Suburban Nation | Andrés Duany

Summary of: Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream
By: Andrés Duany


Delve into the world of ‘Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream’ by Andrés Duany, which explores the development patterns that have characterized the United States since World War II and led to suburban sprawl. This book summary focuses on the negative effects of sprawling development, such as traffic congestion, social isolation, and environmental degradation. It contrasts sprawl with traditional neighborhood development, highlighting the benefits of mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly communities, and reflecting on the historic roots of these design philosophies. Join the journey to understand the challenges of building traditional neighborhoods in a world dominated by zoning restrictions, outdated policies, and a car-centric mindset.

Beyond Sprawl

Suburban sprawl has been the dominant development philosophy in the USA since World War II. However, it has resulted in an isolated living experience for residents due to the absence of public spaces along streets and a reliance on cars for daily activities. In contrast, traditional neighborhoods are pedestrian-friendly and promote mixed-use communities with homes, stores, and offices occupying the same block, which is the prevalent development pattern outside the United States. Despite growing demand for traditional neighborhoods in several US cities, zoning ordinances often outlaw their planning and encourage sprawl in the homebuilding industry. Building traditional-neighborhood cities can also be met with opposition from residents who do not want new growth in their backyards. Nevertheless, planners and developers can address these concerns by replacing bad growth with good growth.

The Flaws of Suburban Living

Suburbs are plagued by disconnectedness and inefficiency, with housing subdivisions, shopping centers, office parks, schools, and roads all standing alone. The low density of development requires a proliferation of roads, which are designed for cars rather than pedestrians. Schools are too far away for children to walk to, and the result is inefficient and environmentally unsustainable. Despite regulations, suburbia isn’t a functional solution.

Designing the Ideal Community

In “Designing the Ideal Community,” the author outlines key features that contribute to a livable and functional neighborhood. A center for business, cultural, and governmental activities; walkability within five minutes; a grid-like street network; narrow streets for safer traffic and appealing walking environments; and mixed-use buildings that accommodate both residential and commercial spaces. Additionally, special sites for civic buildings, such as schools and government centers, can be repurposed for community gatherings like farmers’ markets and festivals. These design elements contribute to a cohesive and thriving community where every resident can thrive.

The Impact of Federal Policies and Suburbanization on Modern American Cities

Planners once segregated workplaces from homes in the 19th century due to the Industrial Revolution turning cities into polluted areas. This theory has carried over into modern American cities, but it is no longer necessary as many manufacturing facilities have become good neighbors to residential developments. Sprawl is a result of federal policies that focus on new, single-family, suburban homes and convenient, cheap commuting by car. This bias against traditional development continues today, with state transportation departments frowning upon the use of landscaping along roads. The movement of offices to the suburbs and the relocation of retailers resulted in the center cities becoming expendable. The only proven alternative to sprawl is the traditional neighborhood.

The Importance of Good Planning

Good planning distinguishes well-designed communities from sprawling suburbs. The latter emphasizes the private realm over the public. Good planning, conversely, focuses on public places such as streets and plazas that encourage pedestrian activity, commerce, and community interaction.

A significant element of good planning is building typology, the volume of a building and its relationship to the street. A corner store in suburbia draws protests from NIMBYs due to the volume of car traffic. However, in traditional planning, a corner store can occupy a building in a block of townhouses without disrupting pedestrian flow.

Bad planning features the car as a dominant artifact, resulting in aesthetically-displeasing garages that occupy the most prominent space of suburban homes. Bad planning also creates disorienting environments with curved streets and cul-de-sacs that encourage drivers to speed and cause more accidents.

In contrast, good planning uses straight streets that incorporate unique civic buildings. It also represents a community’s diversity and personality while considering its transportation needs to make traffic safer.

Lastly, bad planning contributes to ruthless segregation by minute gradations of income. This phenomenon is entirely opposite to the spirit of community life and promotes class-based walls. Good planning, on the other hand, emphasizes community integration and inclusivity.

Good planning focuses on public space and encourages pedestrian activity, business, and community interaction. It incorporates building typology, the volume of a building, and its relationship to the street, promoting businesses’ retention and company and enhancing pedestrian convenience. Good planning balances transportation needs and aesthetic objectives with the classic values of a civil society.

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