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Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream

Can Our Neighborhoods Be Saved?

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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 offer solutions in their book, Suburban Nation.

The Rise of McMansions

It's an architectural version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Our neighborhoods are being replaced by soulless alien substitutes. Instead of corner stores, we have Quick Marts. Instead of Main Streets, we have Mega Malls. Fast-food architecture --"McMansions" -- sit forlornly along monotonous cul-de-sacs.

This is the chilling picture painted by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck in Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream. Armed with dozens of photos and caustic wit, the authors bombard us with darkly comical factoids:

  • The average American household takes 13 car trips per day.
  • American families spend four times more than European families on transportation.
  • Suburbanites are more likely than city dwellers to be killed or injured by traffic accidents or crime.
  • Traffic gets worse -- not better -- when roads are widened.

The Spread Of Sprawl

Wide highways, large single-family lots and long tedious commutes have become the dominant pattern in the United States. But, the authors warn, sprawl is spreading. Other countries who may be enamored by TV glamorizations of suburban life are creating their own versions of the American Dream.

The authors are pioneers in the rapidly growing movement known as New Urbanism. Duany and Plater-Zyberk launched the groundbreaking Congress for the New Urbanism which strives to promote the creation of pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. Jeff Speck is director of town planning at Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. The firm is noted for designing pristine communities such as Seaside, Florida, and Kentlands, Maryland.

Seaside Haters

Old-fashioned neighborhoods with walkable roads and corner shops may seem idyllic, but New Urbanist philosophies are not universally embraced. Critics say that pretty communities like Kentlands, Maryland, and Seaside, Florida, are as isolated as the suburbs they try to replace. Moreover, many New Urbanist communities are considered pricey and exclusive.

The debates can grow heated. Over the past 10 years, much has been written about New Urbanism, pro and con. But, for Seaside Haters, Suburban Nation presents a strong defense. The book is not merely a dewy-eyed idealization of old-fashioned neighborhood models or a condemnation of Wal-Mart. Instead, the authors identify specific problems -- and achievable solutions, complete with checklists, planning guides and resources.

Historically, Americans have rebuilt their communities every 50 to 60 years. In Suburban Nation, Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck tell us that it's not too late to "untangle the mess."

After reading this manifesto, even Seaside Haters may feel a glimmer of hope.

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