Reaching Across the Urban-Suburban Divide

As today’s post from Seattle Transit Blog
acknowledges, criticizing the place where someone lives is one of the
surest ways to create division and contention when discussing planning
issues:

1874818708_bd4d45221e_m.jpgPhoto by yuan2003 via Flickr.

If
I criticize a portion of Bellevue’s cul-de-sac development, a commenter
is just as likely to deride my urban elitism as seriously analyze the
serious consequences of that development.

But development is not done in a vacuum. The policies that
favor highway expansion over transit expansion indeed favor sprawl. The
lack of strong building codes in expanding suburbs leads to cul-de-sacs
or strip-malls that block shared access with egregious shrubbery and
ditches. We all know what it’s like to have to get in your car to go to
the Baskin Robbins in the next strip mall over. Is this an
example of freedom? Not socio-economically, for certain. Not if you
prefer to walk than drive. And certainly this lack of oversight is not
the best choice for the planet.

But the problem isn’t the
suburbs themselves. It’s not even the suburbanites that occupy those
houses and drive everywhere. The problem is the government policies that historically let developers do nearly anything
with cheap land. It has been a failure at the federal, state, regional,
and local levels that we cannot mindlessly blame on suburbanites
themselves. Indeed, suburbs are a natural part of the metropolitan framework.
Auto-dependency
is not: therefore it is a product of poor governmental policies which
are a form of social engineering that have accelerated climate change
and have led to things like suffering through congestion
as a requirement to get to work.

…[W]e want our suburban readers to know: You are not the enemy.

What
do you think? Has the national mood shifted sufficiently that we can
have civil, productive discussions on this topic without hurt feelings
getting in the way on either side, urban or suburban? Can we get past
the stereotypes and start implementing policies that will reduce
auto-dependence in suburbia? Or does it all get too personal too
quickly?

In other contentious and not-so-contentious matters around the network, DC Bicycle Transportation Examiner advises GM to keep its P.U.M.A. out of the bike lane; Austin Contrarian crunches some numbers on "job sprawl"; and Discovering Urbanism looks to Charleston and Savannah for urban policy innovations.

  • I do think it is useful to say that we are not against all suburbs, since being against all suburbs would just alienate most Americans. We are against auto-dependent suburbs, and in fact, New Urbanists have begun to build more walkable suburbs.

    The earliest American suburbs were built before the automobile, based on public transit and on walking. See the picture of a streetcar suburb at http://preservenet.blogspot.com/2005/07/streetcar-suburbs.html and notice how much better it looks that today’s suburbs because there are no cars parked on the street.

  • zig

    My two cents on this is of all places I am familiar (not a ton) urban elitism is the worst in San Francisco while this is the very place it is most important to think regionally as SF in an increasingly small portion of the Bay Area.

    Part of it is the high number of transplants I think.

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