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  #1  
Old Posted Apr 12, 2018, 2:54 AM
Docere Docere is online now
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Bucolic suburbs and sprawl: do they get too much of a "free pass"?

It often seems that criticism of sprawl is an aesthetic one rather than about environmentalism or density.

"Sprawl" often seems to mean cookie cutter subdivisions, big box stores etc.

Meanwhile "bucolic" suburbs like Lexington, Scarsdale, Philadelphia's Main Line don't get as much criticism because they're "old", "tasteful", retain their "character" etc.

But it's the New England towns with 1 acre lots that is actually contributing more to urban sprawl, no?
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Old Posted Apr 12, 2018, 4:06 AM
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In a self-contained small town that never builds new sprawl, living in the old sprawl isn't an environmental problem by itself, except to the extent that that increases power usage, driving, etc.

But most towns aren't self-contained. Those New England towns are often full of commuters, second homes, and so on, i.e. long-distance drivers. They also might be building more houses. If you live in an old house, generally someone else builds a new house because of you.
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  #3  
Old Posted Apr 12, 2018, 4:08 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Docere View Post
It often seems that criticism of sprawl is an aesthetic one rather than about environmentalism or density.

"Sprawl" often seems to mean cookie cutter subdivisions, big box stores etc.

Meanwhile "bucolic" suburbs like Lexington, Scarsdale, Philadelphia's Main Line don't get as much criticism because they're "old", "tasteful", retain their "character" etc.

But it's the New England towns with 1 acre lots that is actually contributing more to urban sprawl, no?
I don't disagree with this on the whole, but a lot of those New England towns with this type of development are 250-300 year old Boston suburbs (like Lexington), and while some neighborhoods sprawl, others are densely packed around traditional New England town commons. And more to the point, they're all serviced by the MBTA. I know, I know - "park and ride" isn't the best, but it's a hell of a lot better than no trains at all.

Point is, people living in Lexington have the choice of urban/close-to-urban downtown living or suburban 3/4 acre lot-with-trees living - and both choices have access to Commuter Line trains to Boston. The same can be said for Philly Mainline (and other) burbs. Not sure if Philly is expanding its commuter coverage, but Boston continues to expand its Commuter Line coverage into the metro hinterlands, including into Rhode Island (all the way down to the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, south of Providence) and New Hampshire (Nashua via Lowell).

This transit access and these density options don't exist in most other sprawl zones in the US, and the political will to build the type of 13-line network the MBTA's Commuter System has doesn't exist in most states.
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Old Posted Apr 12, 2018, 10:53 AM
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Aesthetics matter. While it's subjective, people generally value attractive landscapes moreso than ugly ones. It may not be fair, but most folks consider places like backcountry Connecticut to be much more attractive than tightly packed tract homes in sprawl.

And such places generally fare much better in terms of weighted density. Greenwich, CT is much less dense than Irvine, CA, but the average Greenwich resident likely lives a more urban lifestyle, simply because most folks live around the nearly 400 year old town center, and the backcountry is mostly empty.
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Old Posted Apr 12, 2018, 1:59 PM
McBane McBane is offline
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The Main Line is the opposite of sprawl. They're inner rung, semi-walkable suburbs built around a train line. Much different than taking land 25 miles from the city that, until very recently, was farmland or just open space and turning it into The Estates at Mill Run Farm or whatever generic names these subdivisions have.
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Old Posted Apr 12, 2018, 3:15 PM
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One thing that rarely gets mentioned in discussion of suburban aesthetics is the importance of old-growth trees (or, for that matter, just large trees).
See these (deliberately unremarkable) examples that I pulled from the east suburbs of Pittsburgh.

Tree-heavy:
https://www.google.com/maps/@40.3989...7i13312!8i6656

https://www.google.com/maps/@40.4390...7i13312!8i6656

Tree-light:
https://www.google.com/maps/@40.4713...7i13312!8i6656

https://www.google.com/maps/@40.3823...7i13312!8i6656

The homes are all of pretty much equal (minimal) architectural merit, but the trees really add a refinement and polish to the landscape - cozier, more natural. I think that this very often plays a role (among many other things) in why older suburbs look a good bit nicer than new. Hopefully as suburbs from the 90s and 00s age, along with their trees, they can improve a bit in this way.
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Old Posted Apr 12, 2018, 3:53 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Docere View Post
It often seems that criticism of sprawl is an aesthetic one rather than about environmentalism or density.

"Sprawl" often seems to mean cookie cutter subdivisions, big box stores etc.

Meanwhile "bucolic" suburbs like Lexington, Scarsdale, Philadelphia's Main Line don't get as much criticism because they're "old", "tasteful", retain their "character" etc.

But it's the New England towns with 1 acre lots that is actually contributing more to urban sprawl, no?
It's a "my sh*t don't stink" type mentality. My sprawl is better than your sprawl because _______.
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  #8  
Old Posted Apr 12, 2018, 4:20 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Urbana View Post
One thing that rarely gets mentioned in discussion of suburban aesthetics is the importance of old-growth trees (or, for that matter, just large trees).
See these (deliberately unremarkable) examples that I pulled from the east suburbs of Pittsburgh.

Tree-heavy:
https://www.google.com/maps/@40.3989...7i13312!8i6656

https://www.google.com/maps/@40.4390...7i13312!8i6656

Tree-light:
https://www.google.com/maps/@40.4713...7i13312!8i6656

https://www.google.com/maps/@40.3823...7i13312!8i6656

The homes are all of pretty much equal (minimal) architectural merit, but the trees really add a refinement and polish to the landscape - cozier, more natural. I think that this very often plays a role (among many other things) in why older suburbs look a good bit nicer than new. Hopefully as suburbs from the 90s and 00s age, along with their trees, they can improve a bit in this way.
I agree completely. Trees make everything better. One of the biggest things I do not like about Wilmington's exurbs in southern New Castle County and northern Kent County is that the new subdivisions are all on farmland and there were never any trees to preserve. These subdivisions really do look like they are houses placed in the middle of a farm field. I can't imagine living in a neighborhood like that and baking in the sun all summer.
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  #9  
Old Posted Apr 12, 2018, 6:57 PM
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a large part of my dislike of sprawl-burbia is indeed aesthetic.

here's the street i grew up on in suburban chicago:

https://www.google.com/maps/@42.0695...7i13312!8i6656

it's not amazing or remarkable in any meaningful way, but it's attractive enough, is on a fully interconnected street-grid, the houses (while similarish) are not cookie-cutter, and most importantly, because it has alleys, all of the car shit (garages, drive-ways, curb cuts, etc) is kept out of sight at the back of the property.

if suburbia had been built more along the lines of the above in the post-war era, then i wouldn't hate it nearly so much, but post-war suburban developers tossed the street-car suburbia playbook out of the window for some stupid fucking reason and decided to make everything ugly instead. it was so unnecessary.



and yes, large trees can absolutely help improve a neighborhood, ANY neighborhood, a tremendous amount.
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Old Posted Apr 12, 2018, 7:13 PM
Docere Docere is online now
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Not pre-1940 suburbs are "streetcar suburbs" though, no? Streetcar suburbs are denser and have a more urban character (a good example may be Shaker Heights). There's also the more affluent "garden suburbs" that were exclusively wealthy and have a more "country" feel (Scarsdale maybe?) It's the latter I'm talking about.
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Old Posted Apr 12, 2018, 7:34 PM
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Originally Posted by Docere View Post
Not pre-1940 suburbs are "streetcar suburbs" though, no? Streetcar suburbs are denser and have a more urban character (a good example may be Shaker Heights). There's also the more affluent "garden suburbs" that were exclusively wealthy and have a more "country" feel (Scarsdale maybe?) It's the latter I'm talking about.
I would imagine Scarsdale is denser than Shaker Heights. It has a much bigger core and maybe a mile-long stretch of midrise coop buildings along Garth Rd. The communities are probably of roughly similar age.

But it would be tough to compare because both communities don't conform to city boundaries. Most of "Scarsdale" isn't in the village of Scarsdale and the "urban" part of Shaker (Shaker Square) is actually in Cleveland.

The wealthy towns in Fairfield County are a bit newer than those in Westchester, and have more of a country feel. These would have lower density overall.
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  #12  
Old Posted Apr 12, 2018, 8:15 PM
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It all comes down to density and built environment.

Wilmette, IL averages over 5,000 people per square mile.
Arlington Heights, IL is over 4,500
Park Ridge, IL is over 5,300
La Grange, IL is over 6,100
Skokie, IL is almost 6,500
Evanston, IL is almost 10,000

Even Chicago's (or NYC, Philadelphia, etc.) sprawling suburbs average higher densities than many sprawling metros. There's a gray area, but suburbs of major Midwest and Northeast cities (and in parts of California) average higher densities than they do elsewhere. They're also better connected to transit.
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Old Posted Apr 12, 2018, 11:22 PM
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I think that old suburbs like the ones that you mention (tend to be inner ring), have their place in history. They tell a story of a country wildly different than The USA is now. They were built in a time where the country had less than half the population it has now, when consumerism wasn't so damaging to the environment, and when percentually much less of the population had means to buy a single family home….to buy a car, ect.

Nowadays, having a car is a necessity for 95% of Americans, but it's because it's cheap here to have a car for the most part. (I live in New York where I don't need a car, don't want one, and probably can't afford one.) It's the cheap access that hasn't forced municipalities or cities to develop their transport systems.

Sprawl of the 80s-2000s is a thing of the past. Nowadays new sprawl is pretty dense. It solves some of the problems, but doesn't actually fix the route problem. Americans like their own space, they want their own property, they love cars, they don't want to walk, and they will fight if challenged to give it up. I don't see this changing, however, I do see more people being inclined to densify older suburbs as the commute times for most people are starting to become impractical. Most will still want their own cars and house though. Maybe this means more dense single family homes, or more town homes. Who knows.
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Old Posted Apr 13, 2018, 12:24 AM
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I live in an exurb of Houston and while I tend to hate suburbia, let alone exurbia, the area I live in is very aesthetic due to the original developers building around the trees rather (this part of Houston is dense forest) than wiping them all out and naming all the streets after the trees. My house is 39 years old and the breeze-way to the garage has a notch around a huge old oak tree even at the time it was built (that I hope to fuck does not come down in our living room) and the rest of the houses were positioned around existing trees in their lots.

This is one street over from us:

https://www.google.com/maps/@30.0573...7i13312!8i6656
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Old Posted Apr 13, 2018, 12:45 AM
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James Bond Agent 007 James Bond Agent 007 is offline
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Originally Posted by JManc View Post
I live in an exurb of Houston and while I tend to hate suburbia, let alone exurbia, the area I live in is very aesthetic due to the original developers building around the trees rather (this part of Houston is dense forest) than wiping them all out and naming all the streets after the trees. My house is 39 years old and the breeze-way to the garage has a notch around a huge old oak tree even at the time it was built (that I hope to fuck does not come down in our living room) and the rest of the houses were positioned around existing trees in their lots.

This is one street over from us:

https://www.google.com/maps/@30.0573...7i13312!8i6656
Named "Tree Lane" to boot!
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Old Posted Apr 13, 2018, 6:01 PM
IrishIllini IrishIllini is offline
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Originally Posted by bossabreezes View Post
I think that old suburbs like the ones that you mention (tend to be inner ring), have their place in history. They tell a story of a country wildly different than The USA is now. They were built in a time where the country had less than half the population it has now, when consumerism wasn't so damaging to the environment, and when percentually much less of the population had means to buy a single family home….to buy a car, ect.

Nowadays, having a car is a necessity for 95% of Americans, but it's because it's cheap here to have a car for the most part. (I live in New York where I don't need a car, don't want one, and probably can't afford one.) It's the cheap access that hasn't forced municipalities or cities to develop their transport systems.

Sprawl of the 80s-2000s is a thing of the past. Nowadays new sprawl is pretty dense. It solves some of the problems, but doesn't actually fix the route problem. Americans like their own space, they want their own property, they love cars, they don't want to walk, and they will fight if challenged to give it up. I don't see this changing, however, I do see more people being inclined to densify older suburbs as the commute times for most people are starting to become impractical. Most will still want their own cars and house though. Maybe this means more dense single family homes, or more town homes. Who knows.
I don't think owning a car is as inexpensive as you say. I don't even have a car payment, but my car still costs me ~$200 every month with insurance and gas.

I wouldn't call Park Ridge, Des Plaines, or any other suburb of Chicago old. Some of them had some semblance of an identity in the early 20th century. They were semi-rural farm towns, but most of today's suburbs were nothing at all. These places were predominately built out in the 50, 60s, and 70s. Even into the 80s and 90s.
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Old Posted Apr 13, 2018, 6:26 PM
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I think people really shouldn't equate all older tree-lined suburbs as being the same. Streetcar suburbs are generally pretty dense, as are railroad suburbs and many of the "interwar" neighborhoods built out mostly in the 1920s. In the other thread I was mostly criticizing the "bucolic" back-country suburbs you find in New England, where lots of an acre (or more) are not uncommon. In many cases these don't even have a defined "town center" to speak of. Here's an example not far from where I grew up.
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Old Posted Apr 13, 2018, 6:38 PM
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In the other thread I was mostly criticizing the "bucolic" back-country suburbs you find in New England, where lots of an acre (or more) are not uncommon. In many cases these don't even have a defined "town center" to speak of.
I'm not aware of any backcountry part of CT that isn't proximate to a colonial-era town center.

I mean, people need services. These places wouldn't exist without the little town centers. These are generally affluent areas, many relocated from Manhattan, and they want a facsimile of rural living, not the real deal.

And while I'd agree these places are inefficient and wasteful, they're also beautiful and worth preserving. I don't see how it would be better if we leveled stone walls, hills, and wooded country lanes for tract housing.

This is actually one of the biggest reasons I like the suburban Northeast. In Michigan, suburbia tends to be flat former farmland converted to endless grids of sprawl. In the Northeast, though, particularly north of NYC and around Boston, there's no grid, everywhere is hilly and heavily wooded, stone walls are ubiquitous, cookie cutter homes are rare, public horse/walking trails are common (even through private property) and there's charm up the wazoo.

My wife I love weekending in Kent, CT. And I would seriously consider Westchester or Fairfield if we had one more kid (but we likely won't). I love neighborhoods like you see in the Ice Storm or Revolutionary Road.
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Old Posted Apr 13, 2018, 7:08 PM
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I'm not aware of any backcountry part of CT that isn't proximate to a colonial-era town center.

I mean, people need services. These places wouldn't exist without the little town centers. These are generally affluent areas, many relocated from Manhattan, and they want a facsimile of rural living, not the real deal.
In New York and New England, these tend to be tiny villages and they are sporadic and with most of the people living in towns around them in settings like the example eschaton posted (socio-economics can very) with very little interaction with town centers other than paying a traffic ticket or going to the library.
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Old Posted Apr 13, 2018, 7:16 PM
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In New York and New England, these tend to be tiny villages and they are sporadic and with most of the people living in towns around them in settings like the example eschaton posted (socio-economics can very) with very little interaction with town centers other than paying a traffic ticket or going to the library.
These backcountry towns in CT (and far Western MA; places like Great Barrington and North Adams) are very affluent and full of New Yorkers and others from cosmopolitan cities who demand services.

Since the areas are so NIMBY and zoning so strict, there are very few chain store sprawl-type areas, and almost all the shopping-restaurants-services are in quaint town centers. The yoga studios, dermatology offices, wealth managers, whatever, tend to be in the town centers.

And those areas are beloved precisely because they're so sparsely settled, isolated and fixed in time. They're the antidote to too much big city during the week. If they were covered with subdivisions, malls and highways they would be like anyplace else.
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