Urbanist TikTok Takes Aim at the Suburbs

Planners are using the popular video platform to explain how car dependence and single-family zoning deepen suburban isolation and affect affordability and sustainability.

August 3, 2022, 7:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Woman holding phone with TikTok logo

diy13 / TikTok app

Urbanism isn’t entirely new to TikTok, but a new generation of creators passionate about public transit, affordable housing, and walkability is bringing wonky planning concepts like induced demand to a massive young audience. As Sarah Holder writes in Bloomberg CityLab, “Many of the most active posters on TikTok are professionals — or professionals-to-be — in their respective fields, not just armchair urbanists. But the app doesn’t favor individual personalities, and like-minded posters don’t generally congregate in groups.” According to Holder, “While their content varies, these creators share a similar goal: to spread the gospel of urbanism to a new generation, and push policies that advance environmental adaptation and housing affordability.”

During the pandemic, when many suburban teens found themselves isolated in their car-centric neighborhoods, some TikTok creators found an opportunity to reach young people with videos that explained the historical reasons why the suburbs are often so “deeply isolating” for teens. “Deterring car dependence, exposing the violence of urban renewal, and diversifying cookie-cutter neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes are recurrent themes.”

Others found themselves showing diverse representation in the urban planning field, prompting teens to find out more about the profession. According to city planner and TikTok-er Brittany Simmons, “A lot of people don’t know what these fields are.” Simmons continues, “It’s not that they’re not interested; they literally just don’t know that they exist.”

“When it comes to reshaping the physical world, some creators acknowledge that online virality can only go so far.” Still, writes Holder, “it's certainly getting more people to care.”

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