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Suburban Nation


20sGirl

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Has anyone in this forum read this book by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck? I recently found it at the library and it's a fascinating read (actually, I'm still reading it). They assess sprawl's costs to society and show how unsustainable it really is.

If you read it, what did you think? I'm not a city planner or architect, etc... so I would be interested in the builder/planner/architect...perspective.

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Never heard of that book. Does it talk about any particular cities, maybe Houston?

Houston hasn't been specifically mentioned yet. I think it appears later in the book when they write about gas consumption/traffic and asphalt problems.

The book is about suburban design in general. Although they cite some specific cities in their examples, they don't single out any one city to critique. I think you'll agree that no matter what city you're in, suburbia pretty much looks the same and follows the same layout.

The opinions in the book are not out of the blue. They provide facts and figures and they compare older cities with newer cities (i.e. Virginia Beach and Alexandria, VA; Plam Beach County, FL and Washington DC; and so on...)

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  • 7 months later...

I just finished reading the book, it was great, a real eye opener. It does mention, Houston briefly, along with Los Angeles and Atlanta early on, but that is just about it. It was really interesting. I am goint o read another book called Asphalt Nation next. Nice to see others reading similar books.

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  • 6 months later...

I know a lot of us hate sprawl. But I find it interesting when people call it "unsustainable." Nothing is sustainable forever, not even the sun. But urban sprawl has been in the United States for 60 years, and in other countries longer, and shows few real signs of abating.

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I have to admit I laughed when I read that article. The guy is so defensive! It's one thing to criticize or defend sprawl - everyone'e entitled to their opinion - but I hate the kind of over-the-top rhetoric that the writer uses, such as:

The sprawl-bashers wish Houston's future would be an urban model with people walking or riding bicycles to their in-town workplace or riding shining silver commuter trains to their jobs in the Central Business District.

I don't think anyone is trying to force others to take bicycles to work. Of course urban areas will continue to expand with population, and that some amount of sprawl is always going to be there. I don't have any problem with that, but there's still room for discussion about issues such as the impact of sprawl on traffic, the environment, and inner-city development, and the best way to locate and design new suburbs without resorting to claims that this amounts to trying to force people to live in highrises or take away their choice. The article woud be a lot more effective without the hyperbole.

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I enjoyrd this quote best.

"The sprawl-bashers would have the rest of us believe that most of society's ills are directly linked to sprawl:

• Sprawl promotes sedentary lifestyles and obesity.

• Sprawl has separated families — causing latchkey childhoods and increasing crime.

• Sprawl forces people to spend hours in their cars, burning gasoline, polluting and warming the Earth, and placing our nation in a dangerous dependency upon unstable OPEC nations.

So why do people so eagerly sign up for a life in the sprawl? Who wants to be obese with ill-mannered children, burning tanks of fossil fuel while spending an unbearable commuting hours listening to AM talk shows?

What would drive people to this illogical conclusion?

Could it be that life in the suburbs is not actually what the sprawl-bashers say it is?"

The fact is, to some extent, sprawl does cause these things. But, as has been noted by the far more intelligent HAIF posters, there are other, more important reasons for buying in the suburbs, that outweigh these drawbacks, such as price, schools and space. This guy could have pointed out the real reasons people move to the suburbs, and could also have pointed out what developers can do to limit the effects of sprawl, but instead chose to put up straw men so he could knock them down.

He added nothing to the debate, other than to prove what "sprawl bashers" claim is the real problem...thoughtless developers.

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Heck, I e-mailed Trendmaker one time telling them that they should develop neighborhoods inside the 610 Loop.

I even know of a parcel of land inside the loop that could become another subdivision! The parcel is mostly empty but also includes some storage facility... it's bounded by Buffalo Speedway, South Main, and Murworth. If it is able to be sold and developed, it should be named after the bayou.

Edited by VicMan
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Vic-

Somehow I don't think Mr. Will Holder of Trendmaker is interested in smaller pieces of high-dollar property in the inner-loop area. He's a visionary; he's interested in places like Fulshear and Sealy becoming the next Cinco Ranch...

from Will Holder, "You can't even get 3,000 acres unless you go OUT!"

Edited by pineda
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My parents feel like suburbs of older cities like Philadelphia have character and community; both of my parents grew up in Philadelphia suburbs (Tredyffrin Township, Pennsylvania and Springfield Township, Pennsylvania).

However, they feel like the only areas in the Houston area that have a sense of character are in the city.

My mom also told me that the only reason why she can stand living in Houston is the fact that she is close to the art museums and the perks of the city. She wouldn't stand New Territory.

And since lot sizes are fairly big in my neighborhood (my house has four bedrooms and three bathrooms and is one story, yet I still have a decent backyard), I would move there and establish a family there in a heartbeat.

Edited by VicMan
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My family goes occasionally - usually to see an arthouse film or an old film (e.g. It Came from Outer Space or some obscure foreign film).

And by "museum" I mean other things, including closeness to arthouse theaters, closeness to Midtown and the Breakfast Klub, the Galleria, and I can go on and on.

And by "disliking" Houston, it all has to do with over-reliance on cars and the hot climate, "lack of seasons", and flatness. My mother likes the people in Houston and the urban parts of the city.

My dad chose my neighborhood simply because:

* 1. He hates commuting

* 2. The schools in the area are good enough (if they weren't, he would have chosen Spring Branch)

Edited by VicMan
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That's one big museum. Maybe we should just put a dome over the loop and call it the world's largest museum.

My mother likes the people in Houston and the urban parts of the city.

I can just hear your Mom now:

"I just don't like those wiredos down near NASA. Those people out there just creeep me out. Give me my inner-looper hipsters anyday."

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Considering the rotation of exhibits, you go too much, you just see the same old thing.

Proximity to museums is cool for the "neat" factor, but not much else.

as far as rotating exhibits, once or twice per is usually enough (depending on the exhibit)...

permanent, well, i see something new everytime i go...

for me, being close in is just more convenient, not neat

Yes, inner loopers are forever touting the proximity of the museums. But, honestly, I think you're more apt to visit museums frequently if you live closer to them. I'm a just-outside-the-looper (two stop signs and one light away from 610) and I'm glad I live as close-in as I do. My wife is close to her job and I'm close to my school, so we're not spending hours a day in the car. But I'm also glad that I live relatively close to my favorite restaurants, coffee shops, book stores, record stores, (art house) movie theaters, etc.--there are fewer of these amenities out in the 'burbs. I still go to concerts whenever I can, too, so I'm happy that I don't have to schlep thirty miles just to see a show.

But, hey: we're all different. If you like living in sub/exurbia, then more power to you. My big gripe, again, is with "ring rot." I hate to see inner-ring suburbs deteriorate as people bypass them for new(er) developments farther from town.

I just have to wonder if sprawl has logical limits. I mean, how far are people willing to drive? How long are they willing to spend in the car? My wife works in the Galleria area and one of her coworkers lives up by Lake Conroe. He's in the car four hours every day. I'd hate to think of how much he's spending on gas, too. Personally, I think I'd get tired of that in a hurry. But, again, that's just me.

i suppose it depends on priorities and perceptions - and some want the ability to buy more home for their money further out while sometimes driving an amount that others would slit their wrists about if they had to do the same on a daily basis...

Edited by sevfiv
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That's one big museum. Maybe we should just put a dome over the loop and call it the world's largest museum.

I can just hear your Mom now:

"I just don't like those wiredos down near NASA. Those people out there just creeep me out. Give me my inner-looper hipsters anyday."

By that I mean she likes the general people in Houston, AND she likes the "urban" areas, e.g. Midtown and Memorial Park.

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I think the time is *now* for places like fulshear to take control of how they will be developed, before they turn into another faceless subdivision. Fulshear in particular --with such easy tollway access to the galleria-- has the potential to become incredibly upscale if they can avoid leting themselves get run over by the wood-siding cookie-cutter housing crowd.

Edited by N Judah
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Exactly! One way to establish credibility in an argument is to address the opposition's concerns and to refute them systematically--and, if possible, tactfully. But this guy represents his opposition as pro-ultra-high-density elitists with their heads in the clouds. There's no middle ground, as far as he's concerned.

His basic premise is that job growth leads to increased development along "established transit lines" and therefore such growth is "organic." My problem with that is that it is anything but organic growth, since these established transit lines were built by the federal government and that nowadays these transit lines are being expanded specifically for the purpose of encouraging growth further out. Whereas Ur, ancient Rome, and early Paris lacked the engineering skills to build up rather than out, and so had to move outside established boundaries, we don't have that problem here.

But since we're going to be utilizing federal tax dollars to create transit lines around which growth can occur, I say why not create such lines inside the city -- and if we created these lines with the same enthusiasm, funding, and powers of eminent domain which we use to expand freeways, many of the problems associated with sprawl (particularly the environmental ones) could be minimized. People who appreciate the rural life would of course still have the freedom to choose to live outside the city -- they just wouldn't have their highway commutes artifically shortened by subsidy.

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I wish some of the suburban areas had as nice (aesthetically pleasing and looking well-built) homes as areas like West U, etc. Yet I looked at Cinco Ranch and its homes look plain and not well-built. As in it's just wood siding.

In a community in Pearland the homes looked well built but still too much alike.

Edited by VicMan
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His basic premise is that job growth leads to increased development along "established transit lines" and therefore such growth is "organic." My problem with that is that it is anything but organic growth, since these established transit lines were built by the federal government and that nowadays these transit lines are being expanded specifically for the purpose of encouraging growth further out. Whereas Ur, ancient Rome, and early Paris lacked the engineering skills to build up rather than out, and so had to move outside established boundaries, we don't have that problem here.

But since we're going to be utilizing federal tax dollars to create transit lines around which growth can occur, I say why not create such lines inside the city -- and if we created these lines with the same enthusiasm, funding, and powers of eminent domain which we use to expand freeways, many of the problems associated with sprawl (particularly the environmental ones) could be minimized. People who appreciate the rural life would of course still have the freedom to choose to live outside the city -- they just wouldn't have their highway commutes artifically shortened by subsidy.

Most of the rail lines will be inside the city but we can't completely abandon the surburbanites either without mass transit or they'll end up like they are in L.A. now; 2 hour commutes with no alternatives.

Sprawl really can't and won't be stopped as long as there is a demand for new, single-family 4 bedroom housing in areas with "good school districts". Land is already too expensive in the city for such extravagant sq. footage for all except those who can afford McMansions and, until the low-level students that are dragging HISD down are replaced, families will look elsewhere. I also "blame" all of the design shows on TV and magazines advertising the monster kitchens etc. creating a mass-market for unnecessary rooms and amenities in homes. What's the point of having a luxurious master bath when the commute each day destroys any perceived peace gained from using it? Until the day of downsized dwellings dawns, the lust for luxurious living will continue to stretch the metro map like a balloon.

The real line in the sand will be the point where the commutes become just too grueling, but at that point, can we expect more highways and mass transit to further expand our limits? If that happens, with no natural barriers, only transportion barriers, one day we will look around and voila, Houston has become a world-class Megacity (Dominax will be well-pleased). The other, perhaps more realistic scenario, which would still result in Megacity status, will be the growth of the new suburbs into mini-cities that won't require as many commutes.

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I think the time is *now* for places like fulshear to take control of how they will be developed, before they turn into another faceless subdivision. Fulshear in particular --with such easy tollway access to the galleria-- has the potential to become incredibly upscale if they can avoid leting themselves get run over by the wood-siding cookie-cutter housing crowd.

I hope these communities fail, but they probably won't. There's no shortage of morons who will buy in places like Cinco Ranch and Fulshear because of access to I-10 without experiencing the road during rush hours.

I've seen some of the Trendmaker homes communities too. What's the excuse for the fugly homes?

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"Land is already too expensive in the city for such extravagant sq. footage for all except those who can afford McMansions and, until the low-level students that are dragging HISD down are replaced,"

People ought to be pointed out to the good individual schools within HISD. Many middle and upper middle class residents in HISD (e.g. in West U, River Oaks) put their kids in Houston ISD schools.

What's funny is that my house fits the suburban house profile... a four bedroom house zoned to "good schools" complete with a pool and a backyard. Except it's a one story built in the 1950s and it's a bit pricier than suburban houses. :) - What's even cooler is that the commute is not bad at all!

Trendmaker needs to jump on the bandwagon that Perry has. It should build townhomes in the Braeswood Place area and townhomes near that Edwards Theater. And then they can advertise that they are zoned to good schools too.

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  • 2 weeks later...
I'm not completely anti-suburbia...If anything strikes me as "unsustainable," it's the pattern of middle-class families abandoning older suburbs in favor of newer developments in the hinterlands.

I understand the feelings and concern for all that - because up to recently - I used to see it that way too...and only that way. The conflict between my desire for a dense urban city and what the reality is starts when all of a sudden you actually have children, and then you start to think about those gunshots that you used to dismiss at three in the morning - in a different light. We eventually moved - and yes - it was to a "typical" suburb complete with all of its shortcomings. But the gunshots at three in the morning are no longer, at least not every two weeks like they use to be. In the end, I don’t make apologies to moving to a place where drug dealers and prostitutes and gunshots aren’t as ubiquitous. And I know that this new suburb may one day be the next gunshot infested side of the city. But I know I made the right choice.

Edited by 2112
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In my seven years inside the loop, I don't recall ever hearing a gunshot...unless you count the police shooting range at the end of my street. I've also never been burlarized, nor my car stolen.

I suppose if I had children, these things would come find me. Sounds like a good reason not to have children.

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I understand the feelings and concern for all that - because up to recently - I used to see it that way too...and only that way. The conflict between my desire for a dense urban city and what the reality is starts when all of a sudden you actually have children, and then you start to think about those gunshots that you used to dismiss at three in the morning - in a different light. We eventually moved - and yes - it was to a "typical" suburb complete with all of its shortcomings. But the gunshots at three in the morning are no longer, at least not every two weeks like they use to be. In the end, I don’t make apologies to moving to a place where drug dealers and prostitutes and gunshots aren’t as ubiquitous. And I know that this new suburb may one day be the next gunshot infested side of the city. But I know I made the right choice.

The suburb I grew up in had drug dealers and gunshots.

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suburban nation is required reading for most architecture students

and for myself, urban sociology

commuting a hour each way everyday has made me bitter, jaded, & yet appreciative of sprawl

i recently rented an apt in montrose as a place to crash at night when the commute is too much, so far it's a stretch

edit:

i've also heard that most communters are now commuting from suburb to suburb satellite citys

Edited by infinite_jim
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  • 2 weeks later...

Here's an interesting article from the Chronicle:

County growth worries planners - Experts study forecasts showing that open spaces could disappear

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/3547824.html

What do we do to prevent sprawl or promote smart growth?

1. Mass Transit

2. Parks, entertainment, ect..

3. Affordable City Living

I think we are taking a step forward about transit and park issues, but most people cannot afford to live inside the loop with a family. It is still tough on a single income. How do people afford to live in California and NY City? Do these guys live in debt?

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I think we are taking a step forward about transit and park issues, but most people cannot afford to live inside the loop with a family. It is still tough on a single income. How do people afford to live in California and NY City? Do these guys live in debt?

They get paid a lot more, and in the case of NYC especially you save money by taking public transit instead of owning/maintaining a car.

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They get paid a lot more, and in the case of NYC especially you save money by taking public transit instead of owning/maintaining a car.

Native Houstonian and long time NYC resident here. While I miss not having to pay state taxes I never, ever miss the hassle of owning and maintaining a car . If I really need one (to get out of town for example) I just rent one. Not having to own a car is one of the joys of living in NYC.

While having to use mass transit (subways and busses) is not hassle free I find that having to navigate Houston streets in an auto is incredible stressful.

Check out the writings of James Howard Kunstler. http://www.kunstler.com/

Just my two cents worth. :D

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Part of the reason why I like the METRORail is because it will make owning a car less mandatory (If that's the right way to say it) in Houston.

Even if Metro completed its plan for mobility today. One would still need you car for somethings. This city is too spread out and developers find it difficult to think urban when it comes to new developments.

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Even if Metro completed its plan for mobility today. One would still need you car for somethings. This city is too spread out and developers find it difficult to think urban when it comes to new developments.

Yeah, I'm aware that Houston won't be like New York in the short term. But I know that one doesn't need his or her car so much if there is a lot of light and commuter rail.

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They get paid a lot more, and in the case of NYC especially you save money by taking public transit instead of owning/maintaining a car.

My experience has been different. I've lived in Boston and San Diego, and while the wages in Boston may have been *slightly* higher, the cost of living far, far outweighed any modest increase in pay. I actually earned much less in San Diego than I do currently, while performing the exact same job.

I did go car free for about 2 years in Boston though, which was fantastic. I'm thinking about getting rid of one of our cars in the near future since I live 4 miles from work. Can you say "bicycle" anyone? B)

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