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SUBURBAN NATION: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream

SUBURBAN NATION: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, 10th Anniversary Edition by Andres Duany, Lizz Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck

Image courtesy IWPR Group
New Urbanist pioneers Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck discuss problems of sprawl in their groundbreaking book, Suburban Nation. Read Chapter One now:
  • Two Ways to Grow
  • The Five Components of Sprawl
  • A Brief History of Sprawl
  • Why Virginia Beach is not Alexandria
  • Neighborhood Plans versus Sprawl Plans
The cities will be part of the country; I shall live 30 miles from my office in one direction, under a pine tree; my secretary will live 30 miles away from it too, in the other direction, under another pine tree. We shall both have our own car. We shall use up tires, wear out road surfaces and gears, consume oil and gasoline. All of which will necessitate a great deal of work ... enough for all.
-- Le Corbusier, The Radiant City (1967)

Two Ways To Grow

This book is a study of two different models of urban growth: the traditional neighborhood and suburban sprawl. They are polar opposites in appearance, function, and character: they look different, they act differently, and they affect us in different ways.

The traditional neighborhood was the fundamental form of European settlement on this continent through the Second World War, from St. Augustine to Seattle. It continues to be the dominant pattern of habitation outside the United States, as it has been throughout recorded history. The traditional neighborhood -represented by mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly communities of varied population, either standing free as villages or grouped into towns and cities- has proved to be a sustainable form of growth. It allowed us to settle the continent without bankrupting the country or destroying the countryside in the process.

Suburban sprawl, now the standard North American pattern of growth, ignores historical precedent and human experience. It is an invention, conceived by architects, engineers, and planners, and promoted by developers in the great sweeping aside of the old that occurred after the Second World War. Unlike the traditional neighborhood model, which evolved organically as a response to human needs, suburban sprawl is an idealized artificial system. It is not without a certain beauty: it is rational, consistent, and comprehensive. Its performance is largely predictable. It is an outgrowth of modern problem solving: a system for living. Unfortunately, this system is already showing itself to be unsustainable. Unlike the traditional neighborhood, sprawl is not healthy growth; it is essentially self-destructive. Even at relatively low population densities, sprawl tends not to pay for itself financially and consumes land at an alarming rate, while producing insurmountable traffic problems and exacerbating social inequity and isolation. These particular outcomes were not predicted. Neither was the toll that sprawl exacts from America's cities and towns, which continue to decant slowly into the countryside. As the ring of suburbia grows around most of our cities, so grows the void at the center. Even while the struggle to revitalize deteriorated downtown neighborhoods and business districts continues, the inner ring of suburbs is already at risk, losing residents and businesses to fresher locations on a new suburban edge.

Next -> The Five Components of Sprawl

~ From Suburban Nation

Copyright © 2000 Duany, Plater-Zyberk, Speck
Reprinted with permission

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