to indicate that trends in cities continue to show large swaths of residents in poverty. The article I cited stated nearly half of Chicagoans live in poverty, and a third of Illinoisians, a fifth of Illinois children. Perhaps this hell hole is the anomaly, but saying that urban often means poor is not seriously misleading.
posted by IvoShandor at 8:03 AM on March 13, 2013


I didn't say "often", I said "always".

Semantics aside, what I was pushing back against is the idea, prevalent in several of the "trends" identified, that downtowns will continue to be a disenfranchised wasteland and the suburbs will continue to wield all the influence and wealth because that is already no longer the case. Whereas the tension may once have had a "suburban/urban" vector, it is increasingly one of "urban/urban".
posted by dry white toast at 8:16 AM on March 13, 2013


Freedom used to be about owning a car.

This is a huge lie, though, and I have to imagine it has always been.


It's definitely always been a lie. I'm talking more about cultural perceptions and biases then what's true on the ground. 21st century social connectivity can also be its own albatross.
posted by dry white toast at 8:21 AM on March 13, 2013


Freedom used to be about owning a car.

This is a huge lie, though, and I have to imagine it has always been.


Actually, if you're stuck way out in the middle of nowhere, far from work, with shitty public transportation, yeah. Car is freedom. Expensive, stressful freedom. But the freedom to be stuck in the middle of rural nowhere, unable to get to a job, that's its own kind of stressful.

I can say that because I ride a bike and live in a dense urban environment with acceptable PT.

Of course, the car (and cheap oil to run it) makes suburbia possible. The car makes sprawl possible. I personally agree w/ Bill Kunstler: Suburbia may well come to be regarded as the biggest misallocation of resources in history.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:22 AM on March 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


octothorpe, that's such an awful "improvement" in the name of efficiency. Any rumblings about tearing it down, as a host of other cities have done with their elevated highways?

At least one of my urban planning classmates has confessed to having a crush on Robert Moses - admiration for the whole "go big or go home" school of urban hubris. I think I spluttered for a while, squawked something re: Moses' self-described "meat axe to the Bronx" (encountered in David Harvey's "The Right to the City"), and then decided that too many urban planners have fantasies of benevolent dictatorship.
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:26 AM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


dry white toast: "The 60's riots should be way higher on that last. I'd put it at number 3."

There's a lot of debate about this, but there's a pretty good amount of evidence that "White Flight" was already in motion long before the 1968 MLK riots.

The riots were merely a product of the ~15 years leading up to them. While often cited as the cause of urban decline, they were really just one symptom in a much longer list. They're only really notable, because they cemented a trend that had already begun.
posted by schmod at 8:30 AM on March 13, 2013


Owning a car is a massive drain on your wallet and your attention, and I will avoid owning one as much as I possibly can.

Good for you. However, the automobile simultaneously offers a large jump in independence and earnings possibilities. Being without means being a slave to proximity or public transportation, which also can be an albatross around one's neck. This is not a minor concern for large numbers of people.

I think your criticism is a bit myopic, however, and may be based on the observation that people you know are incapable of making the best decisions for themselves. My observation is that people are quite capable of determining the need for a car all on their own, procuring or shedding one as they determine their needs see fit.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:31 AM on March 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


The US has an absolutely crazy system of state freeways and interstates. Driving up to Clearlake we passed through Napa and highway 29 switched over to freeway spec along with "Napa next 4 exits". Napa has 77,000 people. They dropped $60,000,000 worth of interchanges along highway 29 for a town of 77,000 people?

Suburbia is the biggest misallocation of resources in history? Try freeways for small cities.
posted by Talez at 8:32 AM on March 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


WPW: "Corb's influence over the American city is greatly exaggerated. It's minimal compared to the influence of Henry Ford, to throw out just one name."

Corbusier is the Sigmund Freud of architecture and planning.

He had some revolutionary ideas for his time that looked great on paper, worked for a while in practice, were eventually thoroughly discredited, and somehow continue to be cited and used as an influence throughout the world.

If we had to do a direct comparison, I'd say that Corbusier was a smart guy whose well-intentioned philosophy had a few intractable drawbacks. Robert Moses was just plain evil, so he's pretty much going to come out on the bottom of just about any comparison.

The problem was that Corbusier's ideas (and the guise of "Urban Renewal") served as a very effective mask for the greed and evil done by Moses, Ford, GM, and their ilk.
posted by schmod at 8:36 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


octothorpe, that's such an awful "improvement" in the name of efficiency. Any rumblings about tearing it down, as a host of other cities have done with their elevated highways?

It's in the long (long) range plan for the city but I'm not holding my breath.
posted by octothorpe at 8:37 AM on March 13, 2013


Talez: "Driving up to Clearlake we passed through Napa and highway 29 switched over to freeway spec along with "Napa next 4 exits". Napa has 77,000 people. They dropped $60,000,000 worth of interchanges along highway 29 for a town of 77,000 people?"

While the overall Bay Area is indeed a great example of how not to build suburbs, Marin and Napa are their own (fairly unique) fractals of NIMBYism and planning insanity. I don't think you can extrapolate too much from those two counties.
posted by schmod at 8:41 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]



Actually, if you're stuck way out in the middle of nowhere, far from work, with shitty public transportation, yeah. Car is freedom. Expensive, stressful freedom. But the freedom to be stuck in the middle of rural nowhere, unable to get to a job, that's its own kind of stressful.


This. As someone who grew up in the midwest, getting your driver's license at 16 = freedom. Driving was the only way I could realistically get to and from my (parochial) school and after school events, as public transit in my area was practically nonexistent. I tried biking in my early teen years for awhile, but after several near hits on roads without sidewalks, I had to stop.

Now that I've moved to the DC metro region though, I only use my car on weekends for trips out of the area. However, I think a car is still necessary for this area if you don't live within walking or biking distance to a Metro stop (the subway lines all head into DC - there are no routes around the city, so if you want to go from Arlington to Alexandra you need to go towards DC first and then head back out (not to mention that weekend track work has made traveling on Metro outside of rush hour a PITA). Many bus lines outside DC proper ramp down on the weekends with hour waits between buses if they run at all).
posted by longdaysjourney at 8:51 AM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


While the overall Bay Area is indeed a great example of how not to build suburbs, Marin and Napa are their own (fairly unique) fractals of NIMBYism and planning insanity. I don't think you can extrapolate too much from those two counties.

Napa is one of the most egregious examples but it's not an outlier. Take for instance Little Rock. There's 700,000 people in the MSA (which is quite liberal in where those people are compared to the city centre). It has a massive grid of freeways, its own beltway, multiple spurs and these run from sparely populated areas, through areas with literally nothing there to other areas that are sparsely populated. It's like they've done 150 years of freeway planning up front to save people living in the sticks visiting other people in the sticks a few minutes at a few sets of lights.

Texarkana, population ~70000 has not only an interstate, a spur almost-beltway and more exits from I-30 than you can poke a stick at. In fact if you drive down any interstate you find these small cities with grossly overengineered roads for their regions which don't appear to do, well, anything at all.
posted by Talez at 8:55 AM on March 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


If SimCity was playable, we could fix a lot of these problems in cheetah mode.
posted by DigDoug at 9:00 AM on March 13, 2013


I don't like their list of predictions for the next 50 years, so I'm going to substitute a few of my own.

The Ten Most Likely Influences on the American Metropolis for the Next 50 Years
  1. Growing disparities of wealth
  2. Suburban political majority Growing suburban ethnic minority population. Gradual decline of overall suburban population. Electoral politics get even more skewed. Also, DC still lacks proper legislative representation.
  3. Aging of the baby boomers Death of the baby boomers
  4. Perpetual "underclass" in central cities and inner-ring suburbs Growing "underclass" in rural areas and outer-ring suburbs
  5. "Smart growth:" environmental and planning iThis one's a tossup. Telework hasn't really panned out like we thought it would, and I don't think that there will be many surprises in terms of how telecommunications will shape our cities beyond the ways it already has. People will travel less for business, and the workforce may gradually experiment with shifting away from the traditional M-F/9-5 work schedule, to better modulate transportation and energy demands. nitiatives to limit sprawl
  6. Internet This one's a tossup. Telework hasn't really panned out like we thought it would, and I don't think that there will be many surprises in terms of how telecommunications will shape our cities beyond the ways it already has. People will travel less for business, and the workforce may gradually experiment with shifting away from the traditional M-F/9-5 work schedule, to better modulate transportation and energy demands.
  7. Deterioration of the "first-ring" post-1945 suburbs Densification, gentrification, and growth of the "first-ring" post-1945 suburbs. Rebirth of the "streetcar suburb." (See Arlington, VA's Rosslyn-Ballston corridor for an example of how to do this correctly)
  8. Shrinking household size Shrinking house size. Precipitous decline in demand for single-family dwellings.
  9. Expanded superhighway system of "outer beltways" to serve new edge cities Increased demand for transit. Urban-rural conflict for allocation of transportation funds. Political deadlock over "outer beltways."
  10. Racial integration as part of the increasing diversity in cities and suburbs Economic segregation supplants racial segregation, as caucasians and economically-advantaged minorities occupy cities, and poor minorities form ethnic enclaves in "middle-ring" suburbs.
  11. (Adding one): Energy costs will guide all new construction and development. Environmental concerns aside, long commutes and energy-inefficient buildings will cease to be economically viable, which will be the real driver of change.

posted by schmod at 9:01 AM on March 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


Talez: "Texarkana, population ~70000 has not only an interstate, a spur almost-beltway and more exits from I-30 than you can poke a stick at. In fact if you drive down any interstate you find these small cities with grossly overengineered roads for their regions which don't appear to do, well, anything at all."

This is a political problem to do with the way that we appropriate funds. We wouldn't be building like this if the money to do it wasn't "free."

Again, looking at the DC area, which is what I know best, Arlington and Virginia's other DC suburbs contribute the overwhelming majority of the state's tax revenue. They get virtually no transportation funding in return. Instead, the governor is using the money to build a bunch of roads in the middle of nowhere that literally nobody wants.
posted by schmod at 9:05 AM on March 13, 2013


growth of the "first-ring" post-1945 suburbs. Rebirth of the "streetcar suburb."

A suburb that is streetcar friendly is almost certainly not a post-1945 suburb.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 9:06 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]



A suburb that is streetcar friendly is almost certainly not a post-1945 suburb.


I think what schmod is getting at is that the earliest post-45 suburbs are relatively close to downtown areas. As the existing buildings decay they will be replaced by more dense development and become more practical for streetcar-type transit.
posted by ghharr at 9:12 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


trends in cities continue to show large swaths of residents in poverty

The apocryphal story has it that when asked, "Why do you rob banks?" 'Slick' Willie Sutton replied, "Because that's where the money is."

It's hardly surprising to find that where you find more people, you will find more poor people.

The question that is really interesting and dynamic is, "Where do the well-off live?"
 
posted by Herodios at 9:13 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


50 years from now Bloomberg will be 11. He can outlaw all the soda sizes he wants as long as he continues to replace traffic with pedestrian plazas
posted by Ad hominem at 9:23 AM on March 13, 2013


If the self-driving automobile comes to maturity in the near-term, as certainly seems possible, it will have a whole lot of possible implications for urban development. My thoughts: As I see it, if the self-driving car comes, it could lead to a much more urban equilibrium or an even more suburban one. Which one seems like it'll depend as much on culture and taste as anything else, and so far as I see it, our culture and our tastes are tending away from mandatory suburbanism, though this probably varies quite a lot by region.

Then there's the impact of energy prices: will fracking lead to oil price decreases and more CNG vehicles? Will we snap out of our insanity and move to carbon pricing?
posted by akgerber at 9:28 AM on March 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


I don't like their list of predictions for the next 50 years

I think this article was written 10 years ago.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 9:28 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's hardly surprising to find that where you find more people, you will find more poor people.

This completely misses the point of percentages.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:30 AM on March 13, 2013


The question that is really interesting and dynamic is, "Where do the well-off live?"

Beyond that, "are they well off because of where they live?" or "are they living there because they're well off?" For places like NYC, DC, and San Francisco, these are hard to separate.
posted by akgerber at 9:30 AM on March 13, 2013


The 60's riots should be way higher on that last. I'd put it at number 3. And I'd argue "Sunbelt-style sprawl" is a product of these other influencers, not an influence itself.

I don't understand how one can see the building of the American suburb, the depopulation of the ethnically diverse industrial cities, and the export of the industrial economy as a numbered list of objective facts rather than a political project. I mean, at the very least, one is tempted to list all of these "top ten influences" as:
racism: the biggest influence on the American metropolis.
But I think it's a bit deeper than racism, it's racism with a purpose. It's kind of funny that even in a publication by Fannie Mae the outlines of the disaster that 20th century US politics has been is real clear.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:32 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


A suburb that is streetcar friendly is almost certainly not a post-1945 suburb.

I think what schmod is getting at is that the earliest post-45 suburbs are relatively close to downtown areas.


I think too many on this forum see the word 'suburb' and think it means only one kind of development and that an 'evil' one. There are many kinds of suburbs. And cities took many approaches to growth, spread, and annexation, too.

There are urban suburbs. I live in an 'suburb', in that it is a separate polity from the main metropolis. An identical neighborhood the same distance from the city center of a different metropolis might be within the city limits.

Huge urban populations of some cities are not well served by public transit. On the other hand, Shaker Heights, Ohio --a suburb of Cleveland -- is served by two light rail lines into the city center. With a transfer downtown, citizens of suburban Shaker Heights can reach the airport 20 miles away on the other side of town faster than driving.

It's not all one thing or the other. Don't throw 'suburb' around like an epithet.
 
posted by Herodios at 9:38 AM on March 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Of course, the car (and cheap oil to run it) makes suburbia possible.

LA suburbia--which is so much the model for much of the post WWII suburban expansion in the US--was shaped as much by the street car as by the automobile. Indeed the beginnings of the suburban boom are driven by public transportation, not private.

Obviously the private car takes over and becomes a powerful reinforcer of suburban sprawl, but the story is more complex than "the car builds the suburb."
posted by yoink at 9:40 AM on March 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


A car is a tremendous albatross around the neck of anyone who owns one, both financially and mentally.

Well it works for me. After 10 years of taking transit I traded in my $90/month bus pass for a $200/month parking pass. The extra 90 minutes a day I have not sitting on or waiting for a bus is worth it. Yes, gas and maintenance, but I probably think more about home maintenance than I do car maintenance.

I was well into my 20s when I got my license, and the main reason was I wanted to take trips out of the city. I love hiking, national parks and road trips. I did some greyhound trips in my early 20s and really didn't have the same freedom to explore.

If I lived somewhere with huge traffic and impossible parking I'd probably consider my car an albatross. How do you get to work? Do you telecommute? Walk? Short subway ride?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 9:41 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Where do the well-off live?"

Where the poor can't.
posted by The Whelk at 9:42 AM on March 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Huge urban populations of some cities are not well served by public transit. On the other hand, Shaker Heights, Ohio --a suburb of Cleveland -- is served by two light rail lines into the city center. With a transfer downtown, citizens of suburban Shaker Heights can reach the airport 20 miles away on the other side of town faster than driving.

You've managed to encapsulate just about everything wrong with "light rail" development in the US in two sentences.

"Where do the well-off live?"

Shaker Heights
posted by ennui.bz at 9:44 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think too many on this forum see the word 'suburb' and think it means only one kind of development and that an 'evil' one. There are many kinds of suburbs. And cities took many approaches to growth, spread, and annexation, too.

There are urban suburbs. I live in an 'suburb', in that it is a separate polity from the main metropolis. An identical neighborhood the same distance from the city center of a different metropolis might be within the city limits.

Beyond that, what a "suburb" is depends on time and place. Is Brooklyn a suburb? Many/most of its residents commute to Manhattan, and many people who live there moved there for the purpose of finding more living space at a lower price than in more-central neighborhoods. But it's still more dense and walkable than even many American downtowns, and has some of the highest numbers of transit commuters and lowest numbers of car owners in the US.

ennui.bz: Note that the "light rail" lines in Cleveland suburbs are an upgraded/rebranded form of the original interurban streetcar lines those suburbs were built around, rather than the problematic transit-to-nowhere park-and-ride system that is too often built these days in the US.
posted by akgerber at 9:50 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


How was Robert Moses, the official Destroyer God of NYC, nowhere on this list?
posted by Afroblanco at 9:55 AM on March 13, 2013


Metafilter needs better conservatives. The ones we have now are too enamored of making Bold Counterintuitive Assertions and then refusing to give any of their reasoning.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:57 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


You've managed to encapsulate just about everything wrong with "light rail" development in the US in two sentences.

So you don't like suburbs because you need a car, but you also don't like suburbs where you don't need a car.

>> "Where do the well-off live?"
> Shaker Heights


You might be surprised.
 
posted by Herodios at 10:04 AM on March 13, 2013


The problem with buses in the US is that their routes are planned with equal helpings of "Help the poor" and "Fuck the poor."

I ride the bus when it makes sense for me to do so (and seriously hate when people categorically refuse to board a bus do their own perceived status). However, I'd hate it if I was in any way dependent on a public bus in the US.

There are some well-run bus routes that are exceptions to this rule, but there aren't many. There are also a few "BRT" routes that somehow manage to be worse than traditional bus lines (or walking for that matter). Boston's Silver Line has got to be the shittiest compromise in the history of American public transportation (and that's saying quite a lot).

I should add two more items to my list above, as others have pointed out:
posted by schmod at 10:14 AM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I probably think more about home maintenance than I do car maintenance.

Probably unsurprisingly, I often think of home ownership in the same terms as I do car ownership, but to each his own, truly.

I get to work on rail, takes me 20-30 minutes door to door. When it was over an hour each way, though, I still did not contemplate getting a car.

>> "Where do the well-off live?"
> Shaker Heights

You might be surprised.


The median family income is over 100k, according to Wikipedia. I don't think I'd be that surprised.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:16 AM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Urbanism should be second nature"
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:34 AM on March 13, 2013


The New Suburban Poverty
Indeed, in 1962 Michael Harrington argued in “The Other America” that poverty survived amid broad prosperity precisely because it was invisible to most Americans. “Living out in the suburbs,” Harrington declared, in what now seems like quaint nostalgia, “it is easy to assume that ours is, indeed, an affluent society.” Americans, he suggested, no longer saw poverty just “on the other side of the tracks” in their towns and small cities, but as a distant problem of the inner city, glimpsed only fleetingly from commuter trains or highway traffic.

The conceit that poverty is a problem suffered by other — often less deserving — people was an essential part of suburban self-identity that was reflected in its politics. Better-heeled suburban schools, sports teams and private recreation contributed to an ethos that emphasized family residential security, individual meritocracy and private life. Its inhabitants conveniently forgot that their cherished neighborhoods were in fact dependent on the programs of the New Deal state, not to mention the federal residential security maps that privileged white Americans.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:36 AM on March 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Lots of pessimism here, but a few notes of optimism.

6. The Internet. [...] Some observers assert that the Internet will doom cities to obsolescence as cyberspace communication replaces the face-to-face contacts that cities used to provide. Others see big cities reborn as hip environments where the art world and other urban-based centers of creativity meet the new technology of communications.

From what I gather, high-tech workforces heavily favor dense development. I've read many essays to that effect. There's a reason high-tech corridors favor places like Silicon Valley, SF, Fairfax, Cambridge, etc. You want a place where all of your tech people constitute a community, can "rub elbows" and talk tech. Perhaps more importantly, these corridors constitute singular job markets. Fresh grads looking for tech jobs will move to where the most active tech scene is. Hell, people emigrate to the US from other countries to work in our tech strongholds. (and yes, while I realize that Silicon Valley is not a shining example of dense development, it helps serves my larger point about having a "critical mass" of tech workers)

This dovetails nicely with a point made upthread :

Also, missing from the list of influencers over the next 50 years is the growing trend of millenials who prioritize many other things over owning a car.

Like how 77% of millenials want to live in an urban core, not a suburb. The Baby Boom generation's life choices were shaped by the crack wave of the 80s and 90s. People my age (mid-30s) or younger are more likely to say, "What's the big deal about living in the city? Seems perfectly safe to me." I've always gotten a kick from the undeserved street cred I've gotten from older people, having lived in places like the Lower East Side, Alphabet City, and the Mission District. Really, if you're young and single and don't feel threatened by crime, cities are ideal places to live. I haven't had a car since 2003, and even with SF's sometimes-marginal public transportation, I don't miss car ownership at all. (although I will admit to using Zipcar for various errands, usually the type that require the carrying of boxes)

7. Deterioration of the "First-Ring" Post-1945 Suburbs. [...] But if these suburbs are able to use both public and private resources to upgrade their housing stock and take advantage of their strategic locations between the core and the edge, they could become new models for adaptive reuse, smart growth, and social diversity.

This will happen, although probably in affluent cities before less-affluent ones. Sadly, I think it's gonna be a while before north St. Louis county becomes revived. But outside of larger cities? You bet! People are gonna look and see, "oh wow, right outside the city, there's tons of cheap land!" Plus, those inner-ring suburbs will be FAR easier to serve with public transportation. Even buses!

8. Shrinking Household Size. [...] Over the past three decades the proportion of households consisting of married couples with children declined from 40 to 25 percent. The remaining three-quarters of American households typically consist of smaller, nontraditional single-parent families, couples living without children, and one-person households.

If you don't have children, that takes away from the #1 reason people give for suburban migration : schools. Or if you have one child instead of two, you can better afford to send that child to private schools.

10. Racial Integration as Part of the Increasing Diversity in Cities and Suburbs.

Ultimately, I think this is one force that has the potential to make everything better in the US. 50 years from now, white people will be very much the minority. Will we still have White Flight without the white people? Will it be replaced by Hispanic Flight or Vietnamese Flight? No way to know. But I agree with the point upthread that American geography will be stratified more by economics than race. Is economic stratification good? No, of course not. But I'm willing to bet it beats racism. At the very least, it allows for greater upward mobility.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:42 AM on March 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Actually, if you're stuck way out in the middle of nowhere, far from work, with shitty public transportation, yeah. Car is freedom. Expensive, stressful freedom. But the freedom to be stuck in the middle of rural nowhere, unable to get to a job, that's its own kind of stressful.

But realistically, before suburbanization, how many people was that? Not that many.

Sure, you can say for sprawl suburbs outside of Phoenix, a car is freedom and you can't get anywhere without a car, but in 1950, only about 100,000 people lived there. People voluntarily chose to construct an environment where they were slaves to cars when they were not previously, because they mistakenly thought that was freedom.

For most people, the car didn't suddenly arrive and have them say, "wow! I have freedom!" Instead, the car arrived, and they then moved to places where they would be 100% dependent on it.
posted by deanc at 10:42 AM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


The problem with buses in the US is that their routes are planned with equal helpings of "Help the poor" and "Fuck the poor."

I ride the bus when it makes sense for me to do so (and seriously hate when people categorically refuse to board a bus do their own perceived status). However, I'd hate it if I was in any way dependent on a public bus in the US.
So one difficulty is that bus systems have two purposes — on the one hand, they're supposed to replace car trips by choice riders, but on the other hand they're also supposed to provide safety-net coverage for elderly people, sick people, and extremely poor people, who would without transit be completely screwed. These are both really important things, but they call for completely different network designs. If you're providing last-resort service, you want to make many stops, because often you'll be serving people for whom walking an extra two blocks to get to a stop is in fact legitimately onerous. But if you want to compete with cars, you need an express system that doesn't have particularly many stops.

In any case, if you're not damned careful, you'll fuck over somebody, and hard.

The way that most municipalities, at least the ones that care about transit, have dealt with this is by having express and local routes, of course. But express routes typically only run in commute hours, which makes it difficult for choice riders to make the decision to forego their cars altogether. A while back transit planner Jarrett Walker at Human Transit put up a post (which unfortunately I can't find) that noted that, whereas today local services are considered the "main" all-day service and express services an addition to that service, it might make more sense do it the other way around, with frequent all-day express service augmented by less frequent local routes.

Moreover, though (and my main point of reference is the transit systems on the SF peninsula)1, most people making decisions about transit never ride transit. Lacking firsthand experience of what makes for a good system, they are simply unqualified to make these complex choices — in fact, frequently they don't even realize there's a choice to be made.

[1]: It's especially funny watching Palo Alto council reps talk about their support for Caltrain (the commuter rail service that runs up the Peninsula from San José to San Francisco) in terms of "the romance of the rails." Fuck the romance of the rails! I ride that train to get places, folks!
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:47 AM on March 13, 2013 [12 favorites]


The US has an absolutely crazy system of state freeways and interstates.

The US highway system is a military, not civil project - civilians get to use it, though. And since we use it so often, and find it essential to our everyday life, we forget it was designed to move troops and materiel to anywhere of strategic importance in the USA... and to evacuate population centers... in next to no time.

An ocean didn't stop the Americans from fighting and winning in both Europe and Asia, and this wasn't lost on the Eisenhower administration during the cold war - we needed a fallback in case we lost superiority at sea during a conflict of major powers. The ability to funnel the production of the rust belt and the harvest of the plains to the south and to the coasts in mere days would be a powerful weapon against any invader.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:48 AM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


and to evacuate population centers... in next to no time.


That might have been the original intent, but the interstate highway system is proven to be a miserable failure at that.
posted by ocschwar at 10:52 AM on March 13, 2013


It's an interesting list (although a 10 year old one). I would suggest an 11th influence was television. It had four impacts; two larger and two smaller. The first major impact was the rapid normalization of suburbia and single family housing as "normal". The auto-oriented suburb, which was invented 60 years ago and has significant drawbacks is still the only thing most developers want to build and most consumers want to buy. Without the influence of television (which took off at the same time as the suburbs, 1950-1953), and it's Los Angeles-centric view of the world, the suburb and the automobile would have less mindshare. The second big impact was the decline of the public sphere; with entertainment increasingly appearing in your living room, there is less need to go to movie theatres and live performances. You can now live twenty miles from town and still see the same entertainment as the downtown dweller.

The two smaller impacts were in the creation of more national channels of advertising, which helped foster mall brands, big box retailers and the chain store nature of suburbia. The second was in increasing the speed of the hedonic treadmill, where people view more affluent lifestyles on TV as normal, and strive to meet them. (See the recent post of sitcom floorplans, and look at almost any of the houses; the Simpsons live in a 5,800 sq foot house based on that. Even a skilled and intelligent nuclear engineer is going to struggle to afford that in the real world.) The article suggests shrinking household sizes would be a major factor in the future of the American city; from 1999 when the article was written to 2010, the average household size (i.e. number of people) leveled off, but the average house size rose from 2089 sq ft to 2203 sq ft.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:54 AM on March 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


To be fair, though, freeways did a wonderful job of evacuating our population centers over a period of two or three decades. So there's that.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:54 AM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


A while back transit planner Jarrett Walker at Human Transit put up a post (which unfortunately I can't find) that noted that, whereas today local services are considered the "main" all-day service and express services an addition to that service, it might make more sense do it the other way around, with frequent all-day express service augmented by less frequent local routes.

Human Transit is well worth reading if you're interested in public transit. He makes the point over and over that frequency and directness of routing should trump "coverage" and one-seat rides.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:57 AM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Afroblanco: "There's a reason high-tech corridors favor places like Silicon Valley, SF, Fairfax, Cambridge, etc. You want a place where all of your tech people constitute a community, can "rub elbows" and talk tech. Perhaps more importantly, these corridors constitute singular job markets. Fresh grads looking for tech jobs will move to where the most active tech scene is. "

With the exception of Cambridge, none of those are good examples of dense development. In fact, they're all pretty good examples of uncontrollable sprawl, bad traffic, and massively inflated housing prices.

What they do all have in common is formerly-cheap land, and proximity to other big things: SF and the Valley are right next to Stanford, which is one hell of a powerhouse (that most East Coasters seem to overlook). Cambridge has MIT, and Fairfax has the Federal Government, and Virginia's incredible knack for attracting federal dollars to its state while branding itself as business-friendly.

Oh, and yes. You should all go read Jarrett Walker's stuff. He's one of the most sane and rational voices in modern transportation planning.
posted by schmod at 11:08 AM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Actually, if you're stuck way out in the middle of nowhere, far from work, with shitty public transportation, yeah. Car is freedom....

But realistically, before suburbanization, how many people was that? Not that many.


In 1940 the U.S. population was 56.5 percent urban, 43.5 percent rural. So, yes, that many.
posted by Longtime Listener at 11:11 AM on March 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


That might have been the original intent, but the interstate highway system is proven to be a miserable failure at that.

Contra-flow worked out in New Orleans pretty well post-Katrina - as bad as it was, things would have been lightyears worse without it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:15 AM on March 13, 2013


When talking about where the poor live, it's best to read up a bit. Trends have changed in the past 10-15 years, and the number of poor people living in suburbs is now greater than the number of poor people living in central cities.
posted by postel's law at 11:17 AM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


With the exception of Cambridge, none of those are good examples of dense development. In fact, they're all pretty good examples of uncontrollable sprawl, bad traffic, and massively inflated housing prices.

And I'm not going to deny that. What I'm saying, though, is there is obvious strength to having geographical centers where high-tech workers live roughly in the same area. Combine that with millenials' desire to live in an urban core, and it would follow that, if you wish to encourage a high-tech economy, dense development would be the way to go.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:19 AM on March 13, 2013



With the exception of Cambridge, none of those are good examples of dense development. In fact, they're all pretty good examples of uncontrollable sprawl, bad traffic, and massively inflated housing prices.


NoVA and Sillicon Valley are both experiencing surges of demand for the little urban living there is available. (Adams Morgan, San Francisco proper) Everyone else is living in the sprawl because it's that or live in their cars. This, by the way, remains a big draw that makes Boston competitive compared to Silly Valley.
posted by ocschwar at 11:21 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hey, it's my hobby horse. Let me hop on it.

So it's a genuine tragedy that Silicon Valley is losing jobs/workers to Boston or whatever, because, due to Northern California's idyllic weather, it costs less carbon to support people here than anywhere else in America. If you live here, you don't have to use up any fuel at all on heating in the winter, and even though it gets hot enough for air conditioning to be nice in the summer, it's not remotely as necessary as it is in Phoenix or Texas, or even New York or Boston.

As such, it should be a priority to get everyone who wants a place in Northern California a place in Northern California, because it's just that good for the environment. Unfortunately, the land and the local governments here are in large part owned by utterly retrograde aging antienvironmentalists who think that it's more important to temporarily maintain a parody of the suburban lifestyle depicted on old television shows than it is to keep our civilization from burning up and drowning.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:31 AM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Follow the money. Viewed from one perspective, all these (except perhaps for 6 and 10) have in common an unholy connection between big government and big business.

Sort of the civilian side of the Military Industrial Complex, only its fruits more ambiguous and its underpinnings less immediately obvious.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:35 AM on March 13, 2013



So it's a genuine tragedy that Silicon Valley is losing jobs/workers to Boston or whatever, because, due to Northern California's idyllic weather, it costs less carbon to support people here than anywhere else in America. If you live here, you don't have to use up any fuel at all on heating in the winter, and even though it gets hot enough for air conditioning to be nice in the summer, it's not remotely as necessary as it is in Phoenix or Texas, or even New York or Boston.


That gets moot when your AC comes from rooftop PV. And unlike you guys, we have a water system that's 100% gravity fed.
posted by ocschwar at 11:37 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]



That might have been the original intent, but the interstate highway system is proven to be a miserable failure at that.

Contra-flow worked out in New Orleans pretty well post-Katrina - as bad as it was, things would have been lightyears worse without it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:15 AM on March 13 [+] [!]


Even contra flow struggled to do what decent train service would do without a sweat.
posted by ocschwar at 11:38 AM on March 13, 2013


Absolutely — there's a lot of ways to live a first-world lifestyle and still save carbon. One of those ways, though, is to move to Northern California. It's terrible that a bunch of self-regarding fossils who don't understand the link between environmentalism and urban planning are making it impossible for people to do so.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:39 AM on March 13, 2013


With the exception of Cambridge, none of those are good examples of dense development. In fact, they're all pretty good examples of uncontrollable sprawl, bad traffic, and massively inflated housing prices.

Uhh, San Francisco is the second densest city in America. The Greater Bay Area Co-prosperity Sphere is a lot less dense, but it includes a lot of area that you would never even consider suburban, and yet it is still more dense than Washington DC, for instance.

Also claiming SF is a powerhouse because of Stanford is fairly loopy.
posted by aspo at 11:40 AM on March 13, 2013


aspo: Why? The school's been on a multi-decade campaign (dating back to the 50s) to nurture, spin off, and then rent land to tech firms. Stanford really is a huge deal down here, far out of proportion to its size.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:44 AM on March 13, 2013


You Can't Tip a Buick: "So it's a genuine tragedy that Silicon Valley is losing jobs/workers to Boston or whatever, because, due to Northern California's idyllic weather, it costs less carbon to support people here than anywhere else in America."

This a million times. Any environmentalist in the bay area or LA area that isn't in favor of rapid and dense growth there needs to re-evaluate their priorities.
posted by Defenestrator at 11:45 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Really, if you're young and single and don't feel threatened by crime, cities are ideal places to live.

If you're young and single and you have money. If you have to pay your loans and you can't get a good job, then you're in the group that gets stuck in the suburbs, kid.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:48 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also the "Ten Most Likely Influences on the American Metropolis for the Next 50 Years" section seems a bit dated. The "Suburban Political Majority" references the 1996 elections and I know I've read about a dozen articles at this point crediting urban centers with being key to Obama's win in '12, in addition to reading about plenty of evidence that migration patterns are trending away from suburbs and back into cities.
posted by Defenestrator at 11:49 AM on March 13, 2013


Well partially because I went to Cal and have Feelings, but also because SF proper has been a major city since long before the tech world took over, and even then I don't feel it's got quite the same feel as SV (Which I will agree has a lot to thank Stanford for, well, maybe really HP, who were both Stanford alums I think)
posted by aspo at 11:49 AM on March 13, 2013


Actually, you know what? My comment above assumes a young person has (student) loans, which isn't always the case, and it certainly isn't the case if they didn't go to college. That's an ugly assumption at bottom, and I should have thought things through before commenting.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:58 AM on March 13, 2013


Also claiming SF is a powerhouse because of Stanford is fairly loopy.

SF would at least be a very different place with SV.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:01 PM on March 13, 2013


If you're young and single and you have money. If you have to pay your loans and you can't get a good job, then you're in the group that gets stuck in the suburbs, kid.

Eh? Even in Boston, you can crowd into a roommate scene and not need a car.
posted by ocschwar at 12:04 PM on March 13, 2013


SF would at least be a very different place with SV.

Without SV, I mean.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:22 PM on March 13, 2013


Your list(s) leave out nuclear weapons. Or are we still forgetting that?
posted by Twang at 12:27 PM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also claiming SF is a powerhouse because of Stanford is fairly loopy.

Pointing out Stanford's role in the startup culture gets the causality reversed. There are plenty of places with prestigious engineering universities. Only one of them, Stanford, was located in the place where William Shockley decided to found his semiconductor company, whose former employees created the VC industry and startup culture. Stanford simply recognized that its location was a competitive advantage when it came to fostering startups.
posted by deanc at 12:44 PM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


You could also look at Stanford's role as a pure real estate venture. They were cash-poor and land-rich, with a charter forbidding them from selling any land but saying nothing about whether they could rent it out. The Stanford Shopping Center is their other way of turning land into money.
posted by enf at 12:50 PM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


No mention of fixies. Huh.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:53 PM on March 13, 2013


This a million times. Any environmentalist in the bay area or LA area that isn't in favor of rapid and dense growth there needs to re-evaluate their priorities.

Where are you going to get the billions and billions of gallons of fresh water you'll need for this?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:57 PM on March 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Where are you going to get the billions and billions of gallons of fresh water you'll need for this?

The vast majority of California's water use is agricultural, plus presumably it wouldn't be worse than the current trend of everyone moving to suburban Texas, which also has water issues.
posted by ghharr at 1:17 PM on March 13, 2013


The vast majority of California's water use is agricultural

And who needs food, amirite?

I do agree with you, though. If I had my way, all greenfield development in CA (hell, in the US) would stop immediately, and all future growth would be higher density infill and/or brownfield.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:19 PM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


presumably it wouldn't be worse than the current trend of everyone moving to suburban Texas, which also has water issues.

You're missing the point, which is the notion of "hey let's increase the density of this area because the weather is better and therefore heating is cheaper" forgets the fact that an engineered solution has to deal with all the problems, not just one of them.

San Francisco gets a huge chunk of its water from Yosemite National Park. Most people don't know that. You think environmentalists are going to throw up another dam in the park?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:28 PM on March 13, 2013


And who needs food, amirite?


California being more dense doesn't have to mean vastly more mouths to feed. Lots of current consumers of California agriculture live in other states but would probably like to live there, if it was cheaper. It's a nice place!
posted by ghharr at 1:28 PM on March 13, 2013


Cool Papa Bell: "San Francisco gets a huge chunk of its water from Yosemite National Park. Most people don't know that. You think environmentalists are going to throw up another dam in the park?"

Sounds really shitty and I hate the idea of spoiling more of the California wildnerness but it sounds better than the global warming that would surely destroy even more.

If the task of getting more water to CA metro areas is really quantitatively more destructive to the environment than everyone moving to the deserts of Texas then you're right, but I find that hard to believe.
posted by Defenestrator at 1:39 PM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Conspicuously absent from the list: the Segway.
posted by Flashman at 1:57 PM on March 13, 2013


If you're young and single and you have money. If you have to pay your loans and you can't get a good job, then you're in the group that gets stuck in the suburbs, kid.

Not wanting to get in the way of your playing the privilege card, but lots of young people with loans can and do make it in expensive cities. When I graduated in 2003 (not a great time to graduate!) I had a student debt load that was $10K greater than my annual salary of $40K/year, and I had to find a way to make it in NYC! Yet somehow I found a way. Roommates, putting off large purchases, that kind of thing. It helped that NYC has great public transportation and I didn't have to waste any of my precious money on the care and feeding of an automobile.

Anyway, I realize that $40K/year is more than lots of recent grads make, and I personally know a few people who had to move home after college because they couldn't find a job that could support them. But the whole "cities are for the rich" assertion is for shit. You just have to be willing to make sacrifices. A lot harder to do with a family to support, but if you're young and single, it's a valid lifestyle choice.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:02 PM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


You're only fooling yourself if you think any large scale redevelopment in this country is ever going to happen.

Suburbs will be the new slums.
posted by Ghost Mode at 2:08 PM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Suburbs will be the new slums.

Some already are. In IL: Harvey, Cicero, Rolling meadows, lots of others.

MA: Lynn, Brockton, Haverhill, lots of others.

NY: Bridgeport, CT, lots of towns in NJ.

CA: Victorville, near LA.
posted by ocschwar at 2:25 PM on March 13, 2013


How is "White flight from desegregation & busing" not on the list ?
Unfortunately, I would have put it in the top 3.
posted by wester at 2:27 PM on March 13, 2013


The vast majority of California's water use is agricultural

That's not really what bugs me. It's how CA has to use pumps in the aqueducts to get the water across mountain ridges.

The notion of losing water in my tap because of a blackout is particularly unappealing after reading Dies The Fire.
posted by ocschwar at 2:28 PM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


racism: the biggest influence on the American metropolis.

"Where do the well-off live?"
Where the poor can't.


God. So pathetic, this white flight thing. Generations of white people tremendously inconveniencing themselves and wrecking the cityscape for the sake of getting away from people they're under no obligation to interact with or even acknowledge. Is it really that hard to just ignore those disgusting black/poor/whatever people that moved in down the block? Did you really need to cover half of North America with asphalt and neighborhoods of sensory deprivation chambers to escape from tacos and rap? And hey, turns out it was totally pointless anyway since those horrible not-exactly-the-same-as-yous just went on ahead and continued existing, and now all of us have to live in the mess you left behind.
posted by pleurodirous at 2:49 PM on March 13, 2013


How was 2003 not a great time to graduate?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 3:43 PM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Suburbs will be the new slums.

The challenge, of course, being that at least when the slums were dense inner-city neighbourhoods, government could provide services (to whatever degree that they did) relatively efficiently.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 3:55 PM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


How was 2003 not a great time to graduate?

The US tech sector had still not fully recovered from the dotcom bust, and NYC in particular was still reeling with 9/11 PTSD. Technically, summer of 2002 would have been the worst for that particular recession, but summer 2003 things had barely begun to pick up. I'd spent months sending resumes into a black hole, until finally I lucked out and was offered a job at a website that I read regularly.
posted by Afroblanco at 4:00 PM on March 13, 2013


Lynn and Brockton are actual cities that were destroyed by the mega-city trend of the 20th century and beyond, where you're not a real city without a few million people, and companies flee for semi-rural 'burbs like Billerica or the bright lights of Boston, leaving behind an increasingly poor population, abandoned factories and crumbling infrastructure. Then people decry them as poor suburbs, as if they're cookie cutter tract homes filled with gentrification refugee squatters instead of sattelite cities strangled by the death of light rail and trolley service.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:08 PM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


For most people, the car didn't suddenly arrive and have them say, "wow! I have freedom!" Instead, the car arrived, and they then moved to places where they would be 100% dependent on it.

This still isn't really sounding like a bad thing.

Assuming the choice would be 100% dependency, I think a lot of folks would weigh the choice: be 100% dependent on public transportation, or be 100% dependent on their own vehicle, and decide the latter beats the former.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:22 PM on March 13, 2013


Assuming the choice would be 100% dependency, I think a lot of folks would weigh the choice: be 100% dependent on public transportation, or be 100% dependent on their own vehicle, and decide the latter beats the former.

So Immanuel Kant came up with this idea called the Categorical Imperative, most precisely stated as "act according to the maxim whereby you can will that it becomes a universal law." I'm not exactly on-board with Kantian deontological ethics, but nevertheless your statement above sets off all sorts of alarms for me. There is just no way "drive a car" can be made into a universal law, because:
  1. It's impossible to provide everyone with cars
  2. If it were possible to provide everyone with cars, we would be royally fucked, like even more than we are now.
Basically, if we take the categorical imperative seriously, you're saying that individual Americans should put their personal comfort ahead of ethical concerns. It's a bankrupt stance and I'm disappointed to see it on this site.

A less highfalutin' objection to what you're saying involves this picture. It indicates how much space about 50 people take up on the road when they're on buses, how much space they take up when they're on bikes, and how much space they take up when they're in private, single-user automobiles.

It's pretty striking.

The way most American regions have opted to deal with this space problem is by smearing out the population over a broad geographical expanse. Perversely, this has resulted in a massive loss of individual comfort — just ask anyone who has to commute from the Inland Empire to Los Angeles about how much they love spending hours and hours in traffic.

The categorical imperative, man. Even if you don't believe in it, it finds ways to come back and bite you.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:54 PM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


99 Percent Invisible had a podcast related to this. Basically it was a land speculation along with some trolley car company profiteering.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 5:54 PM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Assuming the choice would be 100% dependency, I think a lot of folks would weigh the choice: be 100% dependent on public transportation, or be 100% dependent on their own vehicle, and decide the latter beats the former.

Well, you could say that. Or we could assume the choice between cars and public transportation is "which vehicle would I rather have drive over my foot", and pick the former as well. Or we could look at the actual real world that exists, where the choice is areas that are 100% dependent on cars, or areas where cars and public transportation coexist and both are available.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 5:58 PM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Moreover, a key problem with automobile dependency is that it only makes sense for certain demographics. If you're under 16, living in an automobile-dependent area sucks. If you're not rich enough to afford much gasoline, it sucks. If you're elderly, it sucks hard — eventually, you'll be faced with the choice between radically constraining your mobility or endangering others.

Auto-dependent suburbs are built for the comfort of people in their 30s who can afford spending a lot of money on gasoline. This doesn't describe very many people, and will describe fewer and fewer people as time goes on.

You seem to be describing the choice between cars and public transit as an aesthetic issue, or a personal convenience issue, when really it's much, much different than that. Driving everywhere really is legitimately harmful, and moreover it's personally short-sighted/self-destructive, given that (if we're lucky) we'll grow old.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:02 PM on March 13, 2013



Lynn and Brockton are actual cities that were destroyed by the mega-city trend of the 20th century ...


True enough. Nevertheless, in real estate, the rich live where they will, and the poor live where they must, and in every major metropolitan region in America, the right want to live in the center, which means the poor must find housing in the periphery.
posted by ocschwar at 6:17 PM on March 13, 2013


Assuming the choice would be 100% dependency, I think a lot of folks would weigh the choice: be 100% dependent on public transportation, or be 100% dependent on their own vehicle, and decide the latter beats the former.

I've found that people who say things like this have never lived someplace with great public transportation. I lived in NYC for 7 years, and I never wanted a car the whole time I was there. I live in SF now, and even though the public transportation here pales in comparison to NYC, I never find myself wishing I had a car.

It's sad that that American cities are so poorly laid out and have such shitty public transportation options that it makes people need and want cars.
posted by Afroblanco at 6:17 PM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have no idea why, but I find Levittown endlessly fascinating
posted by deborah at 8:20 PM on March 13, 2013


A less highfalutin' objection to what you're saying involves this picture.

That looks to be comparing parking space - which for a bus would actually be zero - because nobody could bike or drive that close together.

And an urban bus can potentially move many more people than that if it continually drops off and picks up riders along its route.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 8:32 PM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Cool Papa Bell: "This a million times. Any environmentalist in the bay area or LA area that isn't in favor of rapid and dense growth there needs to re-evaluate their priorities.

Where are you going to get the billions and billions of gallons of fresh water you'll need for this?
"

I suppose they'll do what they already do and squeeze Colorado and Wyoming a bit harder ... must! fill! swimming pools!!
posted by barnacles at 9:24 PM on March 13, 2013


Some really interesting predictions for the next 50 years. I wouldn't have thought of self-driving cars (though I suppose I should give up my dream of personal jet packs)

Here's my incomplete list of major influences/challenges in no particular order

- The lack of affordable housing/homelessness (no more HUD high-rises, so now what?)

- Poor and old in the suburbs

- Water shortages

- Privatization of government (e.g. Sandy Springs)

- Climate Change Adaptation

I'm still trying to understand how mobile computing will change cities, but as many have mentioned, the future is now.
According to Pew 76% of U.S. teens aged 12 to 17 own a cell phone. Nearly half of these cell phone-toting teenagers are actually sporting smartphones--which means nearly 40% of all teens have a smartphone. (via)
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:42 PM on March 13, 2013


Human Transit is well worth reading if you're interested in public transit. He makes the point over and over that frequency and directness of routing should trump "coverage" and one-seat rides.

I just want to complain briefly about the one-seat-ride fetish. It's a remarkably good way to make transit systems utterly useless, and it's proof that a lot of people who design transit systems never have to even think about using them.

</soapbox>
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 6:25 AM on March 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's a remarkably good way to make transit systems utterly useless

This statement is itself useless on its own. Would you mind explaining?

As far as self-driving public transit, I would not be surprised if liability concerns kept that from happening.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:59 AM on March 14, 2013


This statement is itself useless on its own. Would you mind explaining?

Sure. There's far too much emphasis (in the poorly functioning systems, anyway) on being able to get from A to B with the minimum possible amount of walking, and preferably in one vehicle, rather than being able to get from A to B reliably. What you get, then, is usually one or more of these: Knowing that you won't have to change to another vehicle is not nearly as valuable as knowing that you won't have to wait 55 minutes if you miss your connection.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:29 AM on March 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


That is a great explanation, thank you.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:12 AM on March 14, 2013


What's especially galling is that, especially in California, there's a tendency for bus systems to not offer free transfers — every time you get on a bus, you pay another full fare.1 This makes the bus network almost perfectly useless for most riders, unless absolutely everything they want to get to is on one route.

Imagine you got into your car and discovered that you had to pay two dollars and fifty cents every time you turned left or right. That's what charging for transfers does to bus networks.

1: Unless you've bought a monthly pass — but if it's really expensive to ride occasionally, you won't ever become the type of person who buys a monthly pass unless you're just really, really, really devoted to transit.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:27 AM on March 14, 2013


(forgot to mention, I think this might have some small part in explaining the one-seat-ride mania. If you're a city council member who's never rode transit, and who thinks it's just natural to pay every time you get on a bus, of course you're going to favor very infrequent buses from everywhere to everywhere over frequent service along major intersecting corridors.)
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:48 AM on March 14, 2013


Our bus system has never offered free transfers between buses. Right now they're $1.00 on top of the $2.50 you've already paid for the first bus. It's doubly annoying because they have a habit of splitting existing routes up so that a trip that used to be all on one bus is now on two buses causing you to spend $7.00 for the round trip instead of $5.00.
posted by octothorpe at 11:50 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's pretty sick. When you transfer buses, you're actually doing the transit agency a favor. They shouldn't be charging you for it.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:51 AM on March 14, 2013


To me, the ideal bus system looks something like Vancouver's. There's a high-frequency grid covering the whole city.

My city's transit system is a "pulse" system based on feeder routes and downtown routes. That means you can get on a meandering neighbourhood bus and transfer to a high frequency route (usually light rail) which takes you downtown, or you can get on a direct-to-downtown route and have a conveniently timed transfer to another direct-from-downtown route. The problem is of course that nearly every transit trip goes through downtown, which makes for long crosstown trips, and buses and trains get very full close to downtown. And your wait for that first bus is probably going to be long.

Vancouver's system lets you get on a bus on any main street, and ride anywhere on the grid with one transfer. There's no timing, but the buses are every 10 minutes, so you'll wait an average of 10 minutes total for the two buses. Trips are shorter overall as well because you can go directly cross-town.

Of course a grid system is politically impossible here for environmental reasons (ironically). Nobody wants to build more bridges over the river valleys.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 2:24 PM on March 14, 2013


For the other members of the Moses hate club:

Robert Moses' letter in response to Robert Caro's The Power Broker (via)

NY state to rip out Robert Moses Parkway in Niagara Falls... providing residents with direct access to the gorge for the first time in decades.

Unsurprising fact: Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein said that The Power Broker didn't have the intended impact: "I think I liked Robert Moses more than the author wanted me to."
posted by spamandkimchi at 6:09 PM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I should have posted this earlier, because it's an excellent piece from an excellent blog:

Was the Rise of Car Ownership Responsible for the Midcentury Homeownership Boom in the US?

Short answer based on his data crunching: doesn't really look like it.
posted by Defenestrator at 9:30 PM on March 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


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