Fragmentation in Suburbia

If I had to pick an ideal place to live, the utmost of utopia’s, it would have to be a moderately sized town with a decent town center (with several coffee shops, one book store with a coffee shop, and a used book store with low prices and optional coffee shop) and homes that are within walking distance of most parts of town so as to afford the residents the ability to walk to most of the places they need to go. Sadly I think about 1% of America has this lay out.

<%image(20050526-harvard design.gif|139|177|harvard design mag)%> A book that critiques the disconnected nature of many American cities and suburbs is Harvard Design Magazine. There actually are people out there who think that our towns and cities have been designed poorly and there are viable options for new forms of urban planning. In addition, those design ideas have some pretty far-reaching implications for building community and being salt and light.

As is our custom, Jules and I were at Borders (our great good third place) in the middle of desolate ocean of cars, traffic lights, and box stores in the mall area. A frequent browser of the magazine area, Julie had picked up the Harvard Design Magazine and I had begun to spy it when she got up. After she read most of the article on urban renewal, we began to discuss the really sensible ideas contained within the $18 magazine:

– Build modest homes within the town limits, but break up the developments with interspersed shopping areas so that each community has places to go for the essentials within a reasonable distance.

– Grid the roads so that the traffic is not dependent on major thoroughfares and plan for various forms of public transportation along certain routes on the grid.

– Plan schools and other important buildings more toward the center of the town and near the center of town so that people have the option of walking, taking the bus, or riding in on the train.

– Create common areas and parks to compensate for the lack of yard space among the modest homes.

If you’ll pardon the “French” here, David Sedaris (a hilarious writer) has remarked that hell is reserved for people like the “shit-heads” who brought us strip malls. Though not quite sharing his view of the such planners, I do think that so many of our developments, strip malls, and office parks that sprawl all over America have really wrecked community identity/awareness, caused an over-reliance on the automobile, and so on. I don’t want this to be a rant. I want to simply point out that the superbly intelligent folks at Harvard may have found a better option for the smog-infested tar pits that we call the suburbs.

So if you happen to see this latest edition of the Harvard Design Magazine, give the article on urban planning a look-over. I’m not sure what the next step is in this area, but I think it has such a bearing on our quality of life, ability to interact with people naturally and be salt and light, and preservation of the environment that we should at least get informed about some alternative ways to plan our communities and live day to day.

4 thoughts on “Fragmentation in Suburbia

  1. todd

    thanks for the heads up. while like you, i don’t have $18, i will be sure to visit BN to read this article. i love this topic of conversation and am slowly learning more about being faithful to the gospel and community in the midst of the sprawl of suburbia…

  2. Adam

    Thanks for the heads up on this article, this is of great interest to me. Living in South Jersey (we should apply for "official poster state" for suburban sprawl) it saddens me to see the decentralization of community that comes from this poor planning. The consiracy theorist in me though however does not see it as "poor planning" but rather a very consicence effort on the behalf of the corporate community to maximize profits at the expense of small business and community.

    PS. Just because it is a consipracy theory, doesn’t mean it isn’t not true.

  3. Ed C

    It is of interest to me that during our senior year of high school Karl did his final paper on how townships like Mt. Laurel represent much of what is wrong with America. The box stores and big business destroy all of the small businesses that you could walk to and town centers are obliterated. Though I left a prank note threatening revenge from those us from Mt. Laurel, I’ll have to say that I agree with him. Whether it’s a conspiracy or not, the people who do our urban/suburban planning need a firm wack on the head with the blue bat.

  4. nate hulfish

    I have thought about Karl’s paper ever since and make it a priority to go to J&J Hardware over Lowe’s, etc. It’s probably too late to stop the damage that’s been done, but it’s certainly not too late to make sure the mom and pop shops still alive stay alive.

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