There are global changes affecting Canadians cities that suggest we need to rethink and improve how we make decisions about housing and urban planning, particularly related to the suburbs.Read More
The following excerpt is from an article titled "We Must Not Leave Our Suburbs Behind" written by Paul Hunter. Paul is the Head of Research at the UK's Smith Institute and has extensively researched suburban areas and a suburban renaissance. Paul will be joining us at our upcoming INS event on November 1st, please see our Events page or visit www.insupdates.eventbrite.com
If you were to imagine a place of comfortable affluence which was relatively safe, if a tad boring, the chances are what would spring to mind would look a little suburban. It should perhaps come as no surprise that our minds make the mental leap to conjure up images of semi-detached houses, tree-lined streets and ample front gardens. It is certainly the picture of suburbia that has been pushed in culture and by each generation’s Mad Men.
Such suburban prospects and aspirations, whether blue collar or middle class, have however been looked down upon and sneered at: Metroland scorned for its mock-Tudor homes and suburbanites satirised for social climbing. Yet, this has always belied the attractiveness of suburbs to large numbers of the population.
But our cities are changing, and their suburbs today face a different type of challenge. Masked by the stereotype and counterintuitive to the idea of suburbs as places of wealth, the evidence paints a picture of decline. This comes at a time when a suburban renaissance is critical to meeting people’s housing aspirations and needs by delivering the new homes so acutely needed.
Urban renaissance and suburban decline?
The turn of this century marked a new dawn for urban areas. Out of the ashes of the 1980s inner-city riots and economic decline has risen reimagined and thriving city centres. An urban renaissance, which has changed the way we think about our modern cities.
Little time, however, has been expended on examining the flipside: What this might mean for our city suburbs? An oversight rendered more puzzling by the location of the political conflagrations and revolts of the last few years. The image of the 2012 London riots was the family-run carpet shop in flames not in Brixton, Tottenham or Hackney, but Croydon. And then last year suburbs delivered a more peaceful form of insurgency through the Brexit ballot box. Whilst few (22%) in hipster Hackney voted to leave, travel to Barking and Dagenham and three times as many did. The picture was replicated in many of our major conurbations. In Oldham 60% voted to leave while only 40% did in metropolitan Manchester.
Looking at the data it is unsurprising that many were dissatisfied with the status quo. Research by the Smith Institute has shown that the number of jobs in suburbs has stagnated over the last decade. Inner London, for example, created 500,000 jobs between 2003 and 2013. In outer London it was just 8,000. Jobs performed by suburban residents increased at a slower rate than in urban areas. In Manchester, suburban resident job numbers increased by 6%, compared with a 47% rise in urban areas.
Poverty has become more concentrated in some suburban areas. In London, official data shows that there are now more people in poverty in outer London than inner London (over the last decade, poverty has risen from 20% to 24% of the suburban population). Working-age means-tested benefits have on the whole increased at a faster rate in suburbs. Suburbs have also seen a rise in the proportion of the most deprived areas within their cities.
House prices over the last 20 years have also increased more rapidly in urban areas. On average, housing in outer London is more affordable than in inner areas. In the West Midlands and Greater Manchester, the most affordable places to live have increasingly become suburban areas (e.g. in 1995, 70% of the cheapest 10% of areas in the West Midlands were suburban; by 2014 that figure had risen to almost 90%). In the three cities, social housing has declined over recent years, but most rapidly in urban areas. The private rented sector (PRS), meanwhile, has grown in both suburban and urban areas. The combination of prices rising faster in inner areas and social housing declining more slowly in outer areas means lower-cost housing is increasingly located in suburbs.
The situation could become much worse. Changes in local housing allowance appear to be changing where people in London can live. For example, the number of people claiming local housing allowance has fallen in inner areas and risen in outer London. This suggests that more low-income people are locating, and will have to locate, to the suburbs. The sharp decline in new social housing in inner city areas and the increasing purchasing power of the urban homeowners will merely exacerbate this trend. Lower-income households will have to turn to private rented housing, which is increasingly more affordable in suburbs.
Suburbs will increasingly be home to larger proportion of our cities’ poorer population. The ramifications for policy makers, anti-poverty campaigners and most of all those on low incomes are multifarious. For many bus travel is the only affordable means of travel. However, with more lower income people living in suburbs and more jobs located centrally, how attractive is it for someone to travel two hours to do a part-time shift on the minimum wage (let alone for someone with caring duties)? With cities desperately needing to build more houses how do we ensure those on low incomes are not isolated from jobs and services? And how do we provide services for those on low incomes in lower density suburbs?
Towards a suburban renaissance
These challenges demand urgent intervention. Decline may not be uniform and some suburbs remain overwhelmingly the preserve of the wealthy. Nevertheless, evidence on housing, the economy, labour markets and poverty indicators suggest many suburbs and suburban residents are feeling the strain of a changing spatial distribution of wealth and opportunities in our cities.
A critical component to addressing the problems suburbs face and supporting low income households living in city suburbs will be getting the housing offer right. Higher densities can support more sustainable suburbs (including better transport links) and help meet the challenges of household growth that all cities face. With many of the new homes being built designed for young professionals in inner cities, focus on suburban housing could help those, on low incomes or more comfortably off, embarking on life as a family (most people’s vision of the good society would aim to support families not aiming to make life more difficult). And with land scarce and often expensive in inner cities, suburbs can also deliver new homes which are affordable for more people and help limited subsidy go further.
Such interventions support our suburbs but would also deliver the new homes cities so desperately need. More generally the success of the city is as much about its suburbs as it is about the urban core. If suburbs are not attractive places to live, then will people remain in the city? Is the city a successful place if poorer people in suburbs cannot access work, or if the traffic is so bad that it detrimentally affects people’s quality of life? But within the discussions about what kind of cities we want, there are normative choices, not least around mixed communities and social justice. At one extreme, city growth could be based on letting the market rip. Housing would be allocated by market power rather than need, and inequality would go unchecked. Concentrations of deprivation would not be seen as a social ill but an inevitable consequence of growth. The alternative is a better balance between places and improved affordability and quality of life. The economic imperative to ensure that all people can access work, are healthy and well housed, have access to a decent school and education, and can afford to live decently in our cities should be apparent.
This means suburban areas cannot be left to deteriorate, but neither should renewal be achieved by displacing growth or people. Instead, it means extending opportunity to poorer suburban residents, for them to fulfil their potential. But if there is to be any type of suburban renaissance, the suburbs first need to be seen as an important policy issue. But suburbia rarely features in the political discourse or public debate. This has to change. Indeed, the case for setting out a popular and inspiring agenda for the places where most of us live, at a time when their fortunes seem to be flagging, seems self-evident. The government could take the initiative and establish a suburban taskforce to form consensus, test new ideas and lay the foundations of a suburban renaissance so that all suburbs can be places of delightful prospects. After all the good society, surely means providing the opportunity for everyone, in all places to be able to lead the Good Life.
The INS is extremely excited to welcome Paul Hunter on November 1st, and we hope to see you there!
The Following in an excerpt from an article titled “Americans’ Shift To The Suburbs Sped Up Last Year” from March, 2017. In this article, Jed Kolko, Chief Economist at Indeed.com, described how the suburbanization of America is continuing and outpacing the growth of many cities. This is obviously contrary to what many believe about the growth of cities and urbanization.
Furthermore, Kolko views this as being an ongoing trend rather than anomy. In fact, Kolko states that population growth in big cities slowed for the fifth-straight year, while population growth accelerated in the more sprawling counties that surround them. If this is true, planners and politicians need to be aware that suburban communities may not be a dying breed and more emphasis may need to be placed on them going forward.
The link to the full article on FiveThirtyEight can be found at the end of this post.
The suburbanization of America marches on. Population growth in big cities slowed for the fifth-straight year in 2016,1 according to new census data, while population growth accelerated in the more sprawling counties that surround them.
The Census Bureau on Thursday released population estimates for every one of the more than 3,000 counties in the U.S. I grouped those counties into six categories: urban centers of large metropolitan areas; their densely populated suburbs; their lightly populated suburbs; midsize metros; smaller metro areas; and rural counties, which are outside metro areas entirely.2
The fastest growth was in those lower-density suburbs. Those counties grew by 1.3 percent in 2016, the fastest rate since 2008, when the housing bust put an end to rapid homebuilding in these areas. In the South and West, growth in large-metro lower-density suburbs topped 2 percent in 2016, led by counties such as Kendall and Comal north of San Antonio; Hays near Austin; and Forsyth, north of Atlanta.
Those figures run counter to the “urban revival” narrative that has been widely discussed in recent years. That revival is real, but it has mostly been for rich, educated people in particular hyperurban neighborhoods rather than a broad-based return to city living. To be sure, college-educated millennials — at least those without school-age kids — took to the city, and better-paying jobs have shifted there, too. But other groups — older adults, families with kids in school, and people of all ages with lower incomes — either can’t afford or don’t want an urban address.
Worst off were rural areas. Counties outside of metropolitan areas, where 14 percent of Americans live, shrank slightly (-0.04 percent) in 2016, the sixth-straight year of population decline. Nonmetro areas in the Northeast and Midwest had larger losses. Nonmetro America has the slowest job and wage growth, as well.
The broad national trends hide some dramatic and surprising swings in local population. Here are a few of the places that are on their way up or down in the 2016 population data:
Please click the source link below for the rest of the article.
The INS next event will feature speakers Paul Hunter and John Stapleton to discuss suburban poverty. Suburban poverty is an issue that is being seen more and more globally. Paul Hunter in his analysis Towards a Suburban Renaissance: An Agenda for our City Suburbs, Paul Hunter addresses the issue of surburban poverty in the UK and suggests a "new agenda" for the suburbs. On a more local level, John Stapleton also identifies similar issues in his research on The Working Poor in the Toronto Region.
With rising home prices, online retailers displacing local retail workers, and the transition of manufacturing jobs moving overseas, suburban communities are struggling to compete and survive and the issue of suburban poverty is on the rise. Due to this, politicians and planners need to develop strategies to respond to this is their communities.
Below is an excerpt from a CityLab article titled Confronting the Myths of Suburban Poverty by Tanvi Misra that discusses many of the topics that will be seen at our upcoming event:
There’s nothing new about suburban poverty, but in the popular imagination, it’s often not regarded as much of a problem. Instead, the “inner cities”—code for poor, black urban communities—receive the brunt of the attention (if not the resources).
While some communities have grappled with local solutions, by and large, the rising poverty in the American suburbs has been allowed to fester and grow, catalyzed by the Great Recession. At the same time, who lives in the suburbs has changed. As cities become more expensive, immigrants and communities of color have made a home for themselves outside the urban core—only to come face-to-face with the same issues they left behind.
In his new book, Places in Need, Scott Allard, a professor of public policy at the University of Washington, dives into layers of data on the changing geography of poverty, debunking misperceptions about which suburbs are getting poorer—and why. CityLab caught up with him for a conversation.
Does every type of suburb have a poverty problem?
A lot of our discourse around suburban poverty says, “Well, suburban probably is really a problem for old inner-tier suburbs that are bordering higher poverty neighborhoods in cities.” But poverty is pervasive across the suburban regions of all metro areas, whether they’re new or old. In fact, the rates of change have been more severe in newer suburbs—those built after 1970—than in older suburbs. When you break out the suburban regions, there are more poor people in the newer suburbs combined than in the older suburbs. That’s an important finding.
Having said that, there’s quite a bit of variation. You can find older or newer suburbs that saw severe increases in poverty and you can find others where things haven’t changed all that much.
The difference in the experience of poverty in older suburbs compared to the newer suburbs is often one of distance from the central city. There are transportation and job access issues that low-income adults face. They matter everywhere, but the distances are just greater in the outer-ring suburbs. Low-income households in both types of communities often experience isolation from opportunity, racial segregation, and a marginalization from politics. Residents may not be represented in local elected bodies. This is particularly true for immigrants and people of color.
You argue in the book that suburban poverty is everybody’s problem. What demographic evidence from your research backs up that claim?
What you see is fairly consistent increases in poverty across race and ethnic groups in the suburbs. The increases among whites are large and substantial, as are increases among blacks and Hispanics. Whites are a plurality of poor people in suburbs, still.
There are a couple of other demographic changes that are important to realize here, too. One is the increase in the share of households in suburbs that are single-parent households. And we know those households are are most vulnerable to falling into poverty. The places in suburbs where poverty problems have become particularly acute are where a larger share of the population doesn’t have advanced training or education past high school.
One of the realities of the rise of suburban poverty is that it hasn’t corresponded with a decrease in urban poverty. We just lack the capacity to tackle the problem in suburban areas.
That reflects the reality of today’s labor market, where there are no longer large numbers of good-paying, low-skilled jobs in suburban regions. And the jobs that are available to workers without college degrees or some advanced training often don’t lift their families out of poverty.
You also complicate the notion that these places are becoming poorer solely because of an influx of poor immigrants and poor people of color. What’s the role that migration plays in the suburbanization of poverty?
One of the common narratives around rising poverty problems in the suburbs is that this is the result of poor families moving from the central city out. Sure, in some places, increases in poverty are related to out-migration from the cities. But those migration trends have been present for more than 50 years. For decades, middle-class and lower-income households have been moving from cities to suburbs, looking for more affordable homes, safer neighborhoods, better schools, and more community amenities. That pattern persists today, but is not likely to be the largest or most important factor in many places. In fact, the most important factor is change in the labor market—the decline of the number of good-paying low-skilled jobs.
Immigration to the U.S. is an important demographic trend related to the shifting geography of poverty. Today, more immigrants to the U.S. locate in suburbs upon arrival than at any point in American history. And these immigrant families are working often multiple jobs but not earning enough to lift their families out of poverty. Some communities have seen really significant increases in the number of immigrants from around the globe. But it’s something that all communities have experienced—urban, suburban, and rural for that matter. And again, that’s not the largest factor driving these trends.
You see that because the increasing number of poor people in suburbs is about three times the rate of population growth. That means that there are lots of people who have lived in suburbs for a long time who either have been poor, or who have fallen into poverty over over time.
Why are suburbs so ill-equipped to deal with this problem?
Since the war on poverty, federal and state investments in anti-poverty programs have largely been funneled into urban centers and urban counties. And we’ve built extensive nonprofit human service capacity in our cities. There’s good reason for that: In the 1960s, poverty was highly concentrated in cities and it remains so. One of the realities of the rise of suburban poverty is that it hasn’t corresponded with a decrease in urban poverty. But we just lack that similar capacity to tackle the problem in suburban areas. Our public investments need to keep pace with the changing geography of poverty.
One reason why we lack nonprofit human service capacity relates to the perception gap that we have about poverty being urban. In many suburban regions, nonprofits have a hard time attracting funding from charitable foundations, partly because those foundations aren’t aware of poverty problems in the suburbs of their metros, or they can’t make grants outside the city.
On top of that, when you when you try deliver human service programs across suburban regions, you encounter a lot of fragmentation. A typical food bank in a large metro may have to work across several county borders, dozens of municipalities, and lots of different school districts. That work can be difficult. Not all communities are supportive or have the resources to support the mission. That fragmentation also creates competitive pressures where no one is really eager to commit their own resources to anti-poverty programs, because they may be worried about their public image. No suburban community wants to be thought of as a poor place. Some places also worry that if they provide anti-poverty services, they will end up attracting poor people, even though that’s not likely to be the case.
How do you think things are likely to change under the current administration?
One of the false narratives I push back against in the book is that poverty is a problem for cities, and in particular for people of color. That’s a big element of the political rhetoric of this administration. Poverty problems are in all our communities. They affect all types of families of all races and ethnicities. That rhetoric creates an “othering” of poverty, and it undermines our support for safety net programs and services. Rhetoric really matters—it directly shape how we think of our responsibilities and who we think of as deserving of help.
The federal budget proposals that are being discussed and the health care bills will undermine some of the most critical, responsive parts of the safety net. The SNAP program, for example, is one of our most successful, impactful anti-poverty programs. It is really responsive to poverty no matter where it exists. The same is true for the Earned Income Tax Credit, a program that runs through the tax code. We should be doing things to expand, enhance, and strengthen those programs or at least maintain our commitments to them. The current federal budget [proposals] don’t do that.
They also aren’t going to do anything to strengthen the service provider capacity in the suburbs. In fact, they will weaken what little infrastructure exists dramatically. A lot of services provided to low-income households are financed through Medicaid, for example. [These and other cuts to the safety net] are going to be lead to a double-whammy in the next recession.
What are your recommendations to decrease suburban poverty?
One, we need to maintain our public commitments to the safety net programs we know are most effective at reducing poverty. There's also reason to think that we should be expanding our federal investments for services so that we can build capacity in suburban and rural communities.
We also need to think about our private commitments. Part of this is getting beyond some of the perception gaps and making sure that we're expanding personal philanthropy to support work in suburban and rural places.
And then finally, we need to start to think of ways we can cultivate and train the next generation of local nonprofit leaders. These are young people who are from communities of color, from communities of that have experienced increases in poverty, who can not only think about innovative solutions but also also implement those solutions with trust from the community and cultural competency.
We’re not likely to solve poverty problems in cities or suburbs if we don’t act together as metro regions. Our labor markets are intimately intertwined and there’s good reason to believe that our anti-poverty efforts are intimately intertwined. If we don’t work together to solve poverty problems that affect both places, we’re not likely to succeed at alleviating poverty in any place.
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.
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.
The following is an excerpt from an article that was originally posted on Smithsonian.com 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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..
There are global changes affecting Canadians cities that suggest we need to rethink and improve how we make decisions about housing and urban planning, particularly related to the suburbs.Read More