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kennedy
11-17-2009, 08:50 PM
I found myself in an argument today, about cities and suburbs. My point was that cities are healthier for people to live in, and in an ideal world, civilization would exist in metropolitan centers, and gradually shrink to rural areas through a sequence of ever-smaller cities (not suburbs). Of course, the people I was arguing with claimed that suburbs are small cities. I think that there is a distinct difference, and it makes sense in my head and my experience, but I found it astonishingly difficult to try and convince them that there was a difference.

Has anyone else ever found this to be true? I think that perhaps I took too adversarial a route to try and prove my point, and therefore, the people simply defended their point and refuted mine regardless of what I said. But what is a small city?

I had envisioned small, transit centers with a dense, mixed-use center (main street, square, etc.) with primarily residential space radiating from this center. Certainly not pure residential space, but something to satisfy those who value their privacy (IMO, too much).

What about you? I believe that real, urban cities, from large metropolises to small towns, as well as rural and natural wilds, have the ability to satisfy the needs of everyone. Am I fooling myself, that I think design can make anyone happy within an urban context? I understand that it's impossible for this idea to be exercised, as it's simply too utopian, but that doesn't mean a large majority of suburbanites could live in cities and change the world through a more efficient use of land.

Pierce
11-17-2009, 10:48 PM
Sorry to be pithy and terse, I'm writing from my phone, but your idea kind of exists and it's called England.

Sure there is some sprawl but density still takes place in the suburbs and beyond. My uncle in law lives in a small farming village of 350 people or so (a consistent number for the last 800 years too) but in an urban and walkable configuration.

unterbau
11-17-2009, 11:05 PM
Just England? Isn't most of Europe built that way?

czsz
11-17-2009, 11:13 PM
Britain has plenty of autocentric suburban development. You only need to watch a Harry Potter film to see it:

http://www.encyclopedie-hp.org/images/films/privet_drive2.jpg

They even have cul-du-sacs:

http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Society/Pix/pictures/2009/3/18/1237390059789/Aerial-view-of-London-sub-001.jpg

Of course, there's tons of walkable and transit accessible Victorian suburbia and Garden City development in England, too, as well as a lot of exurban estate-type development. It's got roughly the same range of development types, though.

Pierce
11-17-2009, 11:20 PM
Britain has plenty of autocentric suburban development. You only need to watch a Harry Potter film to see it:

http://www.encyclopedie-hp.org/images/films/privet_drive2.jpg

They even have cul-du-sacs:

http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Society/Pix/pictures/2009/3/18/1237390059789/Aerial-view-of-London-sub-001.jpg

Sure it does, but spend a little time in google earth spanning between cities and compare it to the same here and it's of a different tenor. Nothing is absolute but it is still much denser on average (note those suburban houses In your example are still touching)

and yes this is true of much of Europe but in my unscientific empirical sampling continental suburban development seems more varied and skewed to sprawl (esp in Spain)

czsz
11-17-2009, 11:44 PM
You can easily have dense sprawl.The Western US is full of it. These houses in California are practically touching, too, but the development is completely autocentric. That's the point:

http://img.slate.com/media/1/123125/2079215/2112767/2129635/051107_arch_suburbSprawl_ex.jpg

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_i8YmC41u0qE/R2Lkxyr602I/AAAAAAAABcY/g_gCGGX8HAE/s400/Sprawl.jpg

Ron Newman
11-18-2009, 07:39 AM
Even here, suburbs can be considered small cities. Take a walk through the old town center of Marblehead, for instance.

cden4
11-18-2009, 07:55 AM
I think our older cities in MA are built very much in the way you describe, with walkable town centers where government offices and small shops are found, surrounded by residential areas that also have pockets small retail on the main streets. It's the newer cities where everything is very spread out, and the only place to go shopping is the large strip mall by the highway.

kennedy
11-18-2009, 08:25 AM
Ron, Marblehead was of course my primary example, as I'm most familiar with it. I don't dare claim my vision is unique, simply that it is not practiced commonly in the US, and that is bad.

However, I feel like most small cities here are suburbs and I think that there is a distinct difference. It's like comparing Old Town Marblehead to Danvers or even closer, Vinnin Square in Swampscott.

Ron Newman
11-18-2009, 09:18 AM
When I wrote that, I didn't even realize you were from Marblehead. But other good local examples would be Lexington, Concord, Belmont, Melrose, and Wellesley.

statler
11-18-2009, 09:37 AM
Those places do have solid urban centers, but the sprawl out to auto-centric neighborhoods quite quickly.

A good barometer for a 'city' maybe something akin to to "How much of the population can live comfortably without a car?"

Of course, the definition of 'comfortably' might be tough to pin down.

I could live where I live sans car, but it would (to me) be a royal pain in the ass (but doable).

Then there probably people who live in the Ritz Towers who couldn't conceive of living there without a car, despite being within a five minute walk of every major transit line in the city.

bdurden
11-18-2009, 09:40 AM
You can easily have dense sprawl.The Western US is full of it. These houses in California are practically touching, too, but the development is completely autocentric. That's the point:

http://img.slate.com/media/1/123125/2079215/2112767/2129635/051107_arch_suburbSprawl_ex.jpg

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_i8YmC41u0qE/R2Lkxyr602I/AAAAAAAABcY/g_gCGGX8HAE/s400/Sprawl.jpg

This is not an accurate reflection. Those developments in California are 100% autocentric. Nowhere in Britain I have seen comes close to resembling the sprawl of Southern California. In Britain, the dense sprawl is still generally close to a suburban center linked to mass transit alternatives. Absolutely apples to oranges.

Eastern Europe is closer aligned to the types of sprawl you'll see in the US.

Shepard
11-18-2009, 09:41 AM
I wish I still had the link... a while back I saw some research which showed that Greater Boston "sprawl" - despite being often centered on old New England-style town centers, was actually more extensive and ultimately even less dense than the hypersuburbia we often associate with the south and southwest.

Someone can argue semantics and say that it may be less dense as an entire region but more dense in the areas people live and commute from...

But the point may ultimately be that whether or not a satellite town is southwest-style sprawl or New England town center may be no more than an aesthetic choice on the part of the people who live there. If you can't live without Route 1, move to Norwood. If you want your town center with the train station and light commerce, go live in nearby Stoughton (probably a bad example). It might not make a whole lot of difference int erms of the dyanmics of the region overall.

Patrick
11-18-2009, 09:52 AM
See Peter Calthorpe's ideas on Transit oriented Districts (TODs) which are similar in idea to some of what you would like to see. They are his idea for combating sprawl.

Also, in places like Stockholm and Paris they have attempted very similar things whereby they have satellite cities ringing the urban core connected by transit lines.

The Supreme Court of the United States (well, one justice anyway) has said in reference to pornography and what is and is not 'obscene' the following: I know it when I see it.

Personally, I think something along the same lines applies to cities and suburbs. It is subjective and you won't find a definitive answer. That said, it is interesting to argue about and consider what some of the factors that balance in favor of one answer or the other are. To me, such elements include density, height etc., but most of all the biggest factor to consider in my opinion is the number of jobs a place has relative to population and relative to neighboring municipalities.

If I'm not mistaken, the federal census comes close to proving you with an answer by designating any place with more people commuting IN than commuting OUT as an urban center. This is somewhat different than a designation as a "city" which is largely left up to local preferences. Hempstead NY is a TOWN of almost a million people, and Framingham, ma is similarly a town, while portland maine is a city with similar population to framingham, and boston is a city with fewer people than the town of hempstead. The official names mean nothing. Either a place is urban or not, and this is decided by reference to a continuum. A place can be more or less urban than another place, but I don't think you will ever be able to say something is definitely a town versus a suburb. The lines have blurred. Even the word 'suburb' doesn't necessarily mean that a city cannot also be suburban. For instance, many of the industrial areas around Boston are cities in their own right, while at the same time being literally SUB-URBAN in the sense that they are outside of and peripheral to the core. the word suburban denotes anything and everything outside of the city center, but it has also evolved to take on particular connotations and meanings of large lot subdivisions. So, in one sense, a city can have suburban feeling parts that are still in the city and a suburb can similarly have dense city centers if it is a satellite. I hope this sheds some light on your question. This is something years ago when I was in college (maybe 5 years ago) I thought about extensively.

oh also in response to your other question I too think design and arrangement can make many aspects of day to day life better and more enjoyable for everyone, not just urban enthusiasts, and I think probably many people on here share your opinion in this regard. But, there are always going to be people, myself included, who once in a while prefer the country to the city. That said, country towns can be arranged and designed well, too. and should be.

Ron Newman
11-18-2009, 09:53 AM
Norwood has two train stops and an intact (though rather sleepy) town center, so I'm not sure why you used it as an example here.

Shepard
11-18-2009, 10:04 AM
Saugus?

It's actually hard to think of any municipality around Boston without some sort of "old" town center. I picked Norwood because the majority of its amenities are going to be found on Route 1.

It's a difficult distinction in some cases. Newton Centre has a thriving commercial center that's transit-oriented. And yet there's no easy walking-distance supermarket, and many will do their shopping at the Route 9 malls (Chestnut Hill, Macy's, and Atrium). It also has a parking lot instead of a village green, but that's another story.

The point is that every municipality will exist on a scale from hypersuburb to town center with no perfect absolutes. And my larger point is that it doesn't matter - no matter which model is predominant, the effect of satellite towns on the region overall is the same.

scootie
11-18-2009, 04:00 PM
electric car + green power generation = no problem

kennedy
11-18-2009, 04:24 PM
A good barometer for a 'city' maybe something akin to to "How much of the population can live comfortably without a car?"

I wish I had said that, but the problem is, they're probably worse than the Ritz residents when it comes to cars. I honestly think that people in suburbs have been brainwashed into thinking that cars are a necessity, and cannot be improved upon.

...The official names mean nothing. Either a place is urban or not, and this is decided by reference to a continuum. A place can be more or less urban than another place, but I don't think you will ever be able to say something is definitely a town versus a suburb. The lines have blurred. Even the word 'suburb' doesn't necessarily mean that a city cannot also be suburban. For instance, many of the industrial areas around Boston are cities in their own right, while at the same time being literally SUB-URBAN in the sense that they are outside of and peripheral to the core. the word suburban denotes anything and everything outside of the city center, but it has also evolved to take on particular connotations and meanings of large lot subdivisions. So, in one sense, a city can have suburban feeling parts that are still in the city and a suburb can similarly have dense city centers if it is a satellite.

This is what I couldn't make them understand. The definition of "city," "town," and "suburb" mean very different things to architects, planners, urban enthusiasts, etc. than it does to the average person. I mean, when you have a dictionary definition working against you, it's very difficult to say the dictionary is wrong, or at least that there are multiple meanings. City the noun, and urban the adjective are not one and the same.

oh also in response to your other question I too think design and arrangement can make many aspects of day to day life better and more enjoyable for everyone, not just urban enthusiasts, and I think probably many people on here share your opinion in this regard. But, there are always going to be people, myself included, who once in a while prefer the country to the city. That said, country towns can be arranged and designed well, too. and should be.

Yeah, I agree, but I don't think suburbs are necessary at all. Rural areas are definitely necessary to society, as are places with extremely low density, but they can still have well-designed town centers.

electric car + green power generation = no problem

I agree, but that doesn't address the problem with suburbs.

a630
11-18-2009, 07:27 PM
It's interesting that this discussion went straight to the car as the root of an urban/suburban bipolarity. I guess that's because this is a design-based crowd?
Certainly there were suburbs before cars... and there are cities where cars are convenient ... and suburbs where cars are inconvenient.
In history and urban studies literature, suburban/urban is defined by function. And there is no bi-polarity.

laslonyc
11-18-2009, 07:45 PM
I tend to think of places in terms of program and how I spend my time. What can I get done in one afternoon, and do I have choices? To me a city is a place where I can get many errands done/have a variety of experiences all in one day, all on foot/taxi/or via public transit, from where I live. A variety of building types/land use helps advance this. With this definition, how do American cities rank? For example, I live in downtown Boston, but it bugs me that everytime I have to pick up a birthday present for one of my childrens' classmates, I have to get in the car and drive to Inman Square or the 'burbs...

Patrick
11-18-2009, 07:51 PM
I think you're right, cars work in some places, and there were definitely burbs before cars. However, the suburban blight seems to have, unless I am mistaken, closely tracked the advent and spread of the auto. I don't think suburbs are bad per se, but the blight and congestion that they are usually associated with (especially the blight) is something that I think needs to be addressed.

also, it seems as though yesterday's suburbs are today's 'urban' neighborhoods. Somerville and many towns incorporated into Boston proper were probably at one time considered very suburban. Now I bet most people consider them 'the city.' This is a slippery subject for sure.

Many of the older suburbs, to my knowledge, especially in Europe and the eastern U.S., had to develop very densely so as to enable residents to walk to nearby streetcar lines. In some places you can tell how old a neighborhood is by how far apart the houses are, and whether they are arranged parallel to the streets they face or perpendicular. the one seems to indicate car accessibility and the other seems to indicate rail or trolly dependence.

Patrick
11-18-2009, 07:58 PM
As an interesting aside, now that the issue of cars and suburbs has come up, I thought you all might think it interesting to know that Kansas City, MO (where the first planned suburban auto-centric shopping center was built) is also one of the best examples of the city beautiful movement still in existence today, and claims to have more fountains than the ancient city of Rome. Odd contrasts.

Ron Newman
11-18-2009, 08:42 PM
it bugs me that everytime I have to pick up a birthday present for one of my childrens' classmates, I have to get in the car and drive to Inman Square or the 'burbs...

Inman Square is a short walk from the Central Square T station, and is also on a bunch of bus lines. Also, why do you need to go to Inman Square? If the answer is "Stellabella Toys", there's another one in Porter Square (and a Henry Bear's Park, too). I think there are also toy stores in either Coolidge Corner or Brookline Village (maybe both).

That said, it is still pretty ridiculous not to have a toy store in Downtown or Back Bay.

laslonyc
11-18-2009, 09:08 PM
Inman Square is a short walk from the Central Square T station, and is also on a bunch of bus lines. Also, why do you need to go to Inman Square? If the answer is "Stellabella Toys", there's another one in Porter Square (and a Henry Bear's Park, too). I think there are also toy stores in either Coolidge Corner or Brookline Village (maybe both).


You're right, but what if I also have to pick up my kids from music lessons on Huntington Ave? Or find a watch battery? The point is I guess that I seem to have to block off a huge chunk of time for just one errand/one museum trip/one dinner, especially if I take public transport (since its pretty hard to get from Inman to Huntington Ave). Life is made up of these moments, and it's sometimes death by a thousand cuts...

kennedy
11-18-2009, 09:09 PM
As an interesting aside, now that the issue of cars and suburbs has come up, I thought you all might think it interesting to know that Kansas City, MO (where the first planned suburban auto-centric shopping center was built) is also one of the best examples of the city beautiful movement still in existence today, and claims to have more fountains than the ancient city of Rome. Odd contrasts.

And they're hard at work transforming the city into a transit oriented, urban oasis with the Power and Light District, which is quite busy but lacks true diversity, and various transit oriented developments in the suburbs. They're looking into light rail similar to the APS tram-train I mentioned in the Silver Line Phase 3 thread.

Ron Newman
11-18-2009, 09:15 PM
The watch battery I know you can find downtown. If there's anything we have too much of in central Boston, it's jewelers.

Patrick
11-18-2009, 09:15 PM
I just never would have imagined KC to be anything like that. Sheltered New Englander I guess.

kennedy
11-18-2009, 10:04 PM
Hey, so was I. Now I'm a sheltered, suburban St. Louisan, but at least I get to see new places and experience a totally different lifestyle. And I got to see KC a few times. I'm not sure that I'd call it a true 'city beautiful' city, but it's definitely making progress, and isn't being timid about it either. It seems the entire population is behind this movement, perhaps due to a higher concentration of the arts and architecture in the area (relative to other medium-sized Midwestern cities, like St. Louis, Omaha, Cleveland, Cincinnati, etc.)

Patrick
11-18-2009, 10:44 PM
Yeah it definitely seems 'different'. as for the beautiful issue, I was referring to the urban planning movement from the late nineteenth and early 20th century called the city beautiful movement, which many consider to be most exemplified today in Kansas City (that is, it is one of the best remaining examples of a place that tried to really pursue this idea). This can be seen in its wide avenues and fountains. Of course whether or not it is actually good looking is subjective.

scootie
11-19-2009, 07:22 AM
It's interesting that this discussion went straight to the car as the root of an urban/suburban bipolarity. I guess that's because this is a design-based crowd?
Certainly there were suburbs before cars... and there are cities where cars are convenient ... and suburbs where cars are inconvenient.
In history and urban studies literature, suburban/urban is defined by function. And there is no bi-polarity.

I disagree. In general the American suburb is about human transportation which in its most extreme form is the car.
check out:

Spiro Kostof Lectures: Architecture 170B, Spring 1991
Pt. 14 - March 12, 1991
Suburbs in America and Europe. Beginning with Glendale, OH (1851) and Llewellyn Park, NJ (1855) suburbanization is examined as land speculation facilitated by new modes of transportation: ferries, street cars, trolleys and, ultimately, the automobile.

http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/MRC/kostof.html


from Marshall McLuhan ideas regarding technology:
One might think of the automobile as an ?extension? of the feet. It allows man to travel places in the same manner as the feet, only faster and with less effort. In addition, this extension enables one to travel in relative comfort in extreme weather conditions. [my addition: and carry children and heavy loads]
The extension of a technology like the automobile "amputates" the need for a highly developed walking culture, which in turn causes cities and countries to develop in different ways.


It is the lost[?] ?need for a highly developed walking culture? that is in large part being discussed, so I think the car is central.

kennedy
11-19-2009, 08:31 AM
as for the beautiful issue, I was referring to the urban planning movement from the late nineteenth and early 20th century called the city beautiful movement, which many consider to be most exemplified today in Kansas City (that is, it is one of the best remaining examples of a place that tried to really pursue this idea). This can be seen in its wide avenues and fountains. Of course whether or not it is actually good looking is subjective.

Yeah, I've read about the city beautiful movement, I'm just not as aware of it in KC, or perhaps it's just been watered down by other planning theories and I'm not as conscious of the wide avenues when they're flanked by drab modern and post-modern architecture. There are a lot of fountains though...

a630
11-19-2009, 12:27 PM
Kostof's discussion sounds far more nuanced then what was on here, and even then, his characterization of suburbanization as a departure from walking culture reflects his being an architectural historian. It's only one point of view, and it happens to be the dominant point of view on this board.

scootie
11-19-2009, 10:27 PM
Kostof's discussion sounds far more nuanced then what was on here, and even then, his characterization of suburbanization as a departure from walking culture reflects his being an architectural historian. It's only one point of view, and it happens to be the dominant point of view on this board.

I realize that it is an opinion but it is grounded in the fact that the permutations of suburbanization in America correlate with the development of transportation technologies.

But if you really want to talk about current citiy making, forget America, look to Shanghai or Dubai; because: 1. We don't have that kind of money anymore, 2. We have built our environment already, 3. We need to make what we have work.

Shepard
11-20-2009, 11:17 AM
Dubai is anti-urban hypersuburbia on speed. I probably should wait until I've been there to pass that judgment, but from good friends who've lived there, that's what I understand. We're lucky to be inheriting a model (especially in the Northeast) that largely works.

Also, this isn't just America. It's surprising to see how many cities are suburban in layout and auto-dependent. New Delhi, for example: The true urban area is Old Delhi, which some would call a slum (not to use that word pejoratively) surrounding old forts. The rest of New Delhi is traffic roundabouts, gated developments, segregated slums, malls, strip malls, and office parks. Johannesburg is an Orlando with a defunct shell of a city at its center. Many Eastern European cities seem urban when you get off at the central train station, but walk a few blocks in any direction and you end up on a strange concrete-bunkerized version of Route 9 sprawl.

America will need to reverse its emergent inferiority complex (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/17/opinion/17brooks.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=%22big%20rock%20candy%20mountain%22&st=cse)if we're going to move forward.

scootie
11-20-2009, 12:11 PM
Dubai in anti-urban hypersuburbia on speed. I probably should wait until I've been there to pass that judgment, but from good friends who've lived there, that's what I understand. We're lucky to be inheriting a model (especially in the Northeast) that largely works.

I?m not saying that Shanghai or Dubai are good, that is subjective [I personally loath them], I?m saying that these are the areas where Great [as in large] development akin to Boston?s filling in the Back Bay is currently taking place. And they are cities, so by definition [Urban: Of, relating to, or located in a city.] they cannot be ?anti-urban? or suburban.

Just because ?The extension of a technology like the automobile "amputates" the need for a highly developed walking culture, which in turn causes cities and countries to develop in different ways? doesn?t mean that these different ways are bad, just different. Assume we could instantly have ?clean? cars?does the criticism of these places still retain its life-and-death-to-the-planet-peak-oil-urgency or is it subjective and based on romantic notions of the [our] past?

America will need to reverse its emergent inferiority complex (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/17/opinion/17brooks.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=%22big%20rock%20candy%20mountain%22&st=cse)if we're going to move forward.

Good article, I agree. But let?s not replace it with a superiority complex again. America needs to make its way of life work. The USA sold its citizens and the world on ?the American Way?. How embarrassing if we cannot deliver.

kennedy
11-20-2009, 03:48 PM
I?m not saying that Shanghai or Dubai are good, that is subjective [I personally loath them], I?m saying that these are the areas where Great [as in large] development akin to Boston?s filling in the Back Bay is currently taking place. And they are cities, so by definition [Urban: Of, relating to, or located in a city.] they cannot be ?anti-urban? or suburban.

Just because ?The extension of a technology like the automobile "amputates" the need for a highly developed walking culture, which in turn causes cities and countries to develop in different ways? doesn?t mean that these different ways are bad, just different. Assume we could instantly have ?clean? cars?does the criticism of these places still retain its life-and-death-to-the-planet-peak-oil-urgency or is it subjective and based on romantic notions of the [our] past?


1. We already talked about the difference between the dictionary definition of a city and urban, and how they differ from the architect or planner's concept of a city. The name "city" bears little importance on judging whether or not an area is "urban."

2. Things that are different can be bad. Facts are that the innovation in transportation technology has led us to a more auto-centric culture, because the need to walk was largely done away with. That does not mean, however, that it is right-even with clean cars and energy. The social consequences of an auto-centric culture are unhealthy for humans, not just the environment. I'm all for building electric cars and researching alternative energy options, and I don't think total elimination of cars is the right choice, but I do think Americans need to reduce their dependency on cars, because there are times when walking, or taking mass transit, is simply better.

scootie
12-04-2009, 12:53 PM
1. We already talked about the difference between the dictionary definition of a city and urban, and how they differ from the architect or planner's concept of a city. The name "city" bears little importance on judging whether or not an area is "urban."



I guess I missed that?I was using the terms interchangeably. Sorry. My point is that Shanghai is a current form of how 20 million people live, work and play closely together in a functioning way . I call that a city. It is probably not the walkable city you envision, probably not a collection of Jane Jacobian neighborhoods. If you are making a distinction that ?Urban? is that particular kind of walkable not auto-centric city, I?ll accept that but disagree with the premise that nostalgia for western pre-auto city forms are better or would be recognized as better by a clear majority of the world population that [I]needs to live in cities.



2. Things that are different can be bad. Facts are that the innovation in transportation technology has led us to a more auto-centric culture, because the need to walk was largely done away with. That does not mean, however, that it is right-even with clean cars and energy. The social consequences of an auto-centric culture are unhealthy for humans, not just the environment. I'm all for building electric cars and researching alternative energy options, and I don't think total elimination of cars is the right choice, but I do think Americans need to reduce their dependency on cars, because there are times when walking, or taking mass transit, is simply better.



? more auto-centric culture [not auto-centric, how about auto-enabled or auto-empowered?]



? the need to walk was largely done away with [That is a good thing that liberates time for people. In the Democratic Republic of Congo women spend much of the day hauling water because they need to walk. People are FREE to walk if they want.]



? but I do think Americans need to reduce their dependency on cars, because there are times when walking, or taking mass transit, is simply better. [Totally agree. And I think it is happening. But everyone will still have a car and the places where we live will need to accommodate the car.]