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Sun Aug 17, 2014, 10:42 AM

Let’s make suburbs into cities: New urbanism, car culture and the future of community

Let’s make suburbs into cities: New urbanism, car culture and the future of community
Well, with an urban spirit, at least. Can real community grow in a town designed to bring people together?


Excerpted from "Americans Against the City: Anti-Urbanism in the 20th Century"

By the last quarter of the twentieth century, Americans had succeeded in building an alternative to the dense central city, and the anti-government politics of the New Right had triumphed on the national stage. Roughly three out of every four of us live in large metropolitan regions, but the large cities that anchor those regions do not house a majority of those metropolitans. The greater Philadelphia region, on the East Coast, counts a population of just under 6 million, the city itself only 1.5 million; on the West Coast, the city of Los Angeles is home to nearly 4 million people, but the Los Angeles “metroplex” has grown to nearly 13 million. Hence the paradox: we are a nation clustered around our major cities, we rely on their infrastructure—transportation networks, education and research facilities, cultural institutions—and we remain deeply ambivalent about the city and city-ness itself.

At the same time, despite the flight from the city after the Second World War, despite the proliferation of physical environments shaped primarily by the automobile and private housing, Americans seemed no closer to solving the question of how to live the good life than they had been at the beginning of the century. Indeed, to judge by any number of sociological studies, public opinion surveys, and news reports, they were arguably further from finding that grail than ever before. A country of exiles, bowling alone, inhabiting a geography of nowhere. “At the conclusion of the 20th century,” sociologist Robert Putnam concluded, “ordinary Americans shared [a] sense of civic malaise.” The longing to belong that underscored the twentieth century had not been satisfied, the beloved community that Josiah Royce had anticipated had not yet come to pass.

Into that loneliness and alienation emerged two movements promising to heal what ailed us. One was made up of a loose assemblage of sociologists, philosophers, lawyers, and public policy types who called themselves “communitarians.” They have attempted to formulate an ethos to navigate between an excessive individualism and an overbearing state. The other was a group of planners, designers, and architects who called themselves the “new urbanists.” These new urbanists believe that America’s sterile built environment has contributed mightily to that civic malaise, and that with better planning we can create meaningful communities.

Though each had its own roots, the two movements converged in the 1990s. The communitarians offered a bracing critique of the nation’s social ills, and they argued that a revived “community” would fill its void of values. The new urbanists envisioned landscapes that would facilitate exactly the ethos the communitarians advocated. Space could be reshaped into meaningful places, which in turn would foster the community at the heart of communitarianism. Both groups came to national prominence in the last decade of the twentieth century, both diagnosed the same ailment in American life, and both have been ambivalent about the role of the city in curing the “crisis of community” and have been largely silent on the larger issue of how to invigorate our public sphere. ........................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.salon.com/2014/08/17/lets_make_suburbs_into_cities_new_urbanism_car_culture_and_the_future_of_community/

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Reply Let’s make suburbs into cities: New urbanism, car culture and the future of community (Original post)
marmar Aug 2014 OP
NYC_SKP Aug 2014 #1
KamaAina Aug 2014 #2

Response to marmar (Original post)

Sun Aug 17, 2014, 11:11 AM

1. I see improvements happening, but these are the exception to the rule.


The car culture and big box stores are still the main driver to development, it seems.

People are still resisting walkable neighborhoods where one doesn't need to have a car for every single purchase or service.

They clearly resist public transportation, too, and high speed rail.

Yet traffic grows worse every year.

In high school years, my town had five or six dedicated and independently owned bike shops.

One by one they disappeared, to be replaced by a three, all at the other end of the city in the newer suburbs.

Where I see the improvements is in the most expensive cities, like Sunnyvale, where multi-use development is occurring: residential floors above a commercial street level.

There's less need for cars, except that most of the residents still drive to work and often one or two cities over. I'm not sure if they care about the mixed-use model or not, or support public transportation.

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Response to marmar (Original post)

Wed Aug 20, 2014, 02:22 PM

2. I have been trying to re-envision Ferguson


once all the people who've registered to vote at the memorial (http://www.democraticunderground.com/10025405522) vote the scum out of office, there may be opportunity there. But the place has a 25% rental vacancy rate, and (like most of St. Louis County, which is separate from St. Louis proper) lousy, infrequent bus service.

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