Estates for All

Wendell Cox looks at how single-family detached housing came to be, and why it's likely to remain a popular option for the middle class.

"It may be that it was called a dream first in America, but its beginnings go back much further. For much of human history, most people who lived in large cities were forced to put up with virtually inhuman densities. By definition, large cities were compact. Indeed, they were often not a lot larger in their geographical expanse than smaller cities. Why? To be efficient labor markets, cities had to be small, so that all of the workers could get to all of the jobs – and in those days the only way to get around was by foot. As cities got larger, especially during the industrial revolution, densities rose in some neighborhoods to 200,000 and more per square mile. The lower East Side of New York topped out at 375,000 in the 1910 census and has since dropped by 75 percent."

"But not everyone lived in such crowded conditions. Throughout history, the most wealthy have had their castles, estates and mansions. This was true in the cesspool of 19th century American and European industrial cities, just as it was in Rome.

The coming of mechanized transport, especially urban and suburban commuter rail systems changed all this. In the latter half of the 19th century the upper middle class began to enjoy a small modicum of estate life."

Full Story: Of Houses, Castles and the Universal Dream
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Comments

Ignorance must be bliss?

How does Cox get so much attention when his arguments are so specious? It's interesting that his "diatribe" (ala Gordon, Richardson, and O'toole...) is/are always arguing that the urbanist propose "one size fits all" when it's his argument that is so redundant.

The good news for Cox, which I'm sure he does not have the capacity to understand from his ideological perch - is that the urbanist argue for a mix of housing types that include single family residences.

His lack of understanding about Traditional Neighborhood Design - for example - is just plain mind-boggling. Why give him air time?

Cox's Sloppy Reasoning

You are right. His reasoning is most conspicuously sloppy in this article when he assumes that, if the streetcar suburbs were good, the post-war Levittown suburbs must have been better. In reality, streetcar suburbs give people space without causing all of the problems of the Levittown suburbs.

A good question: why give him air time?

Charles Siegel

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Or to put it more succintly...

Single-family homes don't have to equal sprawl.

Streetcar suburbs are chock full of them.

And even Levittown is (from an pro-urban, pro-walkability perspective) a huge improvement on most American suburbs today. I've been to the Philadelphia Levittown, and the residential streets are perfectly fine for walkability purposes. The only thing wrong with Levittown is the non-residential street design - streets too wide, uses too separated, that sort of thing.

If you plan in a glass house ....

Mr. Moore, I'll be charitable and rather than conclude that you are publicly wondering why views different from yours aren't better suppressed, that instead you are simply asking how views different from yours get into print.

Here Cox mixes the fact that the single family house lifestyle is in widespread demand with his normative musing that suburbs are "the best option" for the majority. I didn't get much out of this particular essay either -- the leap of faith in the last sentence was just that -- but Cox is published partly because he's often a provocative contrarian -- which is required for the marketplace of ideas to work -- and assembles useful data.

At least he's not so inane as to call names. Cox and Gordon have a lot of fun pushing the buttons of planners who react like impatient toddlers at the prospect of honest debate. Who can blame them, as it's too easy and leads to pretty fireworks? Still, why play along rather than argue on the merits?

planning-research.com

I Am Too Charitable To Say That You Are Dishonest

I'll be charitable and rather than conclude that you are publicly wondering why views different from yours aren't better suppressed, that instead you are simply asking how views different from yours get into print.

I will be charitable and assume that Crane is simply confused.

If I were not charitable, I would say that Crane's statement is dishonest, because he implies that critics of Cox want to suppress his views - and at the same time denies he is saying it.

Yet it is absolutely clear that the Moore's comment says Cox should not get published because he is incompetent:

"How does Cox get so much attention when his arguments are so specious? ... His lack of understanding about Traditional Neighborhood Design - for example - is just plain mind-boggling. Why give him air time?"

Many other comments reinforce this point: Cox simply refuses to see that there are traditional walkable suburbs as well as auto-dependent sprawl suburbs.

If I were not charitable, I would say that Crane is dishonest to tell others not to resort to personal attacks and name calling at the same time as he engages in this sort of personal attack and name calling:

At least he's not so inane as to call names. Cox and Gordon have a lot of fun pushing the buttons of planners who react like impatient toddlers at the prospect of honest debate. Who can blame them, as it's too easy and leads to pretty fireworks? Still, why play along rather than argue on the merits?

Charles Siegel

Honestly ...

You suggest I am disingenuous but I meant my critique of Mr. Moore's comment to be crystal clear -- he was upset that Cox would be published in spite of not meeting some ideological litmus test of Moore's choosing. In my view, objecting to an opinion essay's publication because it doesn't toe an article of one's faith is beyond the pale. Clear enough?

I agree that competence is a legitimate publication criterion but ideological grounds generally are not, in professional circles anyway, not least in the case of opinion essays.

I can't tell if you agree, especially when you say that Cox should not be published because he, "simply refuses to see that there are traditional walkable suburbs as well as auto-dependent sprawl suburbs." (That is, I honestly don't know what this means. Everyone has to positively weigh in on the new urbanism -- on which his article is completely silent -- when discussing suburbs, or only Cox?)

Competence, Not Ideology

Moore's comment was about Cox's competence, and it did not suggest any ideological litmus test. Same for all the other comments.

You may disagree about Cox's competence, but that is no reason to accuse others of wanting to censor and suppress ideas that don't meet an ideological litmus test.

I said that one statement of yours was disingenuous: "Mr. Moore, I'll be charitable and rather than conclude that you are publicly wondering why views different from yours aren't better suppressed, that instead you are simply asking how views different from yours get into print."

That is like a politician starting a campaign speech by saying: "I want to run a clean campaign without personal attacks, and so I am not going to mention the fact that my opponent beats his wife."

You imply that Moore wants censorship, at the same time you disingenously claim that you won't accuse him of wanting censorship.

Needless to say, that is the one statement I was satirizing when I gave my post the title: "I Am Too Charitable To Say That You Are Dishonest."

Charles Siegel

I am indeed quite confused.

What is your standard of competence? Cox's essay mentions neither traditional neighborhood design nor traditional walkable neighborhoods, and neither you nor Mr. Moore appear to have any factual or technical dispute with anything he actually does say -- namely, that people in lots of places want to live in motorized suburbs but can't. (Don't they?) So I guessed you wanted it rejected for reasons having more to do with what he did not say but you wished he had (e.g., a critique of Levittown), or with his well-known unenthusiasm for the new urbanism, a topic also absent here, than the logical or empirical competence of this essay. Clarify where I am mistaken.

We cannot resolve our differences on such matters by limiting who can debate based on those differences -- and doing so on invented or imaginary grounds is especially dishonest. If you disagree with Cox on a fact or argument he's made, or you prefer he'd write about the problems of motorized suburbs rather than their appeal, or you wish to persuade him or his readers that the suburban forms he favors are problematic, or whatever, then simply say so. Better yet, publish an opinion essay. Wishing aloud that he (or you) not have a venue for those views is lazy, unconstructive, and unproductive.

p.s. Likening my extremely straightforward censorship concern to an allusive accusation of violence against women is logically incorrect and very uncool.

"My Extremely Straightforward Censorship Concern"

I'll be charitable and rather than conclude that you are publicly wondering why views different from yours aren't better suppressed, ..."

If that is straightforward talk about censorship, I can't imagine what you are like when you talk around an issue.

Charles Siegel

Cox's One-track mind

I agree, Cox is always arguing for people's freedom/right to live in a single-family detached home. But he never takes into account the effects of LAND USE and TRANSPORTATION.

It's fantastic that so many American families can afford to live in a single-family home. It's NOT fantastic that suburbs urbanize SO MUCH land in such an INEFFICIENT way. It's NOT fantastic that the transportation network is designed so that there is no accessibility to- or mobility within the suburbs without a private automobile. Mechanized transport may be what enabled the suburbs to proliferate, but now with fuel prices and GHGs, it is what has made them a burden on society.

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