Sunday, December 19, 2010

City or Suburbs Part VI

So far we've seen several problems facing the suburbs. The low density, large land use design of the suburbs is bad for the environment, bad for our health, and bad for our pocketbooks. What many people fail to see, is the value in our historic buildings and historic neighborhoods.

America is a society that thrives on new, bigger, better. But we all know that this is not a sustainable way to live. When we stop to listen to the wisdom of our ancestors, we can see the value in their often simpler ways of life.

If you look closely at historic neighborhoods, you'll find that they were designed around the pedestrian. They are very walkable. As I've alluded to in the previous posts, this lack of walkability in the suburbs is a key element to the problems they face. When we embrace our lower density designed areas, suddenly we do not rely on the automobile, saving us money and time. We can walk to work or to the store, or to the doctors office, and get fresh air and exercise simultaneously. We're producing less carbon emissions and we have more interaction with our neighbors. You can see how walking is a HUGE benefit to high density areas. It address the environment, our health, our budget, and our community.

We also help the strength of the entire city when we live in our historic areas. By moving back to the cities roots, the city requires less sprawl, it protects green lands from being developed, it keeps the embodied energy of the historic building, requires less infrastructure to extend, and strengthens the cities economy by revitalizing the 'downtown' and 'main street' areas.

An interesting phenomena I found while writing this paper was that there is in fact a growing trend of moving back to the city. Since America is good at following cues from pop culture, we can see this in the last decades most popular TV shows. Think, E.R., Friends, Seinfeld and Frasier. I guess I was a little late to make the connection, but life in the city is the hot new thing. This is very good for preservation. However, much to my dismay, there are now a completely new set of issues to worry about. This trend is reversing so much, that in some parts of the country we now see the suburbs becoming the slums. Not exactly what I wanted to see.

There is hope however. Many of you have likely heard of the New Urbanism movement. This is a way of designing our neighborhoods with all of these concerns in mind. The principles of New Urbanism are as follows:

1. Walkability
2. Connectivity
3. Mixed-use and Diversity
4. Mixed Housing
5. Quality Architecture and Urban Design
6. Traditional Neighborhood Structure
7. Increased Density
8. Green Transportation
9. Sustainability
10. Quality of Life

To read more about New Urbanism, visit this website:
It's pretty exciting for me to see there are people trying to solve these problems and address these issues head on. Obviously we can't ALL live in the city, but there are ways to restructure some of our suburban areas to make them more livable. This is one factor the New Urbanism movement attempts to address.

So while I certainly don't have all of the answers, I am even more convinced in the importance of having strong support for preservation in our country. In fact, it's critical for the improvement of our economy, our planet's health, and our communities. In addition, we must embrace New Urbanism to address some of the issues that preservation can't address. I know this doesn't solve everything, but it's a very good place to start.

1 comment:

  1. I lived that life for 15 years in Urbana, IL. Rode and/or walked everywhere; work, rec center, post office, theatre, and love it. What I miss the most is sitting on my front porch of my restored 1913 Bungalow watching the traffic go by. Then were the days....

    Best Regards,