No, I’m not referring to the newest Arcade Fire album (although its basically an urban planning manifesto, and they should come play at APA 2012).  I’m talking about the cul-de-sac bearing, strip mall flaunting, track home producing haunts in which so much of today’s American offspring have grown up.  Its a topic thats been tackled before, but heres one more person’s thoughts on our changing perception of suburbs, specifically as a place to call home.

Before I get into the modern conception of suburbs and its impact on our lives, lets remember that there have been “suburbs” as long as there have been a form of centralized urban civilization.  When you focus a physical environment around one location, there are inherently residences near that, and further away.  Before the time of the automobile or any sort of reliable transportation, it was the richest who lived closest to the center of town, and the poor lived further away.  Cars may have revolutionized our lives in many, many ways, but one of the most profound impacts is the complete reversal of what the outer urban limits mean as far as desirability and socio-economic class.

It was my grandparent’s generation that was the last to really live in the city, walking to school and work in Hollywood and downtown.  And it was that generation, that took somewhat for granted the pros of living in such spaces, that bought into cars and detached homes, and decided to rear their children in the relatively new concept of the modern suburb.  This is obviously not universal, and in cities like NYC and Chicago, and of course all over the world, people did stay downtown.  But in the sunbelt cities, this was a relatively common trend.  My parent’s generation grew up there, and for the most part has stayed there.  Its my generation that is reverting back to the city- but why?  Like our parents, we were children of the suburbs.  We had to wait for rides from our elders, don’t know how to ride the bus, and think that all grocery stores and supermarkets.  Why is it that we’re the ones who want to move more centrally?

Like everything else in the complex notion of the human condition, the answer is, “its complicated.”  I’m personally of the belief that its a combination of things- a new outlook on sustainability and the concept of finite resources, the aging of suburban infrastructure, and the simple rotation of trends.  Today, more than ever before, we as a society are beginning to understand the impact we’ve had and will have on the planet if we continue to live this way.  More and more of my friends want to live in places where they can walk everywhere, and I think thats as much a product of the price of gas a “green” becoming trendy- which isn’t really that bad of a thing.  Additionally, the track homes and strip malls aren’t nearly as pristine as they were when our parents were kids.  Places that were where the kids all hung out look seedy in many spots now; malls that were once inside have flipped outward without places to chill; parking is becoming more scarce with the price of real estate.  Finally, trends just rotate.  Just like tank top strap widths or heights of heels, the “place to be” has a natural fluctuation, and if you really look at the history of civilization, this is nothing new.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen revolutions in public transportation, housing and work availability downtown, and a slowing down of outer ring suburb development.  Whether our generation makes the big move back in on a whole is still up for debate- I think the bigger question now is whether the move is a real change in how we conceive of and utilize the built environment, or if its just the pendulum swinging, doomed to swing back again with our grandkids.

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