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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Rise and Decline of…

posted by on March 25 at 14:50 PM

…the suburbs:

[DuPage] county [has] hit its own high-water mark and that without clear-eyed re-evaluation, it’s poised, as Chicago had been in the mid-1950s, for decline.

DuPage is not alone, of course. In Nassau and Suffolk Counties in New York, in Montgomery and Baltimore Counties in Maryland, in Bergen and Essex and Middlesex Counties in New Jersey, in almost every mature suburb in the northeast and Midwest and mid south, families face these same conditions. A Roman Catholic pastor I met in Nassau County described it as suburbia’s midlife crisis. It may be part of America’s midlife crisis as well.

No longer young, no longer trendy, no longer the place to be, no longer without apparent limitations or constraints, these places, like people, have developed ways of avoiding reality.

What comes after the suburbs?

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The wailing wall. The landfill. The trench.

Posted by Nick | March 25, 2008 2:58 PM

ELF comes after the suburbs.

Posted by DOUG. | March 25, 2008 3:00 PM

(Is it just me, or does anyone hear the theme from POLTERGEIST?)

Posted by Andy Niable | March 25, 2008 3:08 PM


Also known as cities building 40 to 100 story inexpensive residential rental apartment buildings with surrounding greenspace near transit hubs.

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 25, 2008 3:09 PM

gentrification and reubranization

Posted by Bellevue Ave | March 25, 2008 3:10 PM

Sigh. I think I'm going to have to give up Slog.

Posted by Fnarf | March 25, 2008 3:14 PM

It isnt hard to ignore will in seattle fnarf. even a dullard like me can

Posted by Bellevue Ave | March 25, 2008 3:19 PM

There won't be a uniform shift in American suburbs. It will be regional, like it always has been, and each region will reflect the shift in its industries and workforce.

Think of the difference in histories of cities like Lynwood, or Kirkland, or Renton, or Issaquah. Each is as different - and the same - as what's happened in Seattle, or San Francisco, or San Diego.

Populations come and go as they're needed, sometimes they're stranded by the loss of an industry, sometimes they are forced to move on, and those with few means come to fill the void. But I don't think there's a mass psychology to the comings and goings of aspiring city dwellers, it just sometimes SEEMS that way because writers have more in common with each other than they do with their parents.

Non of this is supposed to sound badly poetic, I'm just not explaining myself well I think.

Posted by Dougsf | March 25, 2008 3:26 PM

"...these places, like people, have developed ways of avoiding reality."

Actually, the problem with the suburbs is they are placeless. They all look the same, lack unique reference points, and promote homogeny.

No wonder the bottom is falling out. Why pay top dollar for one house, when there are thousands more of the same all around.

Posted by urb-o-phile | March 25, 2008 3:34 PM


Posted by STJA | March 25, 2008 3:39 PM

Forests, glades, wheatfields?

Posted by NapoleonXIV | March 25, 2008 3:53 PM

The ghetto. Burn, baby, burn!

Posted by paris | March 25, 2008 3:57 PM

Suburbs that build businesses as well as homes, with a resulting large share of revenues coming from commercial property tax, avoid the boom-and-bust cycles. Those that don't, don't.

And of course if you co-locate jobs with housing, you don't increase transportation needs...

Posted by Big Sven | March 25, 2008 3:59 PM

Will in Seattle @4: I think you are really onto something. High-rise inexpensive residential rental apartment buildings! I can't imagine why no one has ever thought of that before?

Posted by high rise | March 25, 2008 4:02 PM

This is just more evidence of the unsustainability of American culture, which has always been based on rape, pillage and move on. Once developers run out of cheap land, once the oil companies suck up all the petroleum, once the cotton and rice farmers drain all the rivers, once all the timber companies clear cut the old growth, once the energy companies level all the hills and strip mine all the coal, etc., etc.: there are a million examples. This country may finally be discovering that you can't just pump and dump--that you actually have to sleep in the shit pile that you've made and can't leave it behind for the next poor idiot as you grab the the next frontier from the indigenous saps who've managed to live there for eons.

Posted by ouch | March 25, 2008 4:20 PM

Tsk, b.a., you say a shorter version of what I say and you object to me being explicit about what that means ...

Have Fun in the ganglands of the suburbs, Fnarf!

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 25, 2008 4:27 PM

you say the most ridiculous hyperbolic version of what I'm saying. I want you to do a cost analysis of every building that is 100 stories tall and then get back to me.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | March 25, 2008 4:31 PM

you got it #11: Years ago
I was an angry young man
I'd pretend
That I was a billboard
Standing tall
By the side of the road
I fell in love
With a beautiful highway
This used to be real estate
Now it's only fields and trees
Where, where is the town
Now, it's nothing but flowers

Posted by dalays | March 25, 2008 4:40 PM
What comes after the suburbs?


And global climate change.

@16 "ganglands of the suburbs" ? Nah. Those places are full of too many cul-de-sacs to be useful as gang territory. Not to mention a complete lack of anywhere people want to gather.
Gawd those places are inhuman machines.

@2 Ha! nice one.

Posted by treacle | March 25, 2008 4:42 PM

A. Megalopolis and communal density.

B. Eschewing the luxury-driven excesses of the 20th century and returning to the earth.

C. Universal urbanized transience, to match the trend in business. No longer will people stay in one place for 30 years or even 10 years; the world will change much too rapidly to make that even remotely feasible, unless you are retired, if you even can or want to do so.

Posted by K | March 25, 2008 4:52 PM

Will in Seattle's mental processes, which can't really be called "thought", can best be expressed in pictures. Here's what he has in mind:

Posted by Fnarf | March 25, 2008 5:01 PM

How about living off the grid? How about buildings that generate their own energy through solar, wind, geothermal instead of suckling off the city coal-fired power plants?

Posted by yucca flower | March 25, 2008 5:05 PM

Fnarf@21: great pictures. But this makes it official: I have a fear of heights. Those shots looking down make me break out in a cold sweat, and I'm sitting in a one story building right now.

Posted by Big Sven | March 25, 2008 5:20 PM

Dudes, why do you even think I would do your work for you?

Go check out Building Defensible Spaces or some other useful book at your local library (or use the UW or SPU if you must).

Then get back to me.

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 25, 2008 5:49 PM

Get back to you with what, fuckhead? A bag of shit to rub your face in?

Or how about this: no book entitled "Building Defensible Spaces" has ever been published anywhere in the world. I'll be generous and assume you're talking about "Creating Defensible Space" by Oscar Newman, or one of his others; the "defensible space" concept is his.

As you might imagine, it doesn't suggest anything even remotely like what you're talking about. Quite the opposite.

We've been over this many times before. What you are regurgitating is a partially-digested theory of Le Courbusier's called "Towers in a Park" or "the Vertical City" that has been completely and utterly discredited, after it was widely put into practice across Europe and America after WWII. Your half-witted "idea" creates crime and destroys community, and it increases automobile dependence instead of decreasing it. It is, in a nutshell, the stupidest goddamn urban planning theory in the history of mankind.

Which is of course what attracts you to it.

There are examples all over the world -- not just in Moscow, but across the bombed-out landscapes of Clapham, Everton, and a thousand other blighted zones in England; in great rings around Paris, Turin, Berlin, Madrid, and every other city of any size in Europe; in the Bronx, in the old West End of Boston, in the slums of Chicago and St. Louis. These are the zones where the city planners did more damage to urban places than Nazi bombs ever did. These are the places that you want to carpet our city with.

But that's not the only thing wrong with your "idea" -- its devastating effect on the communities it destroys. Because your plan isn't just a bad idea; it simply doesn't work. YOU CAN'T BUILD THE BUILDINGS YOU WANT. They don't exist, they can't exist. Half the time you are suggesting them for mudslide zones, which is just priceless.

You're a pig, Will. You're the kind of garbage human that ruins everything for everyone else. You think you're being funny, with your "why should I do your work for you", and you think you've got something going on, in the misremembered book you read a long time ago, but can't even remember the title of now. But you don't; you're just embarrassing yourself more each time you post. You make me vomit.

You're also driving me away from Slog. That may make you happy, and a few others, but I don't think most people here would agree. You minus me is a huge negative number, Will. So please: go away. Go the fuck away.

Posted by Fnarf | March 25, 2008 6:26 PM

You can download a PDF of Newman's book, Creating Defensible Space here:

See for yourself that Will has its message exactly backward: public housing built as tower blocks isolated in large swathes of park-like grounds CREATES CRIME, while low-rise row-house developments along ordinary streets create the "defensible space" Will claims to be talking about.

His understanding of this concept is 180 DEGREES from what it actually says. He could not be more wrong if he came away from "The Wizard of Oz" thinking that Dorothy was the bad guy.

Posted by Fnarf | March 25, 2008 6:36 PM
Posted by pragmatic | March 25, 2008 8:16 PM

You're becoming a bully, Fnarf. You're becoming the Dick Cheney of Slog.

Posted by Samson | March 25, 2008 8:30 PM

Geez, guys.


I think they become landscapes full of the kind of reappropriation I'd expected for a long time but never saw until this week, in Austin, Texas: off 55th and Duval right where the turn-of-the-century neighborhoods very suddenly become ugly 70s highway sprawl, a 30-room, one-story nursing home turned into a hive of poor, non-car-owning, bike-riding artists and blue collar singles. We'll all get a lot of exercise covering all that space on bike and foot. It wasn't pretty, but it was pretty cool.

Posted by Grant Cogswell | March 25, 2008 9:11 PM

What comes after the suburbs is the city. The article said as much. Also, please stop poaching from A&L Daily, where many of us already found this piece.

Posted by croydonfacelift | March 25, 2008 11:42 PM

Actually, Dick Cheney has more class. And I'm referring to the Canadian publication, you n00b.

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 26, 2008 12:09 AM

No book entitled Building Defensible Spaces has ever been published in Canada, Will.

Posted by Fnarf | March 26, 2008 12:23 AM

Thank you for posting this, Charles...I really benefited from the read. Cheers.

Posted by Oklahomo | March 26, 2008 9:18 AM

Stop it, you two.

Posted by Grant Cogswell | March 26, 2008 11:17 AM

Why? Will's telling outright lies now, and I'm pointing them out.

Posted by Fnarf | March 26, 2008 11:57 AM

Will, you're at the point where you're permanently damaging your credability with every more convoluted lie that comes out of your mouth. It's not even fun anymore, it's just really, really sad.

Posted by Big Sven | March 26, 2008 5:53 PM

Sven - When has Will ever had credibility?

And Fnarf is spot on. Will lies all the time to support a twisted fantasy in his own head.

Posted by Donolectic | March 27, 2008 12:00 AM

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