Archives for posts with tag: sprawl

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? Read the rest of this entry »

Tonight I watched Taken for a Ride, a movie about the killing of street cars in America and the rising of cars and urban freeways.  Maybe its just because I’m so nerdily in love with planning and making better urban environments, or maybe this would happen to anyone seeing these kinds of movies, but I had such a negative emotional reaction to it.  Much like Who Killed the Electric Car and Divided Highways, this is a movie that shows us something positive we had in transportation, and how the auto industry took it away.  I realize these kinds of things have to be taken with a grain of salt, and that there are two sides to every story.  But haven’t we come to a point where we’re realizing that it isn’t just about making more money, and constantly “progressing” towards bigger, better, faster?  We have a finite number of resources on this planet, and if we continue to fill the air with pollution and create things like cars in a way so that they’ll be used up by one person and then thrown away, we aren’t a society thats going to last much farther into the future.  (No, me? Opinionated?…)

But I’m getting ahead of myself, and I’m thinking too much about the book I just finished, A Short History of Progress (which was incredibly depressing).  This movie does a good job of showing how GM in particular slowly monopolized and edged its way in to cities, taking out street cars and replacing them with buses and cars.  However, what it doesn’t show is that while many people loved the street cars, cities in the 20’s and 30’s were crowded and dirty, and many people LOVED the idea of having their own pod they could zip around in and back to their newer, quieter homes further out of the city.  Yes, car, oil, rubber, etc. companies had a lot of money put in all the right places to secure the American public would utilize and need them- but we can’t forget that people, especially after the Depression and WWII, fell in love with the freedom of having a car just as much.  It was a very lucky/unlucky converging of events that created the transportation situation we’re in today, and the important thing at this point is to move forward and try not to repeat the mistakes of the past.  Of course, we’ll then just make the mistakes of today, that the next generation gets to clean up.  C’est la vie…