Philadelphia's Ultra Exurb

The Philadelphia Inquirer's architecture critic sets out to find the outer edge of the Philadelphia suburbs, and finds a "zombie subdivision."
January 9, 2012, 3pm PST | Chris Steins | @urbaninsight
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"Oakcrest has a network of immaculately paved streets, glossy utility boxes, and an active sales office. What it does not have is a lot of houses," writes Inga Saffron.

"Oakcrest was laid out for 169 single-family homes, but only 32 were completed when the builder went belly up after the 2007 housing crash. The result is a kind of zombie subdivision: Oakcrest is outfitted with all the necessary infrastructure, but it lacks the pulse of human life. Numbered signs resembling grave markers have been jammed into the earth to identify the available house lots."

Is this just another victim of the housing crash, Saffron wonders, or "a sign that the region's suburban sprawl has finally reached its limit?"

Saffron uses the Oakcrest example to review the debate between suburbia and increased density: " 'The word suburb has lost its meaning," acknowledges Alan Berube, a fellow at the Brookings Institution. The real competition, he suggests, is no longer between cities and suburbs, but between places that have density and good transit connections and those that don't. By that definition, North Philadelphia could be well-placed for a comeback, but the city's suburbanized Northeast may struggle. The success of Collingswood has everything to do with the proximity of PATCO trains and its small house lots... It's low-density, fringe exurbs like Oakcrest, beyond the orbital pull of the big city, that may not have much of a future."

Thanks to Architect Magazine

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Published on Friday, January 6, 2012 in The Philadelphia Inquirer
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