‘Suburban Nation’: 10 Things to Hate About Suburban Sprawl


Jeff Speck, co-author of the book Suburban Nation along with Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, recently posted on the Huffington Post a slide show of things to hate about suburban sprawl.  He mentions how the New Urbanist critique of suburbia began as an aesthetic one, but quickly became a social one and now is becoming a political one, with foreign oil dependence, climate change and obesity all being traced back to a suburban lifestyle.  The ten things he lists are:

  1. McMansions – The oversized, ostentatious suburban houses that are car-accessible only, have massive energy bills, and are mostly responsible for the recent housing crisis.
  2. Snout Houses – Residential structures, be they single-family homes or row houses, where the first thing anyone sees is the garage door taking up most of the front facade of the house.  These are houses built for cars, not for people.
  3. Income Segregation – Suburban subdivisions are designed with few, very similar products, so that you will never come across someone of a different socio-economic group unless they’re cleaning your pool.
  4. Use Segregation – Speck uses a great image to illustrate how silly it is that even if you are within walking distance of shopping, suburban codes requiring walls separating uses make it so that you have to drive.
  5. Anti-Pedestrian Devices – These include things like telephone poles placed right in the middle of sidewalks (I saw a great example across the street from the Ardmore Junction train station, I might put a picture up if I get a chance to go back there anytime soon).  These are terrible for pedestrians and even worse for strollers and wheelchairs.  It discourages people from walking and forces them into their cars.
  6. Driver Frustration – As people have to share roads with more and more drivers, they become more frustrated and take longer to get to their destinations.  Road rage and longer commutes are the result.
  7. Big Box Schools – Along with everything else, schools begin to look more and more like warehouses, and are only reachable by car.  The city I used to work in actually required that schools be on arterial roads for easy car access.  Check out Speck’s slide show for the specifics on how many fewer children walk or bike to school than they used to.
  8. Asphaltification – As roads get more congested, we try to alleviate it by making wider roads.  More and more of our world is paved, which is bad for the environment, and the roads never end up clearing up.
  9. Car-nage – People move to the suburbs because they’re “safer,” but in reality, kids are much more likely to die in a car accident in the suburbs than they are to get shot in the city.  Check out this article to read about parent’s irrational fears.
  10. Big Footprint – The world is becoming more aware of the need to lessen their carbon footprint, but the best way to do so is not to get a Prius and compact-florescent light bulbs, it’s to live in a place where you don’t need a car.  Urbanites have much lower carbon footprints than their suburban counterparts.

Speck’s images and examples are great, and they continue the legacy of his book of pointing out what is so wrong with American suburbs.

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About Dave Munson
This blog is about architecture, cities, and myself.

One Response to ‘Suburban Nation’: 10 Things to Hate About Suburban Sprawl

  1. stacy says:

    makes me want to drink alchoholic beverages

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