Urbanism, Suburbs and Families: They Can All Go Together

Michael Lewyn's picture

A few weeks ago, I read an online comment suggesting that unnamed "planners" displayed no interest in suburbia, single-family housing or family life, and instead are only interested in improving downtown neighborhoods for single people. If by "planners" the author of this comment meant new urbanists or critics of the sprawl status quo, this claim is simply incorrect.

Over the past month, I have visited half a dozen new urbanist developments in Dallas and Denver (1). All of these developments have a few things in common: all include both retail and residential uses, and all strive for walkability by providing sidewalks and narrow, gridded streets. But the developments differ in two other respects: geography and housing type.

Only one of the six developments (Victory Park in Dallas) is downtown; two others (Addison Circle and Eastside Village, in the Dallas suburbs of Addison and Plano respectively) are in suburbs far from downtown, and the other three were technically within city limits but not within walking distance of downtown (West Village and Mockingbird Station in Dallas, Stapleton in Denver). Thus, it is not correct to say that new urbanism is limited to downtown, any more than it would be correct to suggest that new urbanism is limited to suburbia. Rather, new urbanist development can and does occur in a wide variety of geographical settings.

Just as new urbanist projects are not limited to high-density urban settings, they are also not limited to singles-oriented multifamily dwellings. In particular, Stapleton appeared to me to be dominated by houses with front yards. Moreover, Stapleton certainly appeared quite child-friendly: Stapleton has more playground and park space than the other developments I saw, and I saw lots of children and young parents on a neighborhood tour. In fact, some Stapleton residents went out of their way to discuss how many children lived there. (2)

Of course, you shouldn't have to look at new urbanist developments to realize that a walkable neighborhood need not be a concrete jungle. The streetcar suburbs of the 1920s were dominated by houses with front yards, just like Stapleton. And even some urban settings are as family-oriented as any suburb; the Hasidic neighborhoods of Brooklyn have larger families than most suburbs. In sum, both new and old urbanism are quite capable of accommodating families.


(1) I realize that not everyone agrees what constitutes new urbanism; however, I assume for the purposes of this article that the neighborhoods listed at http://www.tndtownpaper.com/neighborhoods.htm pass the test.

(2) See for example these videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqui0DGmFls and


Michael Lewyn is an assistant professor at Touro Law Center in Long Island.



Michael Lewyn's picture

More on Stapleton - parents' comments

(see video at bottom)

Contradictory Attacks On Planners

You are absolutely right, Michael. I hear roughly an equal number of critics saying 1) planners want everyone to move to the city and don't care about families who want to live in suburbs and 2) New Urbanist planners just want to build suburbs, and they don't build cities. Both of these statements are incorrect: New Urbanists planners build at a wide variety of densities, including suburbs and cities.

Charles Siegel

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