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Review of Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream 2009/12/09

Posted by lmartinez8 in Land Use.
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Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream

by Andreds Duaney, ELizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck

Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream takes a look at one of the most common problems facing U.S. cities today: sprawl. Sprawl is a problem that has become inevitable in most cities, and especially those that have experienced most of their growth in the post-World War II era. The book opens with a scenario illustrating the many frustrations citizens face on a daily basis because of continuing sprawl, including traffic congestion among many other issues that the reader can relate to.This brief introduction then explains to the reader that the major problem with sprawl is the loss of the neighborhood due to policy and the demand of the automobile. Citizens have lost the power to add character and identity to their communities. It then poses the reader with a challenge of either allowing things to continue the way they are in a homogeneous setting or to diversify communities and better strengthen relationships between towns, cities and regions.

The overarching theme of the book argues that design can help to prevent and undo some of the mistakes that have contributed to sprawl and the decline of American cities. The book opens with a chapter that describes the main concept of growth. There are two ways cities can grow: a traditional neighborhood and suburban sprawl.  Sprawl is a direct result of policy that encouraged people to leave the city and move out to the periphery. This combined with the convenience of the personal automobile, allowed more and more families to live outside the city and thus the problem began to only grow larger and larger. There are five major components of sprawl: Housing Subdivisions,Shopping Centers, Office Parks, Civic Institutions, and Roadways and how these components all stand isolated from each in homogenous zones. The traditional neighborhood, unlike the sprawling suburbs, has a clear defined city center, mixed use, walkable streets, and special sites that reflect the community’s social identity and values. The book explores not only how, but why things continue to be the way they are when people are not content with the sprawling pattern. It discusses how zoning policy sometimes demands for homogenous development that creates isolation of the different uses.

Design is the main component of how many of the suburban characteristics can be improved. The book is divided into short chapters that highlight the different components of cities and neighborhoods, and offers case studies that illustrate both positive and negative examples. It also briefly touches on the negative side-effects of suburban sprawl and how it can affect children in feeling isolated since they do not have mobility until they can drive which also creates a dependency on their parents. Finally, the book concludes with chapters that make recommendations on how to build a town that can function like a traditional neighborhood as well as other solutions to the sprawl problem. Policy, design, and management are the three tools that can be used to help fix sprawl. The authors present the idea of New Urbanism as a viable solution. This is partly due to the fact that two of the authors, Andreds Duaney and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, are two of the founders of the Congress for New Urbanism which is a movement that aims to restructure neighborhoods into more walkable, affordable, and sustainable communities by combining design and policy to achieve more livable communities.

The way the material is presented and divided into short, easy to understand chapters allows the reader to understand the content that is discussed whether they have a background in planning or not. The tone the authors use makes it interesting to read yet informative without too many facts or statistics. The use of  real-life examples to illustrate concepts makes it easier to visualize what is being discussed and what it implies. The book does not just discuss sprawl, but it indeed offers solutions which makes its points more valid.

Overall, Suburban Nation offers valid points and should be read by planners and citizens alike. It promotes many positive notions to enhance livability in neighborhoods. It not only informs the casual reader, but also provides many tools and useful case studies for planners, architects and urban designers to study. Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream provides valuable information to citizens and decision makers alike, thus making it a excellent book to read.

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