New Suburbanism

May 10, 2009

The 2005 report by Joel Kotkin: The New Suburbanism: a realist’s guide to the American future contains some interesting observations that are relevant to the UK context (a podcast on ‘what is the new suburbanism’ can be found here). I am particularly struck by the report’s understanding of suburbanisation as part of an historic process and the need to work with the grain of existing settlement.

One of the key ideas is “semiautonomous villages”, in many ways like New Urbanism’s tenets, but with some key differences: The author argues that there needs to be a recognition that New Urbanism’s “lambasting” and “dismissal” of suburbanites’ preference for a car-based environment overlooks the fact that “even as they evolve, ‘the suburb is not intended to be a city.”’ Instead, the future of suburbia is in providing all the amenities of villages (or towns) so that it is not dependent on the city – “The future of suburbia appears to lie in focusing on the development of ‘villages’ that provide cultural, economic, educational and religious sustenance. This will require the evolution of elements-social institutions, well-planned streets, open spaces, work spaces and housing -that function within the context of an existing or new community.”

A careful densification of suburban town centres (which is already occurring as the result of restrictions of building on open space) alongside the provision of a range of affordability in the town centre so that some units can be afforded by “retailers, particularly coffee shops, dry cleaners and small food stores”, to ensure that “middle income consumers” are not priced out of the area.

See also the New Geography site about the futures of places: http://www.newgeography.com/category/story-topics/suburbs.

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