The suburbs

I formulated the following response earlier this morning in an Arts and Faith thread talking about suburbia through the lens of David Goetz’s book (which I’ve not read) Death by Suburb: How to keep the suburbs from killing your soul:

1: I’m not so much against suburbs as I am pro-community. Stereotypically, urban areas foster greater community among residents in comparison to the isolation generally affiliated with the burbs.

2: Another advantage in urban areas is the potential availability of mass-transit, as well as the potential proximity of necessary services — within walking or biking distance — not necessitating a drive.

3: Presently, although it doesn’t have to be this way, suburbs waste space. Yards and homes are unnecessarily large. They waste time and resources. From The Suburban Christian:

    American houses are larger by far than those in other societies – the average size of an American single-family home has increased from 983 square feet in 1950 to 2,329 square feet today. The typical American has 718 square feet of living space per person, compared to 442 square feet in Canada and just 170 square feet in Japan. Most American suburban homes, if set in other parts of the world, would be used to house multiple families.

This spread-outness also makes walking to the grocer or post office unlikely, if not unreasonable.

4: What people refer to as “new urbanism” usually ends up looking like a suburb more than anything urban, and this is OK (assuming it’s done well). Something doesn’t have to look urban to be a well-designed community. It seems, however, there are a lot of half-hearted attempts at community planning being thrown up these days (at least here in Northwest Arkansas) somewhat inaccurately referring to themselves as new urbanism. A community planner commented on my blog last year, saying he prefers what he calls “old urbanism.” That is, the revitalization and reorganization of existing towns. These already-established centers of living possess one thing a community or suburb sprouting on the outskirts of town doesn’t have: History.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

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