The Suburb of the Future, Almost Here

The following is an excerpt from an article that was originally published by the New York Times titled The Suburb of the Future, Almost Here: Millennials want a Different Kind of Suburban Development that is Smart, Efficient and Sustainable by Alan Berger. Please see the link below for the original article.

The suburbanization of America marches on. That movement includes millennials, who, as it turns out, are not a monolithic generation of suburb-hating city dwellers.
Most of that generation represents a powerful global trend. They may like the city, but they love the suburbs even more.
They are continuing to migrate to suburbs. According to the latest Census Bureau statistics, 25- to 29-year-olds are about a quarter more likely to move from the city to the suburbs as vice versa; older millennials are more than twice as likely.
Their future — and that of the planet — lies on the urban peripheries. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma made clear that, especially in suburbs, the United States desperately needs better drainage systems to handle the enormous amounts of rainfall expected from climate change.
They also made clear that new, sustainable suburbs can offer an advantage by expanding landscapes that can absorb water.
Housing affordability is a major driver of the appeal of suburbia, which has historically been, and still is, more affordable, especially for first-time home buyers.
Yet millennial suburbanites want a new kind of landscape. They want breathing room but disdain the energy wastefulness, visual monotony and social conformity of postwar manufactured neighborhoods. If new suburbs can hit the sweet spot that accommodates the priorities of that generation, millennial habitats will redefine everyday life for all suburbanites, which is 70 percent of Americans.
How can technology, revolutionary design and planning transform suburban living?
Climate will determine how environmental goals can be achieved in a given place: solar in the Sunbelt, say, or advanced water management in the rainy regions like the Pacific Northwest. Suburbs of the same age or size don’t share the same potential benefits or needs. Here are some ideas to shape future suburbs into smart, efficient and more sustainable places to live.
Existing suburbs were developed to maximize house and lot sizes, and some are often locked into aesthetic compliance, like mowed lawns. These communities were also built around cars. Many residential developments offer small parks or playgrounds within walking distance, but require cars to get to bigger recreation areas.
In sustainable new suburbs, house and lot sizes are smaller — in part because driveways and garages are eliminated — paving is reduced up to 50 percent and landscapes are more flexible. The plant-to-pavement ratio of today’s suburb is much higher than that of cities, but the next generation of suburbs can be even better at absorbing water.
House and open community spaces are set among teardrop-shaped one-way roads, which encourage predictable, safe separation of pedestrians and moving vehicles. New suburban developments will utilize technology like autonomous electric cars (parked at solar-powered remote lots) and smart street lighting, which minimize energy use and harmful environmental impact.
Communities will share neighborhood amenities like public access areas, drone ports for deliveries, car pull overs (a wider shoulder in the road for pickup and drop-off) rather than private driveways and open common spaces.
Businesses also like locations on urban peripheries. That dynamic is helping to reshape suburbia’s traffic patterns, since many cars avoid urban centers. As cars move to renewable energy, emissions and road noise will diminish. In the near term, we should hope to see more efficient cars and on ride sharing.
Drones at your Doorstep
The use of drones will reduce the need for many car errands — and their emissions: With their unrestricted air space, suburban communities are likely to be first to receive package deliveries from the drones being tested by Amazon. They would be either hub-based, at Amazon warehouses, within 15 to 20 miles of customers, or truck-based, as with U.P.S. or Workhorse, in which a truck stops and a drone deploys. Small to medium packages — 86 percent of Amazon deliveries are under five pounds — can be handled by current drones and deliver to covered areas at doorways or at shared car pull-offs.
Cars that Park Themselves
In a future suburban development, a homeowner will order an autonomous car, via an app, from a remote solar-charging lot. As a car approaches, it will “talk” to a home: Lights and other utilities are activated or shut off for greater energy efficiency. Because these suburban homes will not have driveways or garages, front yards can be bigger, devoted to ecological functions or recreational activities.
A Smarter Landscape
The neighborhoods will be friendlier for pedestrians, with sidewalks and paths that connect to open spaces and communal areas. Before we had fenced-off backyards. In the future we’ll have common recreation spaces or vegetable gardens. Or they can be designed for shared landscape features like forest, vernal ponds or wetlands that help manage storm runoff and control flooding.
Climate change has resulted in heavier rainfall when storms do come, and there’s a need to store all of this water to prevent catastrophic urban flooding. Less pavement in suburbia means the ground absorbs more rain and snow and less storm water pours into heavily paved urban areas nearby.
Planners need to view cities, suburbs and exurbs not as discrete units but as regions, with one integrated environmental and technological system.
It’s rare that such a profound change of vision for the future is so close to being achievable. And the millennial generation, with their there’s-an-app-for-that outlook, is the one that will adopt it.
They find beauty in the utilitarian, and they know just how quickly radical technologies can change everything — including the suburb they want to call home.

What if the Suburbs went on Forever?

The following is an excerpt from an article that was originally published by the Boston Globe titled What if the Suburbs went on Forever? by Kevin Hartnett. Please see the link below for the original article.

Suburbia has a bad name. As a form of development, it’s associated with sprawl and waste, oversized homes, cookie-cutter communities, and a dreary dependence on automobiles. Yet suburban land is also where most people live — not just in the United States, but around the world — and a new exhibition at MIT argues that it’s time to start thinking seriously about what suburban development should look like.
“Urban planning doesn’t focus enough attention on suburbia, it focuses on making dense cities denser, which is where a minority of the world’s population wants to live,” says Alan Berger, a professor of landscape architecture and urban design at MIT and curator of the exhibition. “We should focus on where the majority of people are choosing to live, which is not a compact and dense lifestyle.”
The idea that the suburbs are the future is at odds with major currents of academic thought and popular culture. There, we imagine people piling into ever-higher high-rises, either as part of a sleek utopia or a grimy end-of-days scenario. In both cases, the future is set in cities. But that projection is at odds with trends on the ground. According to a 2014 United Nations report, only one in eight urban dwellers worldwide lives in dense megacities. The rest live in flat, distributed settlements outside of city centers, which Berger believes is a trend that will continue for decades.
“At the very precise moment that we’re looking and focusing on cities, one can ask, well, what about the rest?” says Pierre Bélanger, a professor of landscape architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. “If you take all the cities in the world, you could fill up India. My question is, what about the rest?”
The rest is the subject of the “The Future of Suburbia” exhibition, which runs through April 2 and is being put on by MIT’s Center for Advanced Urbanism, where Berger serves as codirector. The exhibition features several parts, including photographs and video of suburban development around the world, and a model of what a well-planned suburban area of 3 million people might look like in the year 2100. Conceptually, the most unique feature of the model is that it presents a suburban area as a place unto itself — just like we’re accustomed to thinking about cities as places unto themselves — with no necessary attachment to any urban center. At the same time, the exhibition proposes ways in which the suburbs can provide services and ecological systems that support the city center — rather than simply serving as bedroom communities.
“We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about suburban development as being primarily made up of cul de sacs, single-family houses, parks, and schools,” says Bélanger, “but there are other patterns of development in the peripheries of these metropolitan areas that are not necessarily dependent on the [city] core.”
The model is created in a polycentric design, with nodes of dense development and attention throughout to aspects of planning that would allow a large suburban area to fully support itself in addition to its nearest center cities. Berger imagines this sustainability could be achieved through new smart energy microgrids, hydroponic food, and autonomous driving technologies deployed across the broad suburban plain.
“The whole thing works metabolically as holistic system,” Berger says. “The suburbs are actively providing resources like energy, storage, and waste disposal, and all those systems are built into the form of suburbia.”
It’s a vision that turns on a major reimagining of what we understand by the term suburban — or, as Bélanger prefers it, sub-urban — development. The MIT exhibition will be accompanied by the publication of a book, “Infinite Suburbia,” whose title gets at this idea. Now we think of the suburbs in terms of sprawl and assume that, after a certain distance, the concept exhausts itself. By contrast, the MIT exhibition asserts that, if developed correctly, there’s no reason the suburbs can’t go on forever.

Suburbia Gets No Respect, But It Could Become a Very Different Place

The following is an excerpt from an article that was originally posted on titled Suburbia Gets No Respect, But It Could Become a Very Different Place by Randy Rieland. Please see the link below for the original article.

For years now, Alan Berger has been hearing that the world’s future lies in its cities, that they are the destinations of a great migration, the places where everyone, particularly millennials, want to live. By contrast, according to conventional thinking, suburbia is becoming a dead zone.
In fact, notes Berger, a professor of landscape architecture and urban design at MIT, it’s just the reverse. While urban areas are gaining population, the growth is in the suburbs, not downtown. As for millennials, Berger points out that census data shows more are leaving cities than moving into them.
“People who are saying everyone will live in the city in the future aren’t reading the research,” he says.

The Impact of Driverless Cars
For his part, Berger takes suburbia very seriously, which, he admits, makes him an outlier in his field. “People are astonished why I would even want to study suburbia,” he acknowledges. “Urban planners do not study suburbia. Architects absolutely have nothing to do with suburban research.”
But he’s convinced that it’s the communities outside center cities that will be critical to sustaining urban areas as they evolve in the decades ahead. And so Berger, as co-director of MIT’s Center for Advanced Urbanism (CAU), recently helped organize a conference at the university titled, “The Future of Suburbia.” The meeting was the culmination of a two-year research project on how suburbs could be reinvented.
Speakers covered a wide range of subjects, from the important role suburban vegetation, including lawns, can play in reducing carbon dioxide levels, to suburbia’s growing racial and age diversity, to technological advances that may help transform it.
One such technology is the autonomous car, which is what Berger talked about. A lot of media attention has been paid to the prospect of fleets of driverless vehicles constantly circulating on downtown streets, but he says the invention’s greatest impact will be in the suburbs, which, after all, have largely been defined by how we use cars.  
“It will be in suburb-to-suburb commuting,” Berger says. “That’s the majority of movement in our country. As more autonomous cars come online, you’re going to see more and more suburbanization, not less. People will be driving farther to their jobs.”
With truly autonomous vehicles still years away, no one can say with much certainty if they will result in people spending less time in cars. But Berger does foresee one big potential benefit—much less pavement. Based on the notion that there likely will be more car-sharing and less need for multiple lanes since vehicles could continuously loop on a single track, Berger believes the amount of pavement in a suburb of the future could be cut in half. You would no longer need huge shopping center parking lots, or even driveways and garages.
Not only would fewer paved surfaces increase the amount of space that could be used for carbon-storing trees and plants, but it also would allow more water to be absorbed and reduce the risk of flooding in cities downstream.
That kind of interdependence between suburbs and downtowns is at the heart of how Berger and others at the CAU see the future. Instead of bedroom communities of cul-de-sacs and shopping malls, the suburbs they’ve imagined would focus on using more of their space to sustain themselves and nearby urban centers—whether it’s by providing energy through solar panel micro-grids or using more of the land to grow food and store water.
Their model of a future metropolitan area of 3 million people looks very different from what we’ve come to know. Rather than have neighborhoods continuously spreading outward from a downtown core, it presents a handful of dense clusters amid what Berger describes as a “big sea of suburban development that’s much more horizontal than vertical." It would, he says, function as a “kind of holistic sustainable machine.”
Taking Suburbia Seriously
It’s a bold vision, one that’s geared more to planning new suburbs around the world than transforming existing ones. But as hypothetical as this model may seem, it’s a first step at giving suburbia its due while redefining its role.  
“The reality is that the large majority of people want to live in suburbs,” says Joel Kotkin, a fellow of urban studies at Chapman University in California and the author of The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us. “People make these choices for all kinds of reasons that urban theorists don’t pay attention to. They’d rather live in a detached house than in an apartment building. Or they can’t afford to live in the middle of a city. Or they’re worried about where their kids will go to school."
Kotkin adds, “You hear people say that the suburbs are going to become more and more dense and that they’re going to be for people who aren’t quite smart enough to live in the center city. But most people don’t want that kind of density. That’s not why they moved there.”
So, like Berger, he believes it’s time to start rethinking what suburbia can be and to become more strategic about how it evolves. Together, they’ve co-edited a book of articles and research that sharpens the focus on that challenge. Titled Infinite Suburbia, it will be published next year.
Berger does concede that there are times he feels he’s pushing a rock up a hill, given the common misconception that most of the world’s population is flocking into cities. He says that’s largely based on a United Nations report projecting that by 2050, 66 percent of the people on Earth will live in urban areas. The term “urban areas,” he points out, has been widely misinterpreted as meaning cities.
“Certainly, the world’s urbanizing, but it’s urbanizing in a much different way than cities,” he says. “It’s urbanizing horizontally.”
And that’s why he keeps pushing the rock.
“I’m not that interested in figuring out how to add more houses to cities and squeezing more people into smaller square footages," he says. "I’m interested in what people seem to actually want and how to make that better.”

Overall, this article by Randy Rieland highlights several main points that the Institute for New Suburbanism has been pushing since our launch in September of 2016. Rieland emphasizes that:

  • More millennials are leaving cities and moving to the suburbs because they want to
  • The impact of driveless cars will have a much more significant impact on suburbs than many expect
  • Planners have and uphill battle to fight when arguing that suburbs as useful as urban areas and have their own purpose

These arguments are becoming more and more predominant; however, significant changes have yet to be seen in the planning sphere. As more research is done, it will be interesting to view how decision-makes alter their hierarchical view of cities and suburbs.

Preparing For The Infinite Suburb

The following is an excerpt from a Q&A With Alan Berger and Joel Kotkin from Hyperloop One. Please see the link below for the original article.

You point to suburbia as a truly global phenomenon? What does this say about common values across cultures?
Joel: This reflects essential human desires for personal space, contact with nature, safety and, in some cases, better educational options. Dense cities are attractive particularly to those with high incomes and those without children. When people get into their thirties, and start contemplating a family, or simply a quieter life, they usually head to suburbia.
Why do the suburbs get such a bad rap?
Joel: It started early on in Britain, where suburbs offended many of the same people who are offended now — the intelligentsia, artists and gentry. Suburbs have been associated with crassness, ugliness and blamed for the decline of cities. Unlike urban cores, suburbs have few boosters; most media and major academic institutions are clustered in denser, inner city areas. Planning departments have long ignored them, or tried to figure out how to undermine them. Now, the greens are also a factor, weighing against suburban life. Simply put: everyone of consequence generally hates them, except for the vast majority of metropolitan residents who live there.
What do you think earlier proponents of moving from cites got wrong, how can we harness new technology in a way that offers greater choice and sustainability?
Joel: The initial problems came from not confronting such issues as quality of life, social space and walking opportunities. Some tract suburbs provided better, often more affordable housing, but with little in the way of social amenities. Fortunately this is changing in many new developments, as can be seen in places like Woodlands and Cinco Ranch outside Houston, or Valencia and Irvine in Southern California.
Alan: My research group at MIT is currently working on a project that envisions the future of the American suburb past 2060. We have focused on the continued development of polycentricity in metropolitan areas and a tendency to expand in space as transportation technology, infrastructure, and policies allow. The framework of polycentricity will be carried forward because of spatial economics and the lowering cost of distance to affect location decisions. This future could plausibly include Level 5 autonomy (no human intervention required) for most vehicles in operation, where all driving situations can be handled by an autonomous driving system (car, truck, or all-terrain vehicle). Zero carbon emissions and Level 5 automation are absolutely in the near future, probably before Generation Z is buying cars for themselves.
Personal transportation modes will remain dominant in suburbia, but shared automobiles will transform the need for bus/rail service in suburbs. All of this assumes that consumer adoption and regulatory approval are achievable and that there is ubiquitous, reliable, and secure, low-cost wireless connectivity to the Internet-of-Things. Research suggests that level 5 autonomy will lead to 80% accident reduction.
The new spatial economics of automation will create huge environmental dividends. Reduced paving will lead to less urban flooding, less forest fragmentation, soil conservation, more groundwater recharge, and more landscape to use for common goods. Total automation will radically change the daily needs of various population segments. I can imagine increased long-distance commuting and mobile office vehicles, drone delivery for many errands, on-demand care and newly mobile elderly segments, and the elimination of drunk driving to name a few.



The Future Of The Suburban City

If you are looking for an interesting, thought-provoking read, the The Future of the Suburban City by Grady Gammage Jr. might be of interest. Below, is a general description of the book as written by the publisher.

There exists a category of American cities in which the line between suburban and urban is almost impossible to locate. These suburban cities arose in the last half of twentieth-century America, based largely on the success of the single-family home, shopping centers, and the automobile. The low-density, auto-centric development of suburban cities, which are largely in the arid West, presents challenges for urban sustainability as it is traditionally measured. Yet, some of these cities—Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Salt Lake, Dallas, Tucson, San Bernardino, and San Diego—continue to be among the fastest growing places in the United States. 

In The Future of the Suburban City, Phoenix native Grady Gammage, Jr. looks at the promise of the suburban city as well as the challenges. He argues that places that grew up based on the automobile and the single-family home need to dramatically change and evolve. But suburban cities have some advantages in an era of climate change, and many suburban cities are already making strides in increasing their resilience. Gammage focuses on the story of Phoenix, which shows the power of collective action — government action — to confront the challenges of geography and respond through public policy. He takes a fresh look at what it means to be sustainable and examines issues facing most suburban cities around water supply, heat, transportation, housing, density, urban form, jobs, economics, and politics.

The Future of the Suburban City is a realistic yet hopeful story of what is possible for any suburban city.


As Self-Driving Cars Hit The Road, Real Estate Development May Take New Direction (

A recent policy brief by the Institute of Transportation Studies at University of California, Davis, was even more clear. The convergence of three new technologies—automation, electrification, and shared mobility—has the potential to create a whole new wave of automation-induced sprawl without proper planning and regulation.
This will completely change us as a society,” says Shannon McDonald, an architect, assistant professor at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, and an expert in future mobility planning. “I think it’ll have the same transformational change as the introduction of the automobile.



New Suburbanism is not New Urbanism

In the essay “Conservatives and the New Urbanism”, the authors write:

At its simplest, New Urbanism
aims to build hamlets, neighborhoods, villages, towns, and
cities rather than subdivisions, shopping centers, and office
parks like those found in conventional suburban
developments … Maximizing walkability is essential.

What New Urbanism fails to esteem, we find present and future promise in. What New Urbanism frames as “in need of repair”, we frame as needing enhancement and evolution. The “middle metropolis” we call suburbia has been misunderstood for a long time. We are adopting a positive view of the suburbanized metropolis, the inner and outer belts of major cities, their special forms of landscape, architecture, commerce and amenity.

At its simplest, New Suburbanism

aims to plan intersections and avenues, neighborhoods, villages, towns centres, and communities of all sizes, including subdivisions, shopping centers, and office parks like those found in conventional suburban areas. Maximizing individual mobility is essential.

In areas that are substantially urban or dense, local improvement turns toward making landscapes walkable and pedestrianized. The inner and outer suburbs represent the newer, flatter, more distributed form of metropolis, and it’s often thought to be un-walkable or worse. Since this is the main charge against suburbia (from which many other critiques are made), and since many of today’s suburban areas fall short of our aspirations for accessible, equitable environments, we as New Suburbanists will focus on walkability within a newly-conceived regional framework that supports the renewal and re-imagining of all types of environments, a philosophy of metropolitan growth that we call “Integrated Mobility”.

Whereas New Urbanism focuses on the quality of new construction and the achievement of human-scaled neighbourhood design, New Suburbanism focuses on i) the spatial requirements of regional processes, ii) the forms of governance needed to undertake sustainable and integrative community planning, and iii) individual metropolitan movement.
Whereas New Urbanism has supported the re-emergence of traditional town planning practices, and whereas this school of New Urbanists has developed an “open orthodoxy” regarding the design of neighbourhoods and cities, and whereas despite best efforts the Congress for New Urbanism is unable to enact “Sprawl Repair” at the needed rate of renewal, New Suburbanism is an attempt to avoid design orthodoxy by focusing on the plurality of landscape design, and to support the mending of large and small environments across the “periferie” — through a new focus on integrated community planning and development.

Broadly Defining New Suburbanism

How can we broadly define the term New Suburbanism without it losing its utility as a term? If suburbia is an approach to community design based on the dispersal of activities and exchange, how can improvements to the Middle Landscape increase overall access to goods and services for residents and visitors? How can incremental action be based on the mixing of growth policies and practices? It's much too late in modern history to have an ideology or philosophy anchored in built forms. Whereas New Urbanism argues strongly for traditional neighbourhood design (TND), New Suburbanism studies all past approaches to neighbourhood design and seeks blended solutions based on the accommodation of processes. New Suburbanism is an open approach to the study and making of metropolitan areas, specifically "Middle Metropolis" aka suburbia. We see the growth of city-regions positively, as being composed of mainly suburban landscapes and 'suburban fabric' with which the future city will be made, sometimes by mending, sometimes by creative remaking, and sometimes by preservation.

As an open field of research, dialogue and design, New Suburbanism focuses on the weaving and mixing of policies with place types, on combined architectures, and the blend of communities and economies being planned for. New Suburbanism is a dialogue about growth that's integrative and innovative out of necessity (low-capital) and interests (peripheries, globalization, etc). As Neil Brenner illustrates in Thesis on Urbanization, development today is based on global and regional economic processes, and the local accommodation of new residents and activities in keeping with environmental and town plans. How do new suburban environments come to be..

INS Event with Wendell Cox - Audio Recording and Presentation

On July 12th, 2017. the INS welcomed Wendell Cox to the GTHA. Wendell is an American urban planner, academic, and Professor at Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers in Paris.

Wendell spoke about California’s anti-suburban growth policies and how the lessons learned could impact the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA).

Wendell's presentation can be downloaded here: Wendell Cox, July 2017, INS PowerPoint Presentation

The audio from Wendell's presentation can be downloaded here: Wendell Cox, July 2017, INS Audio Recording