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What to Do About Suburbs?
July 7, 2010 1:15 PM   Subscribe

As suburbs become home to more poor people, immigrants, minorities, senior citizens and households with no children and we face what may be the end of suburbia, planners are wondering what do we do with suburbs?

Ellen Dunham-Jones thinks we should retrofit them. Victor Dover lays out some issues (pdf). Aaron Renn has a strategy, but Alex Steffan isn't sure it's even worth the time.
posted by lunit (127 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
I haven't gone through the links yet, but the phrasing here may be a bit of an unintentional paradox. As suburbs become home to more poor people, immigrants and minorities move to the suburbs, why would we be worrying about the "end of suburbia"? Maybe you just mean the changing face of suburbia?
posted by Think_Long at 1:26 PM on July 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Whatever the opposite of "demolish established urban neighborhoods to build superhighways to the middle of nowhere, subsidize oversized and inefficient monstertrucks, and drill increasingly desperate and dangerous wells in search of the next sweet hit of oil" is.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:29 PM on July 7, 2010 [22 favorites]


I got sort of mixed messages from the articles even when reading them, Think_Long. Some of it is about the changing demographics, some of it is about what to do when no one lives there any more and some of it is about convincing the people who don't leave to live more sustainably.

I think part of the problem is that there "the suburbs" aren't just one, single class. There are inner and outer suburbs, industrial suburbs. Suburbs that are actually small towns that are close to large cities. Each one has its own situation and set of problems. The sprawl is also a web, and like all webs it there are intricate dependencies.
posted by charred husk at 1:31 PM on July 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.
posted by barnacles at 1:33 PM on July 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


Trick question: planners don't drive development. Well, we wish we did, but there are other factors than urban and regional planning driving development. As noted in the HuffPo article what do we do with suburbs notes, "As planners at the Department of Housing and Urban Development tried to fix cities, every other department of government, at all levels, was facilitating sprawl."

I'd imagine it is cheaper to buy vacant land on the edge of a community and hope someone will drive an extra 5 minutes, than try to retrofit an existing house to meet current codes and what is perceived to be the current trends in development, or even demolish the whole thing and start from scratch. And when housing starts are still an indicator for economic well-being and many cities are already built out, where will those new starts begin? On the fringes.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:33 PM on July 7, 2010


Haha! That's cute. No, they'll become suburban tenement slums like Central Falls or Brockton, inner cities without cities. New England went through this with the death of the mills. A urban planner's delight it ain't, as the mob moves in to bribe town officials to put up cheap-ass slumlord rowhouses in usedta-be nice neighborhoods to store the growing legions of the poor and dispossessed. When the supermarket in the neighborhood stripmall closes, but the liquor store and footlocker stays, you know you're in the brave new future of the suburb.
posted by Slap*Happy at 1:34 PM on July 7, 2010 [7 favorites]


What ever happened to the idea of arcologies? Or what about tunnels, I've always liked a good tunnel. Perhaps interconnected buildings. Or even something like the catacombs, but, with less corpses.
posted by LD Feral at 1:34 PM on July 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


The WSJ (possible firewall) had an article yesterday calling the death of the burbs BS.

Demographic trends, including an oft-predicted tsunami of Baby Boom "empty nesters" to urban cores, have been misread. True, some wealthy individuals have moved to downtown lofts. But roughly three quarters of retirees in the first bloc of retiring baby boomers are sticking pretty close to the suburbs, where the vast majority now reside. Those that do migrate, notes University of Arizona Urban Planning Professor Sandi Rosenbloom, tend to head further out into the suburban periphery. "Everybody in this business wants to talk about the odd person who moves downtown, but it's basically a 'man bites dog story,'" she says. "Most retire in place."
posted by otto42 at 1:36 PM on July 7, 2010


I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.
posted by barnacles at 1:33 PM on July 7 [+] [!]


Was your yearbook quote, by chance, "What a long strange trip it's been?"
posted by docpops at 1:39 PM on July 7, 2010 [15 favorites]


The suburbs will take care of themselves, but may just transform into slums of a different flavor. In Northern Virginia, where I grew up, you have 4 person families living next to immigrant clans of 15 who add a third story on top of the house to accommodate their space needs and have six cars parked on the lawn.
posted by docpops at 1:42 PM on July 7, 2010


If DC does offer a window into the future, then it may be worth looking at Langley Park.

From Wikipedia:
In 1955, Langley Park was "the fastest growing trade area in Metropolitan Washington" with 200,000 people located within a 3-mile (4.8 km) radius. Affordable housing attracted a community consisting mostly of young couples with families. In the following decades, Langley Park became a middle-class enclave of predominantly European American, Jewish residents.[28]

During the 1970s, after desegregation, increasing numbers of African Americans moved into the community. Although some established families remained, the white population declined due to white flight to the outer suburbs. In 1970, the first language of 6.1 percent was Spanish; by 1980 that number climbed to 13.4 percent.[29] During the 1980s, Hispanic and Caribbean immigrants from countries such as El Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala, Jamaica and the West Indies lead a new wave of migration into the community. In addition, Asian and African immigrants from places like Vietnam, India, Ethiopia and Nigeria settled into the area. It proved to be an attractive locale for immigrants due to the availability of affordable housing that could also accommodate families. The integration of these new groups into Langley Park reflected a larger trend of increased migration to the Greater Washington area during the 1980s and 1990s. By 1990, the area was 40 percent Hispanic.

At the same time, the area suffered through a period of physical decline and increases in crime. During the 1980s, the community struggled with blighted residential and commercial areas. The apartment complexes experienced substantial turnover in occupancy. Residents in the 14th Avenue and Kanawha Street area in particular were subjected to "open air drug markets" and other criminal activity. Long time residents and the new immigrant communities were both victims of crime. Some homeowners organized to address neighborhood concerns about rising crime. For the 1988-89 school year, bus service for children who lived in walking distance to school was implemented to ensure their safety. Police also increased their presence in the community. Apartment complexes, under new management, initiated safety measures to discourage drug activity such as installing new lighting, security doors and maintaining general upkeep of their properties. At the same time, police in Prince George’s County conducted multiple raids in an effort to shut down drug activity in the county. By 1991, officials were taking note of an increase in illegal immigrants from Central America and day laborers were beginning to become a common sight on area streets.[30] By the mid-2000s, it had become a center for MS-13 gang activity in the state along with nearby Takoma Park.[31]
I lived within walking distance of Langley Park for about 3 years (I never walked there) and drove through it countless times. I wouldn't want to live there. It's a wonder what a different ten miles can make, sometimes.
posted by codacorolla at 1:43 PM on July 7, 2010


I live in a suburb so please let me know when it is I am to move out. thanks in advance.
posted by Postroad at 1:44 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


As suburbs become home to more poor people, immigrants and minorities move to the suburbs, why would we be worrying about the "end of suburbia"?

True, Think_Long. That phrasing has the kind of patronizing, command-and-control type attitude that characterizes most critiques of "suburbia" by urban elites. They can't bear the fact that people live in suburbia by choice, enjoy the sublime benefits of car culture without guilt, and refuse to acknowledge their guilt for being human beings by cramming themselves into tiny apartments and listening to other people's televisions through the walls and ceilings. Suburbia as it exists in America today (and I'm thinking in particular of specific suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, where I don't live) may be the apogee of human felicity, combining every detail of housing, landscape, education and easy proximity to shopping, sports, and pleasures of high and low culture that have marked the highest physical and spiritual aspirations of humanity since the founding of civilization. The best American suburbs provide the highest quality of life for the largest number of people that have ever been achieved. People of every income group and social class enjoy suburban living in America. It is the overwhelming choice of people who have completed mate seeking and are in the most productive portion of their lives. Yet there are those who would tear the suburbs down out of envy, greed and the need to control the choices of others. We have to recognize that the American suburb is a kind of Penn Station of a particular way of life: Grand, classical and democratic. We must save it from the wrecking balls of this ignorant army and preserve it for future generations.
posted by Faze at 1:53 PM on July 7, 2010 [10 favorites]


If they'd bother to come to Indy, they'd discover that suburbs are still booming. That's all Indianapolis is, anymore. Bedroom communities popping-up all along the interstates that snake out from the city proper. Morning and evening rush hours here are murder. If there ever was a city in dire need of light rail, this one is it. Won't ever happen, though.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:53 PM on July 7, 2010


Postroad: I live in a suburb so please let me know when it is I am to move out. thanks in advance.

Same here. As soon as my job, a good grocery store, fast Internet access[1], decent schools (DISD? Surely you jest), and grass (the lawn kind) make it to the "large cities" at a price less than $300,000, I'll join this new-urban movement. Until then, you hipsters have fun.

1 - No, AT&T, 1.5mbps/128kbps to most downtown high-rises doesn't count. And to the scores of "multiple dwelling unit specialty providers" like DirecPath and Verizon Avenue? foad, kthxbai.
posted by fireoyster at 1:53 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Turn them back into farmland?
posted by Evstar at 1:54 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Gentrify them, so that all the hipsters can pay 10 times the rent than the old tenants used to pay.
posted by crunchland at 1:57 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Postroad: "I live in a suburb so please let me know when it is I am to move out. thanks in advance."

First the poor people will move in. If you're okay with that, go ahead and stay.
Next all the old people around you will begin dying off and more poor people will move in. If you're okay with that, go ahead and stay.
Next people will begin to leave the suburbs and it will become a wasteland... or not. If you're okay with that, go ahead and stay.
Finally the Green Police will come and take away your car so that you have to walk 20 miles to anything. If you're okay with that, go ahead and stay.
Eventually you'll dealing with roaming motorcycle gangs of mutated raccoons. If you can survive that, its all yours.
posted by charred husk at 1:58 PM on July 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Eventually you'll dealing with roaming motorcycle gangs of mutated raccoons. If you can survive that, its all yours.

Mad Max IV: Beyond Pleasant Oaks Shopping Center
posted by Think_Long at 2:02 PM on July 7, 2010 [14 favorites]


Well, given that it's pretty much impossible to force people to live in cities if they have a cheaper and more spacious alternative, and give that many people work in suburbs as well as live in them (raises hand), then suburbs aren't going anywhere.

Best practice would be to analyze traffic flows and put in public transit, encourage telecommuting and other traffic reduction measures, change zoning to allow more mixed use, and accept that for many places, urban centers are no longer all that essential. I live 30 minutes from downtown Dallas, but go there only a few times a year. There's nothing there I need that often, and even if I could afford the pricey urban apartments, there's no city life to plug into, per se. After dark and on weekends, downtown it's just you and the wandering homeless population.

Meanwhile, my little 70s suburb allows me a fenced yard, decent stores close by (though not quite in walking distance), and relative peace and quiet among my hardworking, mostly Hispanic, neighbors, who are good people raising their families.

We could use more stores, more frequent buses, and government programs to help us to update the crappy insulation put into these tract homes 30 years ago. But that's about it.
posted by emjaybee at 2:08 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


In my city, Boston, the city fathers have decided to implement suburban style zoning, complete with obscene lot size requirements (6000 square feet in most of the city), street backsets, back and side yards, etc. The result is that the city is filled with unbuildable lots. Energy-wasting, rotting triple-decker buildings that were erected cheaply in the 1880s are treated as if they're some kind of local color worth preserving, and building anything larger, denser, or more suited to modern life is an incredible headache. Our mayor recently bragged that he can put a stop to any more dense development; the city's zoning authority announces that one of its primary goals is preventing neighborhood change. The city therefore refuses to grow, indeed its population has stabilized at well below its historic peek. For years, this refusal to grow more dense combined with very high housing prices forced families to move to the suburbs, and the suburbs in turn have implemented their own set of insane zoning laws that are forcing families to move to exerbs, or to leave the area entirely.

When I was in graduate school, one of my classmates did a very convincing presentation on reviving and spurring the development not of cities but of medium sized towns as a method of taking pressure off of urban cores. I still think that's a good idea.
posted by 1adam12 at 2:10 PM on July 7, 2010


Faze, you're taking the piss, right? Right?
posted by griphus at 2:12 PM on July 7, 2010


What's happening is really just demographics. The baby boomers, large in sheer numbers, are aging and the subsequent generation X (~1963-1982) is a lot smaller so there are fewer of them to replace the Boomers and the "slack" (slackers!) is being taken up by immigrants, minorities and whomever. This trend will reverse once the next generation, b. 1983-2001(?), which is quite large, starts buying houses, probably picking up within about 5 years or so, depending how fast the Boomers die off or move to retirement homes and how eagerly the Millennial's start buying. In fact most of the current economic malaise can be explained this way, markets expand and contract in tune with rising and falling populations within certain age groups. Right now the house buying age group is smaller than it was previously, each year it keeps shrinking as the leading edge of the boomers dies off replaced by the smaller leading edge of GenX. So suburbia is replacing those missing people(*) with alternatives like immigrants, minorities, seniors. But I really do think that will reverse once younger people start buying homes en masse. There will still be immigrants and minorities obviously but it will be more competitive for existing housing stock. So buy your house investment now is a good time.

(*) missing people who are in the ~30-65 age group, active in buying/building family suburban style homes.
posted by stbalbach at 2:15 PM on July 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Well, I live in suburbia and my house has gone up in value about $30,000 in the past 10 months.

I think I'll stay.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:15 PM on July 7, 2010


There's some interesting news in this post, but "end of suburbia" is an awful word to use for it. Suburbia is definitely changing, but the 2010 reality doesn't look anything like the exciting "end of suburbia" described by the survivalists (this is as opposed to others in the peak oil blogosphere). Suburbs are not becoming Mad Max wastelands or being rendered inaccessible by high fuel costs; instead, they're being filled in by the 21st century Americans who have existed all along.

In other words, the country-club, Stepford-wife, wine-and-cheese-party 20th century suburbia is being changed out for a 21st century suburbia that reflects the growing disparity between rich and poor as well as the aging and displacement of the white bourgeoise. This does not mean that suburbs are decaying. Quite the opposite: in the short term, they will become more vital and lively than they were before. In the very long term, though, this pattern is alarming for anyone who is interested in the health of the country.

Black flight from cities is not a new subject for the media; I saw a Wall Street Journal report on it a month or so ago. It is significant that somewhat poorer people are coming to the suburbs, but only in the sense that this will make the cities even more impoverished than they were before. An alarming number of American cities are broke and ungoverned, and this fact is no longer news. When I rode the bus from Minneapolis to West Virginia earlier this year, my friends warned me not to leave any of the bus stations. A friend of a friend was recently killed in Baltimore. He's the fifth service member shot in that city this year. According to my friend, it is more dangerous to be back home in Baltimore than to be stationed in Afghanistan. Can you imagine that? A country full of people who want to kill Americans, and our troops are better protected there than here. It seems like the USA is starting to imitate history's collapsing empires by overextending its power abroad as it decays from within.

Suburbs are not going to become "inner cities" anytime soon, unless if oil experiences a surprise price shock that doesn't go away. So, don't call their change a "decline", except in the sense that the entire American project is in slow decline. We should be aiming to save the suburbs for the time being, to allow anyone rich enough to move there a fair chance to succeed.
posted by shii at 2:17 PM on July 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Same here. As soon as my job, a good grocery store, fast Internet access[1], decent schools (DISD? Surely you jest), and grass (the lawn kind) make it to the "large cities" at a price less than $300,000, I'll join this new-urban movement. Until then, you hipsters have fun.

x2. People don't leave the city because it is too nice of a place to live. People move to the suburbs and single family homes because they are sick of their neighbors. And not everyone works in the city.

Want to improve city life? Make cities more livable. Don't make suburbs less livable.
posted by gjc at 2:20 PM on July 7, 2010


One of the best things we can do for the environment is have higher density living. That doesn't necessarily mean sky scrapers, just lots and lots of 5, 6 story buildings and good public transport.

People tend to think that suburbia is the way it is because of the "the market" but actually that's not quite right. If we let "The market" decide there would actually be a lot more apartment buildings and much higher density living. We can actually make things denser by removing regulation that keeps things sparse. Like mandatory parking space, like height limits, like zoning that doesn't allow apartments, and so on.

The huge irony is that living in cities is more expensive. Why is it more expensive, because there's such a demand. But zoning regulations keep lots of highrises from being built. Of course, once you own property you have a vested interest in keeping demand from going up.
posted by delmoi at 2:23 PM on July 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


When I'm dictator we're getting a federally mandated system of urban growth boundaries around all cities, similar to what Portland has but with tight enough borders that things actually have to get denser and no ability for neighboring cities to ruin it all.
posted by floam at 2:35 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


docpops: "I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.
posted by barnacles at 1:33 PM on July 7 [+] [!]


Was your yearbook quote, by chance, "What a long strange trip it's been?"
"

:)

No, it was far far far far far far far worse. I should try and find all copies of my yearbook, buy them, and shred them, in fact ...
posted by barnacles at 2:35 PM on July 7, 2010


Faze > Suburbia as it exists in America today (and I'm thinking in particular of specific suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, where I don't live) may be the apogee of human felicity, combining every detail of housing, landscape, education and easy proximity to shopping, sports, and pleasures of high and low culture that have marked the highest physical and spiritual aspirations of humanity since the founding of civilization.

This is debatable. Suburbia offers many tangible pleasures, but overall its effects on residents' physical and mental well-being have been mixed. The same can be said of our car culture. Pleasure and convenience do not directly translate to happiness or health. Your comment was just over-the-top enough that you might have been taking the piss, though.
posted by hat at 2:36 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


And we'll get rid of prisons for all but the most violent offenders and send everyone off to the old to-be-fenced-in exurbs to live.
posted by floam at 2:37 PM on July 7, 2010


I've always pictured the medium-near future would involve the houses in these cul-de-sac neighborhoods having cheap drywall dividers thrown up inside, turning them into low rent multi-family rentals while their particleboard siding would swell and separate from their prefab trusses after years of moisture and exposure they were never intended to take.
posted by sourwookie at 2:39 PM on July 7, 2010


Yet there are those who would tear the suburbs down out of envy, greed and the need to control the choices of others.

This is a goof right?
posted by Max Power at 2:43 PM on July 7, 2010


Energy-wasting, rotting triple-decker buildings that were erected cheaply in the 1880s are treated as if they're some kind of local color worth preserving

Fie on thee! Triple deckers sure suck -- I lived in one of those nasty, slanted-floor bastards for awhile and wouldn't do it again -- but energy-wasting? They're actually pretty efficient (intra-floor insulation, high population density, high lot coverage), as are most old apartment buildings, unless you're in some really hellish slum where the original coal stove is still installed. And as they say, the greenest building is the one you already have -- nothing wastes energy like tearing down a perfectly good old house and building a new one.

Money-wasting, on the other hand... the city published a great study of triple-deckers in the 1970s (they have it at the planning library in Park Square), and it turns out almost none of those landlords make a profit, unless the house happens to be a few blocks from BU or BC. Landlords have been taking a bath on them for 100 years.
posted by zvs at 2:49 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Was your yearbook quote, by chance, "What a long strange trip it's been?""

I quoted from Rush's "Time Stand Still," if we're keeping score.

posted by drjimmy11 at 2:53 PM on July 7, 2010


Schadenfreude about the "decline" of suburbs seems like a distasteful reminder of white flight, only in reverse. Moving into a gentrifying inner-city neighborhood shouldn't give you the right to condemn as unlivable slums the suburbs filling up with the poor whom you displaced.

Take Langley Park, for example, mentioned upthread. It's not some dystopian nightmare where Salvadoran gangs rule the streets. It's just the place, in the suburbs incidentally, where the immigrants who form the base of the local economy sleep at night, shop on Saturdays, and go to mass on Sundays. The poor need to live somewhere, and we shouldn't shun the places where they do.
posted by hhc5 at 3:09 PM on July 7, 2010 [10 favorites]


Whatever the opposite of "demolish established urban neighborhoods to build superhighways to the middle of nowhere, subsidize oversized and inefficient monstertrucks, and drill increasingly desperate and dangerous wells in search of the next sweet hit of oil" is.

build underused suburban highways so we can demolish superneighborhoods in sensible locations, while taxing undersized and highly-efficient go-karts, and plug decreasingly confident and safe pillars so we can forget about the next bitter hit of soap.
posted by schmod at 3:11 PM on July 7, 2010


Faze's comment needs a flashing caption below it that reads "Faze actually believes this." If you refer to other suburbia posts, he's quite the ardent proponent.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:14 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, I live in suburbia and my house has gone up in value about $30,000 in the past 10 months.

You don't know that for sure until the check clears. (And even that assumes that it enjoyed a real transaction ten months ago.)
posted by IndigoJones at 3:15 PM on July 7, 2010


Suburbia as it exists in America today (and I'm thinking in particular of specific suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, where I don't live) may be the apogee of human felicity, combining every detail of housing, landscape, education and easy proximity to shopping, sports, and pleasures of high and low culture that have marked the highest physical and spiritual aspirations of humanity since the founding of civilization.

As someone who grew up in a suburb, permit me to reply:

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Everything you identify as a benefit of the suburbs is entirely achievable in a densely populated urban setting. Many of those things -- particularly the "easy proximity" stuff -- are far more easily achievable in an urban setting. When I left the suburbs and moved to an urban centre, my quality of life increased dramatically. I had better access to better food, better recreation (including parks), better libraries, a larger and better selection of both movie theatres and movie rental places, and more opportunities to meet more diverse groups of people. Plus I no longer had to drive the car every time I wanted to get out of the house, so I was shaving a few hundred bucks a month off my cost of living in addition to getting more exercise (by walking and biking) and doing less damage to the environment. I'm sure you'll write this off as yet another critique from "urban elites," but it is based on my personal experience as a kid from the suburbs as well as being consistent with pretty much everything I've ever read about cities, suburbs, and urban planning.
posted by twirlip at 3:18 PM on July 7, 2010 [13 favorites]


I live in a Boston-area triple-decker and it is emphatically not nasty. Okay, it is a little slanty.

But you could not pay me to move back to the supposedly child-friendly suburbs that I hated growing up in.
posted by nev at 3:20 PM on July 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


To the defenders of suburbia. Yes, there are nice suburbs. Yes, there are shitty cities. But there's also really crappy suburbs and really nice cities. Many of the problems in the crappy cities were caused by white flight in the 60s and 70s. (A large income base leaves, investment dries up, business close, jobs go away, etc.)

Many of the benefits of the nice suburbs can only exist in an energy rich, resource high environment. That may not be sustainable in the long run. A few of the nicest suburbs may stay the same or even prosper, but the rest will need to change or die. That's the death of the American suburb, not total annihilation, but dead enough that the middle class bedroom community becomes the exception not the rule.
posted by aspo at 3:22 PM on July 7, 2010


(Hit post too soon)

With that and money flowing back into cities, cities become nicer and more desirable and that feed on itself. If energy and resources stop being so abundant (and there's plenty of signs that's in the near future) then the suburbs are going to get hit hard.
posted by aspo at 3:25 PM on July 7, 2010


Suburbs vary a lot, in different regions of the country and even within them. The suburb I live in has buses, is 10 minutes from a major city (San Francisco), doesn't have particularly large houses, is a short bus/drive from BART and Caltrain, etc. It's really not much less dense than Sunset or Richmond districts in the city itself. A lot of peninsula (especially north peninsula) suburbs are like this.

(it's not cheap either, houses are still $500k plus)
posted by wildcrdj at 3:45 PM on July 7, 2010


Everything you identify as a benefit of the suburbs is entirely achievable in a densely populated urban setting. Many of those things -- particularly the "easy proximity" stuff -- are far more easily achievable in an urban setting.

Yeah, but cars, baby cars. I can cruise around in the wheeled equivalent of Marie Antionette's bedroom, listening to Mozart, slurping down an Amazake rice shake, with the wind blowing through my hair and the smell of freshly cut grass coming through the window. If I don't like one view, I can drive over and enjoy another.

Many of the benefits of the nice suburbs can only exist in an energy rich, resource high environment. That may not be sustainable in the long run.

That's not my problem. And even if it's true, it's all the more reason to enjoy this precious, endangered lifestyle while we can. Let the grinds snuffle gum off the floorboards of the M104, eat roaches out of take-out cartons, and stare bleary-eyed at the ceiling while salsa blasts through the walls at 3 am. I'm going to walk out to the end of my driveway in the beautiful, silent morning, pick up my paper, and admire the mighty trees and splendid lawns to either side of me, and think to myself, "This is how Thoreau would have lived if he could have. This is how Emerson would have chosen to exist in the 21st century."
posted by Faze at 3:47 PM on July 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


I had the same experience as twirlip, but that makes me wonder if there's a trend where people who grew up in the suburbs wind up hating them and moving to the city, and vice versa.
posted by mannequito at 3:50 PM on July 7, 2010


twirlip gets it.

New Urbanism is about making places livable, in the ways that twirlip experienced. You don't need to live in the city to have that experience. And there just isn't a need to create faux-rural developments the way suburbanism was sold in the middle 20th century either.

New Urbanism is worthy of a full FPP itself. Unfortunately, it runs the risk of becoming just another catchphrase, or being misinterpreted, misunderstood and poorly applied. New Urbanism isn't about making phony Disney communities - though ironically, Disney's Celebration, Florida, is one of the conceptual cradles of New Urbanism.

I didn't think that space and design really mattered until I experienced it for myself, living in a small apartment complex in Sierra Madre, CA. Design affects behavior and interaction in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

Through no fault of their own, planners are not designers. They should be. Some are. Developers/builders, architects, engineers, and planners all need to work at the same time, together, to bring about a change from conventional planning practices. Too much planning is proscriptive, and too much design is reactive.

The coming suburban apocalypse may not materialize, but there is certainly an opportunity at hand to correct the mistakes our forebears made.
posted by Xoebe at 3:53 PM on July 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Think I'll keep living in my (first ring, 200 yards to city) suburb. I can walk a quarter mile to the SEPTA Regional Rail. Two mile walk or bike ride to work. Diverse neighborhoods nearby - Korean, Brazilian, Dominican. Craft beer bar nearby, one coming within walking distance by end of summer.
posted by fixedgear at 3:56 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Per "living in cities is more expensive:" Not always. A recent NYT article looked at factors including property taxes and transportation costs and concluded that for the NYC metro area, it can be 18% more expensive to live in the 'burbs. The city's more expensive only/once you throw in private schooling costs for children.

The Center for Neighborhood Technology has a mapping tool that calculates the "real" cost of a suburb based on the real estate price + the commuting/transit costs. Generally speaking, folks in the burbs are not living more cheaply than city folks. If you want to optimize your cost of living, some recommend finding an inner-ring community where you're close to the city (lower transit costs) but not in it.
posted by sobell at 3:56 PM on July 7, 2010


Faze, we can go back and forth on this until the cows come home, but I just have to say that I doubt Thoreau would have chosen to live in the purely artificial habitat most suburbs are. Walden declared the benefits of a life among nature, not manicured lawns implanted where the land was stripped to the bone of anything he had ever seen or resided in.
posted by griphus at 3:57 PM on July 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


Just to do a metaphoric Google Earth zoom-out from this Americentric MeFi discussion, there is a similar but more extreme phenomenon in Third World countries. The worst of the slums are in rings outside of the cities themselves, now. (Rio, Lagos, Nairobi - whose slum is called Kibera and houses 1.5 million people in a hell the size of Central Park - and countless others.) Read Planet of Slums, by Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz (about LA) if you're interested in the extent of this phenomenon.

This is more nightmarish topic than the fact that the best American ethnic cuisine can now be found in cheesy little suburban anonymous-looking malls, something I wouldn't have predicted forty years ago.
posted by kozad at 4:03 PM on July 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Public Service Announcement: This is nowhere near the first time Faze has trucked out that Thoreau line or the rest of it. You'd be much better off making your reasoned arguments to his imperial lawn. It is by nature much more responsive to external stimuli.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled Suburban Triumphalist Troll feeding.
posted by gompa at 4:21 PM on July 7, 2010 [15 favorites]


One of the best things we can do for the environment is have higher density living. That doesn't necessarily mean sky scrapers, just lots and lots of 5, 6 story buildings

Better for the environment perhaps but shitty for the people that have to live in them. The house I live in now (in a mature "inner ring" suburb) is the first single family detached home I've ever lived in - it's glorious, I'm not going back.
posted by MikeMc at 4:24 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


My in-laws live in a suburban hell. It's four miles to the nearest store (although there's a ghost mall with only two tenants right across the street), the neighbor's house is so close you know them all by name even though you have no idea which name connects to which face because they don't respond when you say "Hi," there's a main drag over the back fence with SUVs flying past at 45mph killing the local cats, and the hillside above them just burned to a crisp, forcing the evacuation of a few dozen families, due to illegal 4th of July fireworks. The only positive about the place is that the yard is so small it only takes about 15 minutes to mow it.

Give me my little two-bedroom apartment in the sky, with two convenience stores and three restaurants in walking distance, and everything else I want just minutes away by car.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 4:41 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


The worst of the slums are in rings outside of the cities themselves, now. (Rio, Lagos, Nairobi - whose slum is called Kibera and houses 1.5 million people in a hell the size of Central Park - and countless others.) Read Planet of Slums, by Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz (about LA) if you're interested in the extent of this phenomenon.

In fairness, it's a lot more complicated than that. Yes, outer-ring "suburban" slums (more often called things like "periurban" because they lack the features we associate with the word "suburban") tend to be poorer and have fewer services than closer in slums. And in many Latin American and European cities especially, the city centers have remained places for middle and upper class people to live.

But at the same time, in these same cities, you will find outer-ring suburban developments (usually ringed by walls and with armed guards) for the extra-rich who want to live in detached houses with lawns rather than in guarded high-rise apartment buildings. And in many (but not all) cities, you'll find close-in neighborhoods full of poor people snuggled up next to luxury high-rises and office buildings -- some of Rio's more photogenic favelas fit this pattern, for example.

So you have competing pushes from elites, one the desire to keep their city center luxurious and free of undesirables, and the other to expand the American-style automobile-centric exurban design, which definitionally means pulling services and amenities away from the center into privatized gated communities on the periphery. Neither of those pushes is particularly good for the poor, who remain doubly excluded. Nor does the urban development of cities like Lagos necessarily have a lot to say about suburban changes in midsize American cities -- the forces at play are very, very different, and the underlying patterns have little in common (aside, of course, from spatial exclusion, income inequality, and the structural violence experienced by the poor).
posted by Forktine at 4:42 PM on July 7, 2010


Faze, we can go back and forth on this until the cows come home, but I just have to say that I doubt Thoreau would have chosen to live in the purely artificial habitat most suburbs are. Walden declared the benefits of a life among nature, not manicured lawns implanted where the land was stripped to the bone of anything he had ever seen or resided in.

As was said above, that is not the only kind of suburban environment there is, and those of us who enjoy some of the sub-urban pleasures probably aren't thinking about those.

There is nothing more artificial than concrete paving everything except for parks, multi family dwellings and bumping into people everywhere you go. Not even a well-manicured lawn.
posted by gjc at 4:44 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Better for the environment perhaps but shitty for the people that have to live in them. The house I live in now (in a mature "inner ring" suburb) is the first single family detached home I've ever lived in - it's glorious, I'm not going back.

I think one of the worst things pro-density people have ever done is to allow density to be equated to mid- and high-rise apartment buildings. Those have their place, but there are a lot of ways to achieve high density while retaining all of the things that make your current living situation so glorious.
posted by Forktine at 4:45 PM on July 7, 2010


it's glorious, I'm not going back.

Can you spell it out for me? What are the tangible benefits of a 2 bedroom detached single family home versus a 2 bedroom condo or apartment in a midrise to highrise building in a city, and how do they offset the downsides?

The only things I can think of is the private yard, which really doesn't appeal to me (and the park across the street here is good enough), but I can see how that'd be cool. And less noise, that'd be nice too, but those are nowhere even close to making up for even the fact that you're probably going to live many blocks from Places, maybe even miles in most detached houses in suburbs.

I lived in a single family house (in a suburb) all my life until relatively recently, now I'm in an apartment in a city, and find this quite glorious compared to the way it was before. Maybe mannequito is on to something. I have so much cool stuff near me now, I can literally walk one block in any direction and have access to more things than was in a 15 block radius of my old place. Walk further or hop on the streetcar and it's just nuts. I would probably be a depressed homebody now if I never changed things up.

Perhaps the best of both worlds would be a single family house in a good location in a city, although that can be just a little spendy. It would make a logical opposite of the worst of both worlds, living in one of those nasty apartment "complexes" you'll find in most suburbs.
posted by floam at 4:52 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


OK well I looked and I guess there were malls within 15 blocks of my old place because I forget how big the actual blocks were back then, compared to these 200ft'ers. So lets just ignore the actual number, it still felt that way.
posted by floam at 4:56 PM on July 7, 2010


When I think about suburbs, it reminds me of The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenberg. The main idea is that, traditionally, a well rounded life included three places: home, work, and a third place, be it a pub, a bowling alley, or whatever. It's the place that you go and feel welcome that isn't home or work. For the most part, the book talked about suburbs and zoning laws, and the obstacles presented to the third place in the suburbs. If you have to drive to get to the bar, doesn't that sort of defeat the purpose of going to a bar? It's worth a read.

Oh, and nthing City of Quartz. The Celebration Chronicles was also an interesting look at Disney's city.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:08 PM on July 7, 2010


Can you spell it out for me? What are the tangible benefits of a 2 bedroom detached single family home versus a 2 bedroom condo or apartment in a midrise to highrise building in a city, and how do they offset the downsides?

More room (inside and out). It's not a big house (1100 square feet 3 bedrooms 1.5 baths) or yard (~1/4 acre) but it's big enough for us.

I no longer have to listen to:

my neighbors televisions, stereos, arguments, sex lives or domestic battery incidents through the walls (you can chalk all of that up to poor soundproofing but that seems to be the norm).

I have garage to park in, no tickets, no getting plowed in, my car doesn't get broken into or stolen.

It's, geographically speaking, a small community (4.4 square miles) and fully developed so we don't have to travel far for essentials and borders the city proper on 2 sides so we don't have to travel too far for really much of anything. My wife and I both work in different suburbs from where we live but my commute is only 25 minutes each way and my wife's 10. The public transit options suck but that's true throughout the Milwaukee metro area.

It's dense enough that everything is close but not so dense that people are stacked up like cordwood. Kinda the best of both worlds.
posted by MikeMc at 5:10 PM on July 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


The phrasing in this post, in the Washington Post link, and in some of the comments is maddening. I can't move to the suburbs because I need public transportation and easy access to a lot of resources, but I'd like to think that if this poor, single, minority woman moved to the suburbs it wouldn't herald the "end" of the suburbs.

Poor people and minorities and immigrants can't have a "nuclear family"? Aren't part of the generation X or the millenials or what have you? Automatically create slums? I live in a poor neighborhood with many aged, immigrant, and minority residents and it is not a slum. I'm a member of Generation X, even though I'm not white. Seriously, people need to think a little more about what they're saying.
posted by Danila at 5:11 PM on July 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


With kids, you don't go many places. You run errands once or twice a week, and you commute to work, and that's it. I'd rather have a well-maintained lawn that only my kids and their friends use daily for them to tear around in than a public park where god-knows-what goes on at night or a poorly maintained playground (well maintained playgrounds are an outlier, you're generally not going to find them in middle-class neighborhoods).

You have a basement and/or garage and/or shed to make and fix things. You have relative quiet at night when the kids are sleeping, and fewer cars on the road to squash them dead while riding their bikes to their friends' house. You have trees you can watch change with the seasons, and you can see the sun in the morning and the moon in the evening out your own windows. There's a reasonable chance you can run for and win a spot on the school board or town council without belonging to a political machine, and the councilmen and boardmembers are more likely to listen to you.

Single, educated, middle-class, appreciate closeness to culture and vibrancy of nightlife - you're not talking about new urbanism. You're talking about gentrification.

Real families with real kids making real salaries can't afford your lifestyle, nor, to be honest, do they really want it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:13 PM on July 7, 2010 [12 favorites]


Sorry about the phrasing, y'all. I borrowed "the end of the suburbs" from the previous Mefi post it links, but in the context of that sentence it says something I didn't intend. Apologies.
posted by lunit at 5:26 PM on July 7, 2010


So the families I know that live in cities are fake? Their kids are plastic?
posted by aspo at 5:29 PM on July 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


I don't really buy the idea that the suburbs will wither and die, or become slums. At least not in Edmonton, where I would wager most business isn't done downtown. A great many people opt to live in the burbs (even the apartments in the burbs) because they are close to the business parks people actually work in.

I can see overly sprawled cities like Edmonton evolving over time to be less a traditional city and more an agglomeration of large towns (which in a sense many neighbourhoods effectively already are) held together with rapid transit. I would imagine the burbs around the business parks would experience a similar level of infilling as the burbs just off downtown -- which developers are already promoting in areas like Century Park at the south edge of the city.

But that's just my ignerant 2¢ about urban planning.
posted by selenized at 5:32 PM on July 7, 2010


A great many people opt to live in the burbs (even the apartments in the burbs) because they are close to the business parks people actually work in.

This has been especially true around here, almost all of the job growth in the last 15-20 years has been in the outlying suburbs. When I bought my house it was much closer to my job but then my job moved from the city to a suburb in the next county over. Fortunately traffic isn't so bad around here (I take surface streets to work) and it's still only 11 miles away.
posted by MikeMc at 5:43 PM on July 7, 2010


Thanks for the responses. I have no idea what I'd do if I had kids — probably not this. I doubt I'd go move to a suburb. Maybe I'd get a little house somewhere a bit more out of the way in a cute neighborhood without leaving town. The idea is pretty alien to me at this point, so who knows.

But man. If you can't use transit, you'd be putting over five hundred miles on an automobile every month just for getting to and from your job. I'm sure you'd prefer it were closer, but that just strikes me as a huge, expensive, pain in the ass. And that's supposedly a short commute.

It'd be interesting to figure out what kinds of externalized costs are entailed per user as far as road maintenance and related infrastructure go, as density scales up and down.
posted by floam at 5:58 PM on July 7, 2010


My nearest neighbor is about a pistol shot away. The nearest store is over 4 miles away. Any serious shopping (food) is 40 miles away. I wouldn't have it any other way.
posted by Jumpin Jack Flash at 6:03 PM on July 7, 2010


It's nice that the world includes both cities and suburbs. This means that people who like living in the cities can live in the cities. And people who like living in the suburbs can live in the suburbs.

You would think this would lead to a situation where everyone was happy! But to the contrary, everyone insists on hating each other and arguing about it.

I suppose I ought to at least feign surprise at this.
posted by ErikaB at 6:10 PM on July 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


But man. If you can't use transit, you'd be putting over five hundred miles on an automobile every month just for getting to and from your job.

Well, what are gonna do? I didn't move away from my job, my job moved away from me. It's not bad compared to some at work. We have 2 guys that drive in (alone) from Madison every day, that's 90 miles each way. Our CEO lives in Minneapolis (flies in every week stays in Milwaukee three days, flies home), a senior VP who lives in Indianapolis (flies in every week stays in Milwaukee three days,flies home) and a finance person who lives in...wait for it...Columbia S.C. (flies in every week stays in Milwaukee three days, flies home). 11 miles don't seem so bad in comparison.
posted by MikeMc at 6:15 PM on July 7, 2010


Their kids are plastic?

Depends on where they got them. Crate and Barrel - ceramic, Target - plastic, World Market - jute, IKEA - pressboard and if they got them at Wal-Mart they're probably some sort of lead-cadmium alloy.
posted by MikeMc at 6:19 PM on July 7, 2010 [10 favorites]


Single, educated, middle-class, appreciate closeness to culture and vibrancy of nightlife - you're not talking about new urbanism. You're talking about gentrification.

I don't think gentrification is the only way those neighborhoods come into being. I do think city governments tend to approach urban planning in a way that's designed to maximize real estate values, not to create healthy, genuinely livable cities. At its worst, the result is places like DUMBO or Yaletown -- bland, overpriced yuppie playgrounds that bear little resemblance to the neighborhoods Jane Jacobs described in The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

ErikaB, I have issues with the suburbs, but I don't hate the people who choose to live in them -- I just disagree with them.
posted by twirlip at 6:21 PM on July 7, 2010


For me, and I suspect for many parents in New York, this line, "The city's more expensive only/once you throw in private schooling costs for children" sounds a lot like "Yes, Mrs. Lincoln, but other than that, how did you like the play?"
posted by hhc5 at 6:30 PM on July 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


I thought the key was to take each pure-housing suburb that's "dying", buy up a large tract of land in the middle where houses are cheap and/or abandoned, build services (grocery store, hospital, movie theater, library, and so on), season it with bus service, and call it a new city. I mean, isn't that how most of the US's big cities got created -- except separation, rather than annexation, would be the key.
posted by davejay at 6:32 PM on July 7, 2010


A great many people opt to live in the burbs (even the apartments in the burbs) because they are close to the business parks people actually work in.

Except that the business park they work in is in a different suburb from the one they live in. If you work in a business park, living in the city is ideal, since you can either take mass transit to work or you can drive, against the traffic both ways, and even if you end up working an a different business park (what a creepy term), it's still just as convenient.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 6:32 PM on July 7, 2010


I have no idea what I'd do if I had kids — probably not this. I doubt I'd go move to a suburb. Maybe I'd get a little house somewhere a bit more out of the way in a cute neighborhood without leaving town.

My husband and I don't even plan to have kids, but this is what we just did. We are city people for sure -- the idea of having to get into a car to get to work is just, ugh -- but were tired of sharing walls/ceilings/floors with people. So we just bought an adorable 1923 brick bungalow in a north side neighborhood in Chicago. Surprisingly affordable at current market prices, really, and once we move in we'll have more bedrooms that we know what to do with (4), a full basement (!), a two-car garage (!!! - we only have one car!) and a yard. It's in a vibrant, wonderfully diverse, safe-by-city-standards neighborhood.

We couldn't get any more for our money in the inner ring suburbs like Evanston and Oak Park (we know, we looked), and couldn't even get that much more house in the outer 'burbs. Maybe we'd get another half bath and a bigger kitchen, and certainly a much bigger yard, but it just wouldn't be worth the trade-offs.

I totally understand the appeal of suburbs and the big lawns and the quiet and the space. I grew up in the suburbs. I don't understand why suburb people and city people have to fight about it. Just live where you want to live!
posted by misskaz at 6:39 PM on July 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile, us normal folk enjoy our smallish towns one hour or so away from the big cities.

Two grocery stores within two miles, a hospital less than 10 miles of country road away, main street parades on holidays, big ol' yards for gardening, and all the Elks & Lions you can eat. Plus no MS-13. Our Sheriff's Department doesn't even own an APC! True story.
posted by codswallop at 6:49 PM on July 7, 2010



Have you ever seen a crack vial on the sidewalk on your block?
How about a spent bullet casing?
Have you or any of your friends ever been shot by someone who was aiming at someone or something else?
Do you know anyone, not in a law enforcement, private security or military job, who owns a bulletproof vest?
Have you ever seen a prostitute working the street within a 5 minute walking radius of your home?
Have you ever had to step around a used condom on the sidewalk?
Have you ever had a homicide detective knock on your door asking if you saw anything related to the murder that just took place right in front of the entrance to your apartment building?
Are there metal detectors in your (or your kids') schools?
How about chains on the exit doors?
Do your neighbors have three or more locks on their door?
Is the pet of choice in your neighborhood a Pit Bull or Rottweiler?
Are there more liquor stores within walking distance of your home than grocery stores?
Does the closest grocery store to where you live have more cigarettes and beer than fresh produce?
Can you find more than one establishment in your neighborhood, other than a full-service bank, where the clerk is separated from the customers by bulletproof glass?

If at any time in your life you could answer yes to more than half of these questions, chances are pretty damn good that you would give your right arm to have the resources to move to the suburbs, or have already done so.

Incidentally, I grew up in the Bronx, and can answer "yes" to all but one of those questions. Mrs. Deadmessenger (who also grew up in the Bronx, and can answer yes to every single one of them) and I now live in the Atlanta suburbs, and I'm happy to report that our daughter couldn't answer yes to any of those questions.

This is not to say that the suburbs don't have their problems. I would LOVE to have a functioning public transit system near where I live, for example. I couldn't give even the tiniest little shit about having a lawn, or a garage. (I have both, and they're more trouble than they're worth), but I'll be damned if I raise my daughter in an environment like the ones her mother and I grew up in.
posted by deadmessenger at 6:49 PM on July 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Except that the business park they work in is in a different suburb from the one they live in

Why? If you're the no-kids type like many of the urbanites here (and myself), just move. I've never lived more than 10 min from work, and usually more like 5. I'd rather move than have a commute, since that saves me all sorts of time (which I can use, among other things, to go to the city occasionally).

living in the city is ideal, since you can either take mass transit to work

Which you can also do in the suburbs, at least where I live. Although I know very few who do either (well, I know a lot of other Googlers who take the Google shuttles from the city but that's a far cry from public transport).

I don't hate city living, but the way many of the city people describe suburbs makes me think you all learned what they were like from Edward Scissorhands.

(personally I am thinking of moving to the city for the first time in my life, but I'm not sure I could ever sleep with all that noise, and earplugs are really uncomfortable)
posted by wildcrdj at 6:54 PM on July 7, 2010


Slap*Happy: "With kids, you don't go many places. You run errands once or twice a week, and you commute to work, and that's it."

So, you don't have enough time to go places (or, for that matter, take your kids places), but you do have time to commute at least 30 minutes each way, fix stuff up in the garage, run for local office and take your kids everywhere they need to go?

Single, educated, middle-class, appreciate closeness to culture and vibrancy of nightlife - you're not talking about new urbanism. You're talking about gentrification.

Educated, middle-class and appropriate closeness to culture are goals I have for my life, yes, but more importantly, they're goals I have for my children. And for the 80 million Americans who are too young, too old or too poor to drive, living in a well-populated area vs the suburbs is the difference between having independent access to culture, the arts, friendship, entertainment, religion and education or having to rely on someone else's time, money and attention to get those things.

While you're protecting your kids from "god-knows-what" in a public park, you're also shielding them from anyone who might live a marginally different lifestyle from theirs, and exercising your privilege to provide your children private grounds on which to play, the same privilege which leads to massive defunding of public institutions (public schools, libraries, public parks, public transit) because "nobody uses them." You're not talking about the American dream. You're talking about gentrification.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 7:02 PM on July 7, 2010 [10 favorites]


Who in their right minds would want to live in a city or suburbia? Both ways of living are unsustainable. Of course I'm biased as I was raised on a bison ranch in the middle of nowhere North Dakota.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:09 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


(personally I am thinking of moving to the city for the first time in my life, but I'm not sure I could ever sleep with all that noise, and earplugs are really uncomfortable)

The lack of noise was one of the things I had to get used to when I moved from the city. I went from living 1 block off a major thoroughfare and across the alley from a bar and post office ( and if you think a post office isn't loud you haven't heard them loading and unloading trucks outside your bedroom window at four in the morning) to a quiet side street. After a while I actually became almost hyper-sensitive to loud noise to the point of getting angry if I could hear a car stereo on the next street over. That was very strange as I was pretty good at tuning most noise out before I moved.
posted by MikeMc at 7:14 PM on July 7, 2010


but you do have time to commute at least 30 minutes each way...

I work in an area just across the street from South Station in Boston. You clearly have no idea how long it takes to get anywhere in the city from anywhere else. 30 minutes from affordable middle-class neighborhoods in Greater Boston to South Station via public transport and then walking ten blocks (thru rain, snow, 100 degree heat) is a fantasy. My sister lives in an UPPER, upper middle-class neighborhood in Cambridge (My wife and I sure as shit can't afford the rent on her scumbag, updated back in the '20s, 3rd-floor walk-up), and it took me the better part of an hour and a half to get to work.

Oh, I used to live in Allston, and then Waltham, and then Lowell. I know how long it takes to get places in the city from in the city, and from the 'burbs, by car and by public transport.

Driving into the commuter rail station? Lots, lots cheaper than rent + bus pass, and it takes less time.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:20 PM on July 7, 2010


If you work in a business park, living in the city is ideal [...]

This doesn't mesh with my experience at all. But that is probably because (in Edmonton) transit service to the business parks is poor to say the least (if there is a bus, it is of the epically long meandering variety). Furthermore, in my experience traffic in the core can be a zoo regardless of what direction you are going. When I did work in a business park on the far east end and lived downtown I spent more time getting out of downtown than the entire rest of the trip (getting out of downtown was 11% of the total distance according to google maps).

But Edmonton has some severe sprawl issues so that could be part of it.
posted by selenized at 8:03 PM on July 7, 2010


Grew up in a very nice suburb. You'd never get me to leave Manhattan now for any amount of money. Never. Unless you're offering deep rural Alaska or New Mexico and the ability to work from home.

To each his own. I feel swaddled in bubble wrap in suburbia.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:08 PM on July 7, 2010


I've got another radical idea. LEAVE THEM ALONE. "Planners" indeed. What's wrong with "poor people, immigrants, minorities, senior citizens and households with no children" living in the suburbs? Makes wife-swapping harder and keep-up-with-the-Joneses easier?

The suburbs were a boil on the American ass. Any change is an improvement. Particularly a change that desegregates them.
posted by Twang at 8:26 PM on July 7, 2010


I work in an area just across the street from South Station in Boston. You clearly have no idea how long it takes to get anywhere in the city from anywhere else. 30 minutes from affordable middle-class neighborhoods in Greater Boston to South Station via public transport...

My aforementioned three-decker was in Malden Center. My aunt lived up the road in a nice little house. 15-20 minutes to South Station by subway. Quite affordable. If you want 'middle-class', Melrose is 5 minutes further. East Boston, Watertown, etc. Or did you mean "affordable middle class neighborhood with great schools where you can have a single-family house with a big yard"?

I used to live in Allston, and then Waltham, and then Lowell.

I think I see the problem with your commuting style. You can't get to the corner in 30 minutes in Allston. Or Waltham, where I had the displeasure of working for a long while. =)
posted by zvs at 8:49 PM on July 7, 2010


I thought David Byrne had already solved all problems in urban planning. Otherwise what was with all those records?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:01 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Quite affordable...

Bwaaaaa--hahahahaha!

You can't get to the corner in 30 minutes in Allston...

Dude, you can't get to Brighton or Brookline or the river in more than 30 minutes. I was at the corner of Harvard and Comm ave - I had me bars, eateries, comic book stores, bike shops, leather boutiques and I was still commuting an hour each way to the State Street building during rush hour. It was noisy, pricey (tho subsidised!) with zilch parking and a fourth-floor walkup 1 BR. Awesome sashimi any time of the day... no future for a family.

At market rates, I couldn't afford t live there =now= as a married family man in mid-career. As someone who needs a room for his computer/art/mechanical projects, as well as a room for me and my wife and a room for the baby...

Well, yeah. Fuck that shit. The 'burbs it is. Bridgewater or Addleburah, baby!
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:07 PM on July 7, 2010


Who in their right minds would want to live in a city or suburbia? Both ways of living are unsustainable. Of course I'm biased as I was raised on a bison ranch in the middle of nowhere North Dakota.

I also grew up in the middle of nowhere North Dakota (southwest corner) and couldn't possibly imagine living in the middle of nowhere again.
posted by nathan_teske at 9:33 PM on July 7, 2010


My nearest neighbor is about a pistol shot away.

Mine too, but it used not to be that way.

In related news, I'm running low on ammunition.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 10:24 PM on July 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Without suburbia I never would have grown to resent my parents and their bourgeois lifestyle.

You can't take that away from future generations.
posted by bardic at 10:43 PM on July 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


I grew up in a small town in Oregon (well, it was small at the time), and moved to the suburbs when I was 12 or so. It was unincorporated King County, outside Renton (which is a suburb of Seattle), so it was suburbia of suburbia pretty much.

I hated it. Even the nearest convenience store was a 45 minute walk away. There was nothing to do, except sit inside and watch TV or play video games.

Thank God we moved eventually, but it was suffocatingly dull. I currently live in Brooklyn, but eventually I'd like to move back to a smallish city/town when I'm older.

But due to my extended time in the suburbs, my nickname was born!
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 11:08 PM on July 7, 2010


Most of the most diverse cities in Canada are "suburbs."
posted by ethnomethodologist at 11:09 PM on July 7, 2010


It seems that on Metafilter, there is no difference between living 15 miles from work and 2 miles. If you aren't living in the multistory multifamily buildings you're living in the distant suburbs. (never mind that I lived in a relatively dense apartment complex when I lived out in the middle of nowhere and now I live in a duplex)

I used to live out on the edge of town. It didn't seem that bad. Now that I live much closer to downtown, going out that way seems like driving all the way to Texas. Funny, that.

I guess my point is that living close to work is more important than whether that's in a dense urban core, the first ring of single family homes, or out on the edge of your city. Work, after all, is the place you have to go every day.
posted by wierdo at 11:55 PM on July 7, 2010


Rezone and connect. All will be well. Let single-family buildings become multi-family rental properties and businesses. Put in some bus lines to connect and create population centers lined to downtown.
posted by pracowity at 12:30 AM on July 8, 2010


[lined->linked]
posted by pracowity at 12:43 AM on July 8, 2010


At its worst, the result is places like DUMBO

DUMBO kicks ass. Lots of young people, lots of families, lots of old people. Groceries of every stripe. Close to tons of parks in Brooklyn.

DUMBO is my idea of GOOD urban planning.
posted by Michael Pemulis at 6:40 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


pracowity wrote: "Rezone and connect. All will be well. Let single-family buildings become multi-family rental properties and businesses. Put in some bus lines to connect and create population centers lined to downtown."

If the streetcar lines hadn't gone out of business 50 years ago, I'd be connected... :(
posted by wierdo at 7:23 AM on July 8, 2010


If the streetcar lines hadn't gone out of business 50 years ago, I'd be connected... :(

And why did the streetcar lines go out of business? General Motors drove them out, nationwide.
posted by hippybear at 7:27 AM on July 8, 2010


I think there's a bit of a disconnect here between people who live in/near old cities and new cities. The city structure of a place like Boston bears almost no resemblance to the structure of a place like Dallas. Cities in the west that weren't settled until the late 18th century and saw most of their development in the 19th century are just not set up to support large populations in small central areas. There is no history of population density here to return to.

Cities in this part of the country (I speak mainly of Oklahoma and Texas where I've spent my life) are spread out enough that there is not much difference in commute and services between living within the city limits and outside. The suburbs are not just bedroom communities that were created by developers to hold commuters to an established city. Generally in areas like this, a large number of towns developed around the same time. One got lucky and grew, absorbing some of the surrounding towns and turning others into suburbs. The suburbs are also cities on their own rights with their own (sometimes gentrified) downtowns. I've known a number of people who commute from Dallas to jobs in the suburbs. Comparing a suburb like Garland, Texas where I live to something like Langley Park is like comparing apples to orangutans.
posted by Dojie at 7:33 AM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


While you're protecting your kids from "god-knows-what" in a public park, you're also shielding them from anyone who might live a marginally different lifestyle from theirs, and exercising your privilege to provide your children private grounds on which to play, the same privilege which leads to massive defunding of public institutions (public schools, libraries, public parks, public transit) because "nobody uses them."

Um, that's a bit of a stretch, isn't it?
posted by MarshallPoe at 7:43 AM on July 8, 2010


"I also grew up in the middle of nowhere North Dakota (southwest corner) and couldn't possibly imagine living in the middle of nowhere again."

That's to bad. I've always wondered what the allure of the city is, to each his own I guess. And I've done my share of living in big cities but when I get the chance I will definitely be moving back to North Dakota. The food is better, the air is better, and the schools are better. Oh yeah and the economy is better.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 8:53 AM on July 8, 2010


I just reread my comment. That first paragraph should have said: "Cities in the west that weren't settled until the late 19th century and saw most of their development in the 20th century are just not set up to support large populations in small central areas."

Idiot.
posted by Dojie at 8:54 AM on July 8, 2010


DUMBO kicks ass. Lots of young people, lots of families, lots of old people. Groceries of every stripe. Close to tons of parks in Brooklyn.

The median rental price for a one-bedroom apartment is $2,411, which is crazy. Most of the stores and restaurants I saw there were expensive boutique places. And neighborhoods like that tend to attract a very homogeneous population of upper-middle-class professional types. I think you lose something important when everyone in your community is from the same socioeconomic background (that's why some of the suburban demographic changes described in the FPP are a good thing). I bet DUMBO is a great place to live if you have a lot of money, though.
posted by twirlip at 9:31 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Kind of late to the discussion, but this reminds me of a conversation a friend and I had back in 2004, when the housing boom was still going strong. At the time, we were working as door-to-door canvassers for a nonprofit. We spent a whole month canvassing in this wide swath of indistinguishable exurban towns comprised of McMansion developments and strip malls. We noticed two things:

1. The people in these developments were only a few years older than us, if that (thus unlikely to really be able to afford those houses)
2. The houses, while large and impressive, were really poorly made (you could often see them being "assembled" as you walked around the developments).

It occurred to us that these neighborhoods would be the slums of the next generation. The houses would be split up into apartments - or, they would just be in such poor shape in 20 years that only people with no other options would want to live in them. And we said, "damn, it would suck to be poor with no car in a neighborhood like this." Now it looks like this may actually be coming true, a whole lot earlier than we would have guessed.

they'll become suburban tenement slums like Central Falls or Brockton, inner cities without cities. New England went through this with the death of the mills.

I always think of Randolph when I hear about suburbs becoming towns for poor people and recent immigrants. Eastern Mass already went through the "inner city becoming wealthy and in-demand" in the 90s and early 00s, with neighborhoods like the South End, Roxbury (much of which is now called "The South End"!), South Boston and Jamaica Plain becoming more and more desirable due to their proximity to downtown, walkability and solid-yet-quirky old housing stock.

So a lot of people from those neighborhoods, or new immigrants who otherwise would have lived on those neighborhoods, moved to places like Randolph and Brockton, which end up having the problems of cities without many of the benefits like good public transit, proximity to jobs or a large tax base.
posted by lunasol at 10:24 AM on July 8, 2010


Suburbs have their good points and bad points, but a lifestyle that is entirely dependent on the automobile is most definitely not what Thoreau had in mind.
posted by WPW at 11:53 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe people confused the Thoreau who said "Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind" with that of Buddy Thoreau, who was a big fan of BioDome, in which the noble Bud and Doyle said "... when where not saving the environment, we're thinkin' of you, naked, thigh deep in tofu." Buddy Thoreau is down with that, and likes the feel of a well-kept lawn between his toes.

Speaking of lawns, the well-maintained private lawn around one's home is a modern invention, and plays a role in the $17 billion USD U.S. homeowners spend on outdoor home improvements. Born in Europe, where native grasses were suitable for close trimming and the climate kept the landscape lush more of the year. When lawns came to North America, grasses were imported to meet the harsher climate. Lawns ... could be considered the single largest irrigated crop in America in terms of surface area, and I'll guess that most of it is underutilized space that is intended to look nice and not be used. What good is a 1 to 2 foot wide strip of lawn between the curb and sidewalk? It's no bioswale, and is a pain to maintain. And what of the artificial rolling green hills around business complexes? I'd hate to be the maintenance person in charge of mowing those hillocks and not shaving the tops bald while leaving the gullies shaggy. I have yet to see a company picnic or inter-office mini-golf competition on those well-maintained oases of green in a sea of paving. Then there are the modern compact developments, where everyone gets their own bit of yard, but the houses are maximized, so you'll have a bit of green fringe around the edges, large enough for the dogs to use, but not much else. Do you think anyone has kids who can really play on a 10 foot by 40 foot strip of grass tucked behind the house? No soccer, baseball or football back there, that's for sure.

In short: fuck lawns. They're fine for parks and playing fields, but make no sense in their current forms of landscape design and adding life and greenery to the built spaces. Find something that thrives in the local environment, and use that.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:31 PM on July 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


That's to bad. I've always wondered what the allure of the city is, to each his own I guess. And I've done my share of living in big cities but when I get the chance I will definitely be moving back to North Dakota. The food is better, the air is better, and the schools are better. Oh yeah and the economy is better.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar


I also grew up in the middle-of-nowhere North Dakota (closest town was Mandan).

The food is better??? Everything is deep fried. The economy is better??? Maybe if you're in agriculture or manufacturing.

Man, you musta grown up in a magical North Dakota I never encountered. My North Dakota had half-a-dozen dank bars, a half-hearted grocery store, and a trapped-in-time Ben Franklin lining Main Street.

I live in Chicago now. You couldn't pay me to go back to North Dakota.

PS. You're right about the air, though.
posted by Windigo at 1:41 PM on July 8, 2010


In short: fuck lawns. They're fine for parks and playing fields, but make no sense in their current forms of landscape design

Tell that to city ordinance enforcers:

Rain barrels and permeable brick landscape pavers are just some of the features that mark Michael Anschel's north Minneapolis home as environmentally gentle.

But the other key identifier -- a tide of tall prairie grass surrounding the corner home -- is gone now, mowed down Tuesday by order of the city of Minneapolis.

He also got a $140 bill for the trim job.

"I can't believe they didn't know this was prairie grass . . .

posted by Think_Long at 1:49 PM on July 8, 2010


Cities in the west that weren't settled until the late 19th century and saw most of their development in the 20th century are just not set up to support large populations in small central areas.

Any city with streets can support an alternative to the sort of culture that encourages trips of one person per car. Convert major links into bus-only routes, including some that offer 100-mph crosstown jumps between hubs. Convert parallel routes into bicycle-only crosstown routes. Create local minibus routes (on automotive streets) that circulate people around their neighborhoods and get them to their local schools and stores and offices. Close streets that just fuck up traffic flow or that have become rat runs that disrupt neighborhoods. After a few years, local development would reshape areas to meet new transport opportunities: you might build more for local shopping via foot travel and bus, for example, and not only for driving out to big box stores and loading up the car.
posted by pracowity at 1:54 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


What good is a 1 to 2 foot wide strip of lawn between the curb and sidewalk?

They're usually called tree lawns. They provide a buffer between motor traffic and pedestrians, and are a great place to plant trees to line the street. They are a good practice. Sidewalks right next to rounded curbs? Bad practice.
posted by entropicamericana at 2:14 PM on July 8, 2010


You know, not everyone wants to live in the city. In fact, people like living in many different environs, and that's okay. I like having a house that separate from the surrounding houses, a garage, a garden. I dislike going up stairs to get to my front door. I mean, don't get me wrong, I've lived in many apartments in the past, and I love being able to walk to the local pub like that. But I like having a four bedroom house. I like it. I'm not wrong to like as several people live with me and that's just dandy. I like driving a bit sometimes. I mean, I love to walk too, but driving is nice. I grew up in the middle of nowhere, and I certainly don't want to move back, but I understand it's appeal.

The entire point of that ramble is that if you want to live in suburbia or the city or the country, that's awesome. It would suck if everyone lived in the city or country or anywhere for that matter. So just because you personally prefer to live downtown doesn't mean that everyone else better damn well too.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 3:01 PM on July 8, 2010


Lord Chancellor: "You know, not everyone wants to live in the city. In fact, people like living in many different environs, and that's okay"

The problem most of us anti-suburbanites are describing is, prior to the cheap oil boom after World War II, there were only two main kinds of environs: the city and the country. The suburban lifestyle you describe is ultimately founded on a series of historical anomalies and privileges that are barely found in European countries, let alone in the global south.

At the end of the day, communities are only sustainable if everyone puts into the community as much as they take out. It's clear that (traditional) rural dwellers do that because they're responsible for food production and thus need the space. It's clear traditional city dwellers do that because their connected homes and low-carbon transportation uses less. It's not clear that the suburbs, a strange combination of rural home life and urban work life, accomplish that goal.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 3:20 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Minor quibble: Streetcar suburbs
posted by entropicamericana at 3:30 PM on July 8, 2010


What Windigo said and --

The food is better, the air is better, and the schools are better. Oh yeah and the economy is better.

I'm not sure where in Nodak you grew up, but many of the more rural (yes more rural) school districts in the west and southwest of the state are seriously underfunded due to a terrible combination of declining tax base, growing district size and shrinking student body. Several school districts in the SW corner are seriously considering the prospect of a county-wide school system; they might be able to keep 2-3 room elementary school in each community, but county-wide high schools are almost a certainty at this point.

True the economy has been doing better, but only in a relative sense. North Dakotas core industries (agriculture, oil/coal/gas, and healthcare) provide some insulation against the worst of the recession, but they also won't grow nearly as fast as neighboring states with more diversified economies.
posted by nathan_teske at 7:57 PM on July 8, 2010


"The food is better???"

Fried food wasn't really a staple at my house. Like I said I grew up on a farm/ranch where we had a huge garden every year and my mom would can a lot of vegetables so we had homegrown veggies for the majority of the year. We also raised our own meat; chickens, pigs, and bison. So yeah I think fresh non-processed food is a lot better than eating food that is pre -packaged, pre-processed, and injected with preservatives. I like knowing where my food came and how it was grown/raised.

"The economy is better???"

Well actually it's the best economy in the entire nation.

"I'm not sure where in Nodak you grew up, but many of the more rural (yes more rural) school districts in the west and southwest of the state are seriously underfunded due to a terrible combination of declining tax base, growing district size and shrinking student body. Several school districts in the SW corner are seriously considering the prospect of a county-wide school system; they might be able to keep 2-3 room elementary school in each community, but county-wide high schools are almost a certainty at this point."

I don't really see the downside to this. Less students per teacher is a bad thing? As far as the underfunding issue I don't really see how that could be a problem as the state is flush with cash and as far as I know has not been cutting back on education funding. I don't have any hard data on this if could link me to where you got this info I would appreciate it.

My class in high school had 24 people in it. Guess how many graduated? Guess how many did drugs? Guess how many came from broken families? 24, 0, and 0. I would much rather raise my children, when I have some, in rural North Dakota than in any city or suburb. I was privileged to have had the opportunity to have been raised there and I count it a benefit to my character not something to be looked back upon as a negative. But I guess if everyone thought the way I do then North Dakota would not be the kind of place it is. So um yeah don't come to North Dakota we don't want you it's a shitty state with nothing good about it. And the winters are brutal -40 degrees in the winter. Nope you don't want to move there. :)
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 6:42 AM on July 9, 2010


Well I definitely see it in the neighborhood I grew up in. Growing up, it was mostly younger White families, but now there are more minorities and older folk who decided to stay while their children graduated and moved away.
posted by wei2k at 11:58 AM on July 9, 2010


My class in high school had 24 people in it. Guess how many graduated? Guess how many did drugs? Guess how many came from broken families? 24, 0, and 0.

Guess how many were capable of concealing the truth about their family life and drug use from an 18 year old?
posted by griphus at 12:11 PM on July 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Guess how many were capable of concealing the truth about their family life and drug use from an 18 year old?"

Apparently you've never lived in a small town before. And by small I mean 1000 people or less. It's actually one of the not so great things about living/going to school in a small town; you can't fart without everybody knowing about it.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 1:36 PM on July 9, 2010


I don't really see the downside to this. Less students per teacher is a bad thing?

That's not what's happening. It's more students per teacher, less diverse course selection and students commuting 60+ miles oneway to school each day.

"Guess how many were capable of concealing the truth about their family life and drug use from an 18 year old?"

Apparently you've never lived in a small town before. And by small I mean 1000 people or less. It's actually one of the not so great things about living/going to school in a small town; you can't fart without everybody knowing about it.


No one has secrets in small towns? My hometown had a population less than 300 on a busy day; the entire country barely tips 3000 people. I graduated in a class of 20 -- woulda' been 13 had we not picked-up seven kids when another town closed its highschool. Half of the kids in my class were alcoholics by their junior year, about a fourth were potheads, and at least one or two were into much harder drugs (lots of meth in North Dakota). Everybody gossips in small towns, which is why people know to STFU so they can keep their dirty little secrets.
posted by nathan_teske at 6:39 PM on July 9, 2010


Fried food wasn't really a staple at my house. Like I said I grew up on a farm/ranch where we had a huge garden every year and my mom would can a lot of vegetables so we had homegrown veggies for the majority of the year. We also raised our own meat; chickens, pigs, and bison.

So did we.

Every single thing you stated, except the bison. We had cattle instead.

I learned how to hold a chicken for my grampa to chop off its head by the age of 5. I could ride & saddle our horse by 6. But. I did not see a parking meter, enjoy a music concert, view an art gallery, or meet a person who was not white or Sioux until I was 18 and moved to Detroit for college.

Anyway, back to the food thing....sure, we had our own garden. But there's a farmer's market literally across the street from my work, right in downtown Chicago. I still get all the fresh organic veggies (and baked goods, and cheeses, and eggs) I could ever want.

But I also get amazing authentic Mexican, and Thai, and sushi...and amazing steaks or burgers...and French food....Italian...and oh, the contemporary American cuisine is to die for! Last week I had Rosemary Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Pomegranate BBQ! Sautéed potato-ricotta gnocchi!

But the exciting cuisine options in North Dakota, if you are in the metropolitan areas of Bismarck or Fargo, are....well. Olive garden. Applebees.

So I just can't get behind the food being better in North Dakota. It wasn't North Dakota; it was your proximity to fresh, organic foods which you are proud of, but that can really be found easily in any city. Sure, you got to grow it yourself, but there was always a chance you'd also loose most of it to a summer hailstorm anyway.

Though ok, North Dakota has knoefle soup & fleischkuekle. I really miss that. You can't find that stuff anywhere else but ND.
posted by Windigo at 8:00 PM on July 9, 2010


"but there was always a chance you'd also loose most of it to a summer hailstorm"

You'd be surprised what you can accomplish with a bunch of tarps :) But point taken about the food. I guess it is the organic thing.

"Half of the kids in my class were alcoholics by their junior year, about a fourth were potheads, and at least one or two were into much harder drugs"

Sure we boozed a bit but there were absolutely no drugs in our school. The one "pot head" lasted about half a year before being kicked out of school. I don't know how things are now in good old Leeds High School, but back then they ran a tight ship. I guess our area(Benson County) had a tradition of strong families. There was literally one kid in the whole high school who came from a broken family. His dad had left so his poor mother had to raise him alone. The only other single parent housholds were due to the death of a parent.

Jesus Christ guys have some pride. :) I've lived in L.A., Vancouver, and several Central American cities and have never found any big city that can compare to the peace you can find on my family's ranch. You have a connection to the land and to nature that people in cities just can't have. Sure you can go camping or hiking or whatever but there is something about tilling the land raising animals and doing it yourself that really appeals to me. I guess you could call it my church. Sure I enjoy the convenience of the city and all the "things to do" but in the end all those "things" just end up distracting you from what's really important. I know it sounds sappy and lame but that's just how I feel.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:24 AM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Please. Go back to your 10x15 cabin. No one is stopping you.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 12:51 AM on July 10, 2010


"Please. Go back to your 10x15 cabin. No one is stopping you."

I do as often as possible. Have fun in your city/suburb. :)
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:38 AM on July 10, 2010


"Then there are the modern compact developments, where everyone gets their own bit of yard, but the houses are maximized, so you'll have a bit of green fringe around the edges, large enough for the dogs to use, but not much else. Do you think anyone has kids who can really play on a 10 foot by 40 foot strip of grass tucked behind the house? No soccer, baseball or football back there, that's for sure. "

10X40 is a pretty good size play space (though something more square would be better); at least until kids are old enough to walk to a local park. And, while I don't quite understand this myself, a lot of people like having about that much space for outdoor living; BBQs, reading, etc.

"Tell that to city ordinance enforcers:

"
Rain barrels and permeable brick landscape pavers are just some of the features that mark Michael Anschel's north Minneapolis home as environmentally gentle.

"But the other key identifier -- a tide of tall prairie grass surrounding the corner home -- is gone now, mowed down Tuesday by order of the city of Minneapolis.
"

The same insanity reigns here. The local bunch grass and sagebrush is allowed if the property has never been developed but you aren't allowed to replace lawn with them despite the city officially supporting Xeriscaping.
posted by Mitheral at 3:50 PM on July 10, 2010


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