James Russell says "Stop the suburb bashing, already!"
James Russell is an architectural critic and author of the Agile City, in which he wrote that it is very hard to get people to change, and to get things done in America:
The deeper American problem is the lack of a collective ethos to insist that large-scale problems be addressed.....Government always fails, goes the claim, so we have to limp along with whatever mashup of brain-dead development, fragmented dysfunctional government, and ritualized unchanging interest group battles we've lived with for decades.
Now, on his new website, he says we should Stop the Suburb Bashing, Already
He writes that nobody is going to tear down the suburbs, they are not going away. But Russell suggests that they can adapt; protected bike lanes can be installed, smart home technology can shut down unused rooms and save energy, "even the endless asphalt parking lots can host solar arrays, water-catching bioswales, and shade trees."
Suburbs can learn much from cities that have survived and adapted over decades and centuries. Diversifying housing stock, densities, and transportation options is a beginning. Creating and amalgamating centers of intense activity can create synergistic business advantages that isolated office campuses can’t ever develop – and make transit, biking and walking viable options.
He concludes that the attraction of the suburb continues, and "today’s urban absolutists may find that they want a yard their kids can play in. Then they can apply their Messianic energy to remaking the place where two thirds of America lives."
That's an optimistic view, particularly in the light of his earlier writing. I think he was right the first time; Most suburban activists today seem to be more interested in preserving what they have instead of remaking where they live. Look what just happened in Marin County and in Toronto with Rob Ford, elected to rip up bike lanes and end the war on the car. Suburban Agenda 21 conspiracists fight smart growth, sustainable development, wind turbines and make planting edible gardens illegal.
In the suburbs, the pattern of development makes it almost impossible to cycle, with culs de sac and crescents all feeding arterial roads, a separation of uses that makes intensification difficult and makes cycling very unpleasant and dangerous. Most cyclist deaths occur on these arterials. The urban form is not flexible or adaptable and the people in them are not either; see what happens when anyone proposes backyard housing or increasing density on the arterials. Meanwhile, urban absolutists are finding that there are yards for their kids to play in; they are called parks.
As the recent Pew study showed, the green split between the city and the suburbs is real. Bashing the suburbs seems to be a perfectly rational response.