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The Suburban Future

It's not a popular viewpoint, but what if suburbs end up being more critical to a sustainable and efficient future than dense urban areas?
May 17, 2016, 2pm PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Randy Rieland reports on a proposition that might come as a shock, or even an affront, to some who call themselves urbanists: the future of the built environment could still be suburban.

Rieland relies on the ideas and research of Alan Berger, a professor of landscape architecture and urban design at MIT, who recently convened the "Future of Suburbia" conference. Among the speakers and futurists at the event, a much more environmentally friendly portrait of the suburbs emerged:

Their model of a future metropolitan area of 3 million people looks very different from what we’ve come to know. Rather than have neighborhoods continuously spreading outward from a downtown core, it presents a handful of dense clusters amid what Berger describes as a “big sea of suburban development that’s much more horizontal than vertical." It would, he says, function as a “kind of holistic sustainable machine.”

One key concept of Berger's argument: that U.N.'s 2014 "World Urbanization Prospects" report built a misconception that the majority of the world's population now lives in urban areas (i.e., not the suburbs). In fact, says Berger, most of those people are moving to suburbs. "Certainly, the world’s urbanizing, but it’s urbanizing in a much different way than cities," says Berger in a direct quote. "It’s urbanizing horizontally."

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Published on Thursday, May 12, 2016 in Smithsonian Magazine
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