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Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream 1st Edition

121 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0865476066
ISBN-10: 0865476063
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Like "an architectural version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, our main streets and neighborhoods have been replaced by alien substitutes, similar but not the same," state Duany, Plater-Zyberk and Speck in this bold and damning critique. The authors, who lead a firm that has designed more than 200 new neighborhoods and community revitalization plans, challenge nearly half a century of widely accepted planning and building practices that have produced sprawling subdivisions, shopping centers and office parks connected by new highways. These practices, they contend, have not only destroyed the traditional concept of the neighborhood, but eroded such vital social values as equality, citizenship and personal safety. Further, they charge that current suburban developments are not only economically and environmentally "unsustainable," but "not functional" because they isolate and place undue burdens on at-home mothers, children, teens and the elderly. Adapting the precepts that famed urbanologist Jane Jacobs used to critique unhealthy city planning, Duany, Plater-Zyberk and Speck call for a revolution in suburban design that emphasizes neighborhoods in which homes, schools, commercial and municipal buildings would be integrated in pedestrian-accessible, safe and friendly settings. While occasionally presenting unsupported claims--such as that gated communities (of which there are now more than 20,000 in the U.S.) deprive children of gaining "a sense of empathy" in a diverse society--their visionary book holds out hope that we can create "places that are as valuable as the nature they displaced." (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

" . . . [They] set forth more clearly than anyone has done in our time the elements of good town planning."

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: North Point Press; 1st edition (April 16, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865476063
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865476066
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (121 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #164,806 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

131 of 139 people found the following review helpful By Maddi Hausmann Sojourner on March 30, 2004
Format: Paperback
I found this book intriguing, because the authors understand why I like my neighborhood. Even better, they understand why I hate so many new housing projects. This is an important book, as vital as Jane Jacobs' work, and it has some uncomfortable truths to share. The US has become a Suburban Nation; a nation of badly-designed suburbs. The newest, more expensive ones are some of the worst.
My neighborhood has houses that are smallish, but sidewalks are everywhere. There are stores within reasonable walking distance, and not too many cul-de-sacs. Three parks are less than a mile away. That means I can walk more than one route to get places. More importantly, others walk the neighborhood too, so I actually meet my neighbors. A neighborhood built almost 50 years ago, the trees are mature (a rarity in Silicon Valley burbs) and provide shade, coolness, and beauty. 8000 square foot lots are neither so small that the houses are crushed together nor so large that walking seems to get you nowhere because it takes too long to pass each property.
Contrast this with the new developments going in: miniscule yards (and therefore little greenery), matchstick trees that don't receive any sun, overly wide arterials that offer only one way into or out of the development. Walls around the complex not only keep outsiders out, they prevent insiders from going out, too, unless they get in the car and crowd onto the only access road. Once in one's car, there is no opportunity to talk with neighbors on the inside, either.
Before reading Suburban Nation, I still had the same sense of what made a neighborhood compelling and we bought our home accordingly, preferring the old small house over the big new ones despite my need for closet space.
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65 of 72 people found the following review helpful By doomsdayer520 HALL OF FAME on February 19, 2003
Format: Paperback
The authors of this book are experienced urban planners who have a real grasp on why suburban sprawl in America is such a disaster. The key insights in this book pertain to the regulations and business practices that have made sprawl a failure. The traditional cityscape of places like San Francisco, in which all types of business and residential zones are intermixed in an organized street plan, allows people to mix in the most beneficial ways, reach all essential destinations on foot, and gives everyone a stronger sense of community and quality of life. Unfortunately, this type of pleasant urban environment is now illegal in most of the country due to zoning regulations. The authors have a firm grip on the social and political causes of this problem, and solid (if sometimes wishful) recommendations for new policies and regulations that will encourage socially and environmentally beneficial "neighborhoods" rather than stifling subdivisions.
Unfortunately, when the authors start editorializing they become rather arrogant and unfocused. The authors are clearly not sociologists but try to be in this book, with plenty of questionable assertions about the elitist influences on sprawl, and a tendency for big statements. Examples include "[real estate developers are] challenging drug dealers and pimps for position in the public's esteem" (pg. 100), and "the default setting for architecture in America is not modernism but vulgarity" (pg. 211 - which is followed by a condemnation of the entire architecture profession). The biggest flaw in this book is economic, as the types of neighborhoods envisioned by the authors can only be successful if their property values increase, which places them out of reach for the type of people who would most like to live there. In the long run however, such stretching of the authors' credibility can be mostly forgiven as they deliver a solid examination of the evils of sprawl and how they can be counteracted.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Biskup on March 25, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I am not an architect or city planner, but I believe this book would be an interesting and informative read for anyone. It provides a lot of information and references for a professional and it is a great starting point for an amateur or concerned and active citizen. Additionally (and very difficult to accomplish all three), it is a very pleasant read for anyone else who wants to learn more about designing a neighborhood, how cities form, how to combat environmental destruction or simply why they do or don't enjoy a specific neighborhood.
Part of the success of this book for me was the format. There are small pages with wide margins. The margins allow for small black & white pictures directly next to the text they illustrate. The pictures by themselves are not very good, but they illustrate the text very well. Additionally, the authors used two systems of footnotes/endnotes (a system that I have not seen before) that expand and clarify the story very well, without bogging it down. For asides or amplifications, they have footnotes that you can quickly read, after you have finished your current line of thought. These sources are not always completely referenced, sometimes the authors only reference a series, article, or individual book; but if you are interested the source along with some additional thoughts from the authors are available. For the sources they are citing, the authors use a typical endnote system.
This book is a call to action. The authors try to explain the current problems with our cities (and consequently our lives) and some of their solutions. They do a very good job explaining their views, and I believe present a very convincing argument that these problems do not have one source or solution.
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