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In a weird way, Thomas R. Hochschild Jr. actually first encountered the social cohesion of cul-de-sacs in his latest research when he wandered into one in Connecticut with his clipboard and polo shirt, and someone called the cops.

That never happened on the other types of streets he was studying, places where it would turn out the neighbors didn’t know each other as well, and it was less clear who “belonged.” Repeatedly, though, he found at the end of cul-de-sacs families who watched each others’ children and took in each others’ mail, who barbequed and orchestrated the removal of snow together, and who considered each other close friends. In cul-de-sacs, these families had a stronger sense of shared social space and territoriality. An outsider stood out.

In sociologist’s terms, Hochschild ultimately concluded that people who live in traditional bulb cul-de-sacs have the highest levels of attitudinal and behavioral cohesion (covering both how they feel about their neighbors and how much they actually interact with them). People who live on your average residential through-street have the lowest levels (in between the two are “dead-end” cul-de-sacs that lack that traditional, circular social space).

These findings, which Hochschild has published in the Journal of Urban Planning and Development, may surprise you. Academics who’ve come at the decidedly controversial cul-de-sac from other angles – traffic management, engineering, and urban planning – have mostly had unflattering things to say about them (many of which we’ve chronicled). Cul-de-sacs carve up communities in a way that makes them unwalkable. They force people to drive more often and longer distances. As a result, they harm the environment. They’re actually less safe than traditional street grids because drivers speeding through arterials in suburbia don’t have to pay as much attention. And cul-de-sacs are harder to reach by fire, police and emergency crews.

Hochschild, now an assistant professor of sociology at Valdosta State University, has heard all of these critiques.

Tags: suburbs
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The average size of a new home now exceeds the lofty levels reached during the housing boom, the latest indication that the new-home market is catering more to older, more affluent buyers and less to younger and first-time buyers.

During the finance and housing downturns, many home builders downscaled and built smaller and less expensive homes in response to an era of frugality. But that has changed, especially for upscale buyers who are purchasing their second- or third-generation home and account for a greater portion of deals. First-time buyers, meanwhile, have been sidelined by more-stringent lending standards and rising interest rates.

In the new-home market, “what’s left is people who have means,” said Brad Hunter, chief economist for housing-research firm Metrostudy, a division of Hanley Wood LLC. “They are buying homes that they can afford, which tend to be bigger.”

Data released by the Census Bureau this month confirmed the trend and showed that the average size of a new home was a record 2,642 square feet in the second quarter, eclipsing the record of 2,561 square feet set in the first quarter of 2009. The average size has bounced between small gains and declines for more than a year, but the 5.2% jump in the second quarter was the largest quarter-to-quarter gain since the Commerce Department began tracking the data on a quarterly basis in 1987.

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Suburbia has been a favorite whipping boy of urbane intellectuals, who have foretold its decline for decades. Leigh Gallagher’s “The End of the Suburbs” is the latest addition to this tired but tireless genre. The book lacks the sparkling prose and original insights one could find in the works of, say, Jane Jacobs or Lewis Mumford. Indeed, Ms. Gallagher’s book is little more than a distillation of the conventional wisdom that prevails at Sunday brunch in Manhattan. The author restages many of the old anti-suburban claims, and her introduction’s section headings easily give away the gist of the argument: “Millennials hate the burbs”; “Our households are shrinking”; “We are eco-obsessed”; “The suburbs are poorly designed to begin with”; and so on.

Joel Kotkin is not impressed.

Tags: Cities suburbs
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The people in Owen’s book Suburbia, are still under the “spell” of the American Dream. They live in California suburban communities where, according to Owens, “everyone… lives ‘the good life’, which means having attractive homes, high paying jobs, swimming pools and shiny cars.” But, instead of idealizing this “good life” as Newsweek’s editors did, Owens wanted to make a “documentary project” that would be “a visual/anthropological view of America”; therefore he used a “documentary style” as plain and direct as any picture made by Walker Evans or by an anthropologist lining up “natives” in front of their huts. Seen from that perspective, as just another culture rather than as a summum bonum of human achievement, the American Dream becomes considerably more comic and ironic. 
He advertised in a local newspaper that he was “working on a photographic project about suburbia. I would like to photograph your home, your children, pets or whatever.” Therefore, the people in his pictures identified themselves not only as suburbanites but also as suburbanites who wanted to be photographed as such. One of the most important things about the barbecue man and his helpmate is that they are trying so hard to look “suburban”. Like virtually all of the other people in Owen’s book, they still believe in the Dream of the 1950’s – lots of steaks, boats, cars, bicycles, kids, motorcycles, Tupperware parties, and squeaky-clean kitchens filled with all the latest appliances.

via BILL OWENS: “American Photography and the American Dream” (excerpt) (1991) - Since 2008, AMERICAN SUBURB X | Art, Photography and Culture that matters.)

The people in Owen’s book Suburbia, are still under the “spell” of the American Dream. They live in California suburban communities where, according to Owens, “everyone… lives ‘the good life’, which means having attractive homes, high paying jobs, swimming pools and shiny cars.” But, instead of idealizing this “good life” as Newsweek’s editors did, Owens wanted to make a “documentary project” that would be “a visual/anthropological view of America”; therefore he used a “documentary style” as plain and direct as any picture made by Walker Evans or by an anthropologist lining up “natives” in front of their huts. Seen from that perspective, as just another culture rather than as a summum bonum of human achievement, the American Dream becomes considerably more comic and ironic. 

He advertised in a local newspaper that he was “working on a photographic project about suburbia. I would like to photograph your home, your children, pets or whatever.” Therefore, the people in his pictures identified themselves not only as suburbanites but also as suburbanites who wanted to be photographed as such. One of the most important things about the barbecue man and his helpmate is that they are trying so hard to look “suburban”. Like virtually all of the other people in Owen’s book, they still believe in the Dream of the 1950’s – lots of steaks, boats, cars, bicycles, kids, motorcycles, Tupperware parties, and squeaky-clean kitchens filled with all the latest appliances.

via BILL OWENS: “American Photography and the American Dream” (excerpt) (1991) - Since 2008, AMERICAN SUBURB X | Art, Photography and Culture that matters.)

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Kansas City offers the best visual evidence I have ever seen that serious blight can afflict the suburbs in equal measure. The Bannister Mall area, about 12 miles south of downtown KCMO but still within the city limits, was a flourishing retail and residential corridor as recently as 1990, but it took a significant turn for the worse later that decade.
As dead malls go, it’s a well-known one: websites like Labelscar and Dead Malls chronicle the one-million-square-foot mall’s downfall (first opened in 1980) in great detail. Needless to say, it follows similar patterns seen in metros across the country: a decline in the desirability of the apartment complexes in the area forced many of them to cater to a lower-income population. This influx of Section 8 tenants, in turn, caused an uptick of crime in the mall by the mid-1990s, scaring away shoppers. By 2000, the first of the major anchors closed; over the next six years, the other three department stores followed suit. For a few of those years, the mall managed to hang on with mom-and-pop in-line tenants.
But these local businesses only chose to locate at the mall because of significantly lower leasing rates, and by that point the mall was already over 50% vacant. The meager revenue proved insufficient to cover expenses for such a large structure, and by spring of 2007, the Bannister Mall closed completely. Various developers floated proposals for the site, the most lucrative of which was a sporting complex for the MSL Kansas City Wizards, combined with office and retail. A Tax Increment Financing (TIF) proposal helped to generate the funds to demolish the mall in early 2009, but the national economy had soured enough by that point that nothing further has materialized. The remainder of this essay explores the current conditions of the area through an array of photos—not just the Bannister Mall, but also the extensive regional shopping cluster that once surrounded it. It is a grim site to behold these days.

(via The Urbanophile » Blog Archive » Suburban Blight in Kansas City by Eric McAfee)

Kansas City offers the best visual evidence I have ever seen that serious blight can afflict the suburbs in equal measure. The Bannister Mall area, about 12 miles south of downtown KCMO but still within the city limits, was a flourishing retail and residential corridor as recently as 1990, but it took a significant turn for the worse later that decade.

As dead malls go, it’s a well-known one: websites like Labelscar and Dead Malls chronicle the one-million-square-foot mall’s downfall (first opened in 1980) in great detail. Needless to say, it follows similar patterns seen in metros across the country: a decline in the desirability of the apartment complexes in the area forced many of them to cater to a lower-income population. This influx of Section 8 tenants, in turn, caused an uptick of crime in the mall by the mid-1990s, scaring away shoppers. By 2000, the first of the major anchors closed; over the next six years, the other three department stores followed suit. For a few of those years, the mall managed to hang on with mom-and-pop in-line tenants.

But these local businesses only chose to locate at the mall
because of significantly lower leasing rates, and by that point the mall was already over 50% vacant. The meager revenue proved insufficient to cover expenses for such a large structure, and by spring of 2007, the Bannister Mall closed completely. Various developers floated proposals for the site, the most lucrative of which was a sporting complex for the MSL Kansas City Wizards, combined with office and retail. A Tax Increment Financing (TIF) proposal helped to generate the funds to demolish the mall in early 2009, but the national economy had soured enough by that point that nothing further has materialized. The remainder of this essay explores the current conditions of the area through an array of photos—not just the Bannister Mall, but also the extensive regional shopping cluster that once surrounded it. It is a grim site to behold these days.

(via The Urbanophile » Blog Archive » Suburban Blight in Kansas City by Eric McAfee)

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Census has also been collecting data since 1973 on the average size of new homes in America, a number that has trended upward for decades (as, oddly, the size of the average U.S. household has actually gotten smaller). It appeared after the housing crash that the American appetite for ever-larger homes was finally waning. And this would seem a logical lesson learned from a recession when hundreds of thousands of households found themselves stuck in cavernous houses they neither needed nor could afford.
The latest data, though, suggest that we’re building big again. The average single-family house completed in 2012 was 2,505 square feet in size, just shy of the all-time high. In fact, a larger share of those homes had a fourth bedroom than at any time since the Census started counting.
Perhaps we have not changed our minds after all.

ORLY? 
 (via We’re Building Giant Houses Again - Emily Badger - The Atlantic Cities)

Census has also been collecting data since 1973 on the average size of new homes in America, a number that has trended upward for decades (as, oddly, the size of the average U.S. household has actually gotten smaller). It appeared after the housing crash that the American appetite for ever-larger homes was finally waning. And this would seem a logical lesson learned from a recession when hundreds of thousands of households found themselves stuck in cavernous houses they neither needed nor could afford.

The latest data, though, suggest that we’re building big again. The average single-family house completed in 2012 was 2,505 square feet in size, just shy of the all-time high. In fact, a larger share of those homes had a fourth bedroom than at any time since the Census started counting.

Perhaps we have not changed our minds after all.

ORLY?

 (via We’re Building Giant Houses Again - Emily Badger - The Atlantic Cities)

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The suburb has a claim to being one of the most successful and least loved inventions of the modern era. Many intellectuals, being city people at heart, find the suburb a hard place to love.

So writes city historian Graeme Davison of Monash University, in Australia, in a recent issue of the Journal of Urban History. Davison goes on to chronicle a brief though rather complete rise and fall of the suburban lifestyle. Concentrating on England, but drawing support from the United States and Australia, Davison tracks suburbia from its ideological roots in the Victorian era to its harsh detractors in the present.

Tags: suburbs
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I part ways with many urbanists in that I don’t hate suburbs. In fact, I think we need to start with a basic acknowledgment of the fact that most people like owning single family homes and like living in the suburbs. I might live in the city and not own a car, but that doesn’t mean other people necessarily do. Did subsidies and public policy contribute to sprawl? Of course, as we’ve recently been examining here. But I do believe there’s a legitimate consumer preference for the suburbs.

Tags: Cities Suburbs
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Exhaustive, but interesting, examination of strip malls…
(via The Urbanophile » Blog Archive » Big Boxes: Keeping All the Ducks in a Row by Eric McAfee)

Exhaustive, but interesting, examination of strip malls…

(via The Urbanophile » Blog Archive » Big Boxes: Keeping All the Ducks in a Row by Eric McAfee)

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Christopher Leinberger, a professor at the George Washington University School of Business. Using the Washington, D.C., area as a model, Leinberger finds tremendous pent-up demand for more housing in denser, mixed-use, Walkable Urban Places — or WalkUPs, as he dubs them.

So far, that’s nothing that the average home hunter couldn’t have figured out by noting that a Dupont Circle two-bedroom costs more than whole house in Woodbridge, Va., right? Except here’s the rub: These WalkUPs don’t have to be urban at all. They can be waaay out in cul-de-sac country — and most of them are. “Only 42 percent of the WalkUPs are in the District of Columbia,” finds Leinberger. “A surprising 58 percent are in the suburbs.”

But as much as these urban simulacra might be an improvement over the sprawl they’re  jury-rigged into, you don’t have to be Jane Jacobs to see that many are not what we’ve always thought of us “urban.” If anything, they reflect suburban ideals contorted (sometimes painfully) into vaguely urbanish form, a Frankenstein of supermarkets, outdoor dining, parking lots and mock-cobblestone sidewalks.

Daniel Malouff, editor of the blog BeyondDC, sees these WalkUPs as more like “starter cities” for suburbanites. “A place like Reston can introduce people who have grown up with suburbia to the idea of urbanism,” he says.

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Does density and walkability alone make something urban? Though these outer-ring WalkUPs display many of the technical metrics of a city, most have an unmistakable suburban flavor. “When you go to Tysons Corner and you don’t mistake it for a real downtown, there are two reasons,” says Nathan Norris, director of implementation for the planning firm Placemakers. “One is the nature of the blocks — they’re what we call super-suburban blocks,” meaning they’re many times larger than your average city block, which has a perimeter of around 1,800 feet. Why does that matter? “Because humans, we bore easily,” says Norris. “If I have to walk too far without seeing something different, I’m going to be bored. A bit part of urbanity is not boring the humans.”

Which leads to the second problem: transparency. Many city codes dictate that as much as 75 percent of buildings’ ground floors must be non-tinted, non-mirrored windows. Parts of these suburban WalkUPs have that — especially the mall-like sections — but many do not, leaving long stretches of shrubbery-adorned blank walls facing the sidewalks (and the parking lots). “No windows has the effect of killing street life,” says Norris. Creating an urban place is about more than simply adding mixed-use density and places to stroll.

They’re also often exceedingly tidy, sometimes because they’re controlled by a single developer who manages a private maintenance crew and sets rules about behavior. And WalkUPs that are built from scratch usually have few mom-and-pop stores, thanks to high rents and contracts offered to tenants promising no competition.

For all of these reasons, many of these far-flung suburban WalkUPs resemble a suburban version of a city. You can see the identity crisis at work: The WalkUP in Reston “is ringed by parking garages,” says Malouff. “There are buses that go there, but they’re not used very widely. People drive to get there.”