11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
In part, this fine book states the obvious: that automobile-dependent suburbia is the result of municipal codes. But what Talen does that many other authors have not done is to show, using a wide variety of examples, that these codes have in fact become more stringently auto-oriented, and more complex, over time. For example, minimum lot sizes in 1920s zoning codes were typically around 1/10 to 1/20 of an acre; by contrast, suburbs today may require one- and two-acre lots.
In addition, Talen addresses details overlooked by other authors; while many commentators have discussed the impact of single-use zoning and density restrictions, Talen discusses more technical issues such as curb radii and makes them comprehensible. (Basically, a curb radius is a measure of how hard it is to make a turn; where streets are at right angles, curb radii are low, and drivers must drive more slowly to make turns).
Talen also shows how zoning often creates incoherent results, by combining complex regulation with lack of vision. For example, Herbert Hoover's 1920s zoning commission endorsed both separation of residential from commercial land uses and the idea of people being able to walk to work- but because the commission did not limit the size of homeowner-only zones, zoning created unwalkable suburbs.
Similarly, Phoenix's zoning seeks to separate uses, but allows a gas station next to a single-family house rather than buffering houses with less traffic-producing uses- a situation that gives people all the congestion of urbanity combined with the car dependence of sprawl.