Recently, I’ve taken some time away from talking about urban planning-related topics to discuss other work/life-related issues. I don’t know about you, but it was cathartic for me. Although hopefully it was interesting to you! Thanks for letting me reflect a bit. How about we get back to the planning stuff?!!!…
I came across an article in this weekend’s local paper to find a Metro article discussing the inevitable densification of some wealthier suburbs. It was interesting to me for a couple of reasons. The first is because I grew up in the rust belt (for those of you who aren’t familiar with that term, it’s the area of the country that was the industrial epicenter Post WWI until the mid 1970’s.), and I’ve been trained to create innovative solutions around SHRINKING cities; not booming growth ones. Where I am located now is experiencing the exact opposite: an in-migration at roughly 10,000 people a month!
This brings me to the second reason this weekend’s article caught my attention. It’s not often that we get to experience a physical and sociological change in living patterns. Usually we only study them in retrospect with our high school sociology or history teachers! Ten-thousand more people a month?!! Think about that number. It’s crazy extreme! That type of movement creates a whole different set of implications, including traffic conjestion, housing shortages, and water supply. In fact, I’ve been told by some in the real estate biz that people are throwing down cold hard cash – in full – to get a house here.
With that many people moving every month, a domino effect occurs: the central city becomes more congested and expensive to live. Space becomes an issue (Hello, NYC.). People, particularly families wanting more space, good schools, and a reasonable cost of living move to the suburbs. And thus, they avoid the bustling issues of city-life and live happily ever after… or so they think.
The fact of the matter is that the central city is the economic engine for all smaller periphery markets (i.e. – suburban business park and commercial cores). We can’t physically, economically, or socially disconnect from it just because some of us may not like city living. AND when growth occurs at the magnitude my metropolitan area is experiencing, it’s absolutely unavoidable.
Naturally, the article describes citizens being concerned with the densification of their once traditional urban-sprawl suburb. It’s only natural to be scared of change like that. Here they are enjoying their sleepy ‘burb. Suddenly developers are erecting 6 story buildings, complete with *gulp* multi-family housing. Before you know it, the “OTHERS” have arrived and because of them we’re all looting and snorting coke out of rolled dollar bills. SAVE THE CHILDREN!
What if instead of reacting in a limited, pandaemonium-like fashion, we take an approach of limitless, creative possibilities to an inevitable set of circumstances? In my opinion, many people are afraid of densification because of some engrained, inherited notions of the city stemming from the industrial revolution. More importantly though, I think the general public’s idea of what a suburb is (or a big city for that matter), are very limited and confined to old notions. We are in fact in an era that is begging us to redefine what a city – even a suburb – should be. How it should look; how we interact with each other within it; and how ultimately the central city and the suburbs relate to one another.
We can no longer treat our ‘burbs as though they’re these pristine islands immune from the complexities of the central city. They are intrinsically tied to one another. Growing pains are expected but if we can re-imagine how we are to handle this growth, we’ll all be much better off in the end.
I’m working on a project right now that has made me think about the cities of our future as a new kind of city-suburb hybrid. This led me to the following question, and one which I will pose to you: If you could redefine the physical and social landscape of your metropolitan area, what would it look like?