The Suburbs Are Deficient Because We Made Them That Way

With their unhealthy environments, unsustainability, and relatively poor return on investment, "the suburbs" are an easy target for criticism. But suburbs aren't inherently inadequate, says David Levinson, they suffer from poor postwar urban design.
radcliffe dacanay / flickr

Not all suburbs are bad, points out Levinson. Take the streetcar suburbs built prior to World War II for example, or the small towns that eventually became parts of larger metropolitan areas. "It is a particular design of a particular era," that creates a bad name for "the suburbs", he writes.

"The problem with the suburbs isn’t that they are not the city," adds Levinson. "The problem with the suburbs is the same problem as the city, they had a bad 5 or 6 decades of urban design. Cities in the same period saw urban renewal, mostly mediocre architecture, replacement of buildings with surface parking lots, and a general hollowing out. It’s not because it’s the city that this is a problem, it’s because there were some terrible design (planning, engineering) memes out there which got implemented as policy, while operating in a market that just had no taste. It is worse with the suburbs, as for many, those six decades of urban design were the only six decades of development they had, while for the city, at least the older street network remained mostly intact, as did some of the older commercial buildings and much of the housing stock."

Full Story: It’s not the suburbs, it’s mid-late 20th century urban design, planning, engineering, and architecture


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