Monday, 22 March 2004
Thoughts on a Suburban Nation
Interested in living in actual communities, rather than subdivisions or “pods”? Tired of spending most of your life in a car?
I’ve been getting a lot of books from the library recently, and one of my recent reads was Suburban Nation. I’ve got to say that it’s one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read; every page resonates as it explains what’s so wrong with American sprawl, planning and development, with clear illustrations.
As a direct result, I’ve become much more interested in planning, zoning and urban development issues. I also now know what my architect sister-in-law means when she uses phrases like “built environment.” I’m beginning to suspect that either a) I’ve been completely oblivious to (yet another) whole universe of important things happening around me, or b) we’re experiencing a renaissance in urban planning and community design in America right now.
Given the state of things, I’d prefer (b), although I’ll acknowledge that the options aren’t mutually exclusive. Some of the evidence is the growing popularity of “ Smart Growth” and its cousin, New Urbanism (which was founded by some of the book’s authors). There’s also something called the Lone Mountain Compact; I don’t agree with much of it, but it’s good to see vigourous debate in the field.
Besides the book (available at Amazon for $12.60), I’d very much recommend subscribing to the feed ( RSS) at Planetizen. It’s a firehose, but every day bring fantastic links about top planning issues, the role of trees in cities, environmental economics, interesting public finance techniques, dubious justifications for Wal-Mart proliferation by objectivists (in the name of equal coverage, I imagine), planning humor and much more. Highly recommended.
Next up: What is apparently the definitive work in this field, Jane Jacobs’ The Life and Death of American Cities.