Why Suburbs Must Be the Next Frontier for Cities Policy

Yves here. This article is written from an Australian perspective, and Australia is very urban, with over 80% of the country’s population living in or near its five largest cities.

It is also worth noting that “suburbs” means something a bit different in Australia than in the US. A suburb is any residential neighborhood. I lived in Potts Point, which is denser than, say, Manhattan’s West Village, but that is considered to be a suburb. And where I lived (near the King’s Cross Station) was just about the only place you could live in Sydney and not have a car. Even though Sydney has good public transportation, and actively discourages driving into the central business district via very high parking charges, for most people, being able to commute without driving didn’t translate to being able to run one’s life without a car.

More generally, while urban living can reduce energy needs (smaller units, fewer exposed walls, potential for greater use of public transport, bicycles and walking), the cities still have to be serviced (food and other goods transported in and waste transported out) and any major changes in living patterns would require new construction….which has energy costs of its own.

By Ross Elliott, originally published at The Pulse, cross posted from MacroBusiness

“Around the world, the vast majority of people are moving to cities not to inhabit their centres but to suburbanise their peripheries. Thus when the United Nations projects the number of future ‘urban’ residents… these figures largely reflect the unprecedented suburban expansion of global cities.”

That’s from the second line of the introduction to a landmark global study by Alan Berger (MIT’s Center for Advanced Urbanism) and Joel Kotkin (Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University), entitled “Infinite Suburbia” (Princeton Architectural Press, New York 2017). The point being that we have confused ‘urbanisation’ with inner city urbanization. The figures however – should we care to consult them – confirm that for the vast majority of people who say they live in a particular city, that means living in a suburb of that city.

This misunderstanding has contributed to cities policy in Australia becoming one sided. Since the advent of the ‘Building Better Cities’ program under then Federal Minister Brian Howe in the late 1980s, the focus has been on inner city renewal. To a large extent this made sense at the time: inner city areas were run down, with ageing infrastructure and falling populations of residents and workers.

In Brisbane, the effective 1990s teaming of Lord Mayor Jim Soorley with Trevor Reddacliff and the ‘Urban Renewal Task Force’ saw a reversal of fortunes of inner city precincts like New Farm, Teneriffe, and Fortitude Valley. The focus then was very much on inner city precincts and for 30+ years, that’s remained the case. The legacy in terms of world class urban renewal is there for all to see (though it’s one that few can now afford).

In the same period however, suburbs and suburban centres did not receive the same levels of policy interest or infrastructure attention. It became fashionable to view ‘the city’ as mainly an inner core which was the economic and community frontier of the future. Author and urbanist Richard Florida in The Creative Classmore or less defined the case for lavish inner urban investment as central to attracting and retaining talent. (He has since recanted. In his latest book The New Urban Crisishe admits that he got this wrong and that inner cities have become playgrounds for elites at the expense of the majority of – mostly suburban – residents).

Suburbs – it was alleged – were an irresponsible and environmentally destructive form of urban development that led to obesity, was popular only with lower income, lower educated people who ‘love’ their cars and fast food and who work in industries with low skills and in decline. If you think I’m exaggerating, how’s this acerbic comment from noted Sydney Morning Herald urban affairs writer and “celebrated urbanist and Fairfax architecture critic” Elizabeth Farrelly:

“The suburbs are about boredom, and obviously some people like being bored and plain and predictable, I’m happy for them … even if their suburbs are destroying the world.”

The derision of suburban living or work became a widely accepted norm amongst a clique of self-appointed, largely income-privileged inner city dwellers. The risk for Australia is that this sense of inner urban superiority has found its way unchallenged into public policy at all levels of government and across the political spectrum. As a result we have a policy imbalance where cities policy has through default come to mean “doing things to improve the inner city.” This often includes region-wide infrastructure on the basis that its primary purpose is to make it easier for more people to access inner city areas, whether they need to or want to or not.

Cities policy needs to be redefined to include suburbs if it is to evolve and provide a more mature and equitable city-wide solution to enhancing people’s qualities of life. For the benefit of Elizabeth Farrelly (a resident of Sydney’s inner city Redfern) and others with similarly prejudicial views, let’s ground truth the reality of Australian cities.

In terms of population, the inner city (Statistical Area level 4 of the ABS) of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne represents just 11%, 7% and 13% of the Greater Capital City populations (2016 Census).

So roughly nine out of ten residents of the major capitals are what Farrelly would call “boring” suburbanites out to destroy the world. Boosters might claim that inner urban renewal has seen an explosion of inner city residents because ‘that’s where most people most want to live.’ Yes there has been significant growth, but nothing like the numbers that have settled in suburban regions of the metro area. The graph below shows the change in population over a decade.

Another favoured shibboleth of these boosters is the notion that the inner city is where “all the jobs growth” has been and will be into the future. But the evidence doesn’t support this. Strong inner city jobs growth has driven much positive change in our CBD skylines but compared with jobs growth across the metro regions, it has been jobs growth in suburban locations that has been the engine room of metro wide employment growth in the ten years to 2016, as the next graph shows.

In terms of the share of metro wide jobs, the inner city regions of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne represent 14%, 8% and 15% of the metro region respectively. (Sydney is understated as the ABS definition of inner Sydney does not include North Sydney). So broadly 85% of people who call themselves residents of these cities are going to work in suburban workplaces.

Here’s where the policy imbalance comes in. We are a highly urbanized nation but, just as observed in Infinite Suburbia, our urbanisation is chiefly suburban in nature. Roughly nine in ten people who would say they live in Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne awake from suburban beds each day – not inner urban ones. And roughly 17 in every 20 travel not to inner city workplaces but to suburban ones.

Australia’s cities policy would do well to reflect this economic and demographic reality. What has been achieved in inner urban renewal and enhanced community infrastructure has been outstanding but it is time to spread the focus wider to be fairer. The quality of life and employment opportunities of future suburban city dwellers – however they may continue to be sneered at by some inner city elites – are just as worthy as anyone else’s.

If we fail to re-balance cities policy to more accurately reflect where the majority of us live and work, we will risk creating cities of two classes of people, based on geography. This is just as anathema to the Australian tradition of “a fair go” as is a feudal class structure of Kings and Clergy ruling over a peasantry – with positions in the social heirarchy defined by birthright.

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  1. Shane

    I am really having trouble applying this to a US context. The use of suburb is a huge sticking point. Considering Pittsburgh where I live the fastest growing suburbs (US use of the term) are north of the city (Cranberry, Wexford etc.) and 1. outside of Pittsburgh City government so no policy would affect them anyway 2. exist in the form they do because of their own zoning laws favoring single family home lower density housing and commercialized strip malls vs formal town centers.

    Meanwhile many of the neighborhoods within the city outside of central downtown where people live (Aussie use of suburbs) have seen extensive development and city policy focus (Strip District, Lawrenceville etc.). It can be argued that some poorer neighborhoods (the Hill) deserve to be getting more policy focus than others but the overall idea that these neighborhoods are the “next frontier” of city policy doesn’t seem to be true. They have been the focus of city policy for years.

    Granted this is one city anecdotal evidence but squares pretty will with other US cities I have visited which often have “hot neighborhoods” outside of central downtowns receiving significant amounts of city government policy focus.

    1. a different chris

      I can confirm everything Shane has said. Ms. Farrelly describes Cranberry to a T, for instance. (on not a “T”, as the T in Pittsburgh is light rail and is no doubt regarded in horror by the type of people that willingly live in Cranberry).

      >some poorer neighborhoods (the Hill) deserve to be getting more policy focus

      Hey they tore down the Civic Arena, didn’t they? Now a beautiful parking lot for people who can afford Penguin tickets to drive in from, well, Cranberry and park their SUVs.

    2. Sanxi

      “More generally, while urban living can reduce energy needs”, this from a scientific standpoint is false. The issue is one of total energy consumption vs cost to live at a given consumption level. The cost to maintain high density environments be they urban or otherwise is absurd. The issue is one of maintenance and the transportation costs related to essential goods. Going back to the early 1800s we find a model of rural life and that of a town. In town everything was a five minute walk. Buildings generally were 3 to 4 stories. Ground floor was commercial. Stuff was delivered at low energy levels. Those in town provided essential services to those farming, e.g., medical. Farmers provided food. In addition those in town often had small gardens. Game theory it out if you want. Current urban planning policy coda and codes are insane.

      The idea here is neither urban nor suburban setups work. Surburbs are mostly built of materials that are, hmm, not designed to last. High density don’t compute. Technology won’t save us. History provides excellent models of fine living without autos, even without electricity. Climate chaos is real. Is now. We need to make other living arrangements based on reality.

  2. PlutoniumKun

    Australian suburban areas are entirely deliberate – most Australian cities (like American ones) have insanely low density requirements which ensures car dependancy. There is a huge difference in what you can do with a suburban area build on the basis of 1 or 2 houses per acre or 8 or 10 houses per acre (as is normal in most European countries). In Ireland, suburban zoning has gone from promoting 4-8 houses per acre to mandating a minimum of around 20 per acre in most circumstances.

    Suburban areas can be made more sustainable and attractive, but it means going very much against the flow of what suburbanites want. Promoting much higher densities in infill developments along with mixed uses can help a lot, but you can be absolutely sure existing residents will fight this tooth and nail. And often developers don’t want it either if they think the market is in ‘family homes’ rather than denser developments, which inevitably involve terraces and/or apartments. Other unpopular things include developing open spaces and sports fields (often suburban areas simply have too much low quality open space built at a time when land was cheaper). But this is essential if you are to create the densities required to make them more sustainable and liveable.

    1. SerenityNow

      @PlutoniumKun, I don’t know how interested in US land use you are, but you might find Zoned Out: Regulation, Markets, and Choices in Transportation and Metropolitan Land-Use a worthwhile read. Professor Levine makes a good case that sprawl isn’t the “free choice” of the market as much as the inevitable result of our own land use policies. I am not familiar with Australian land use rules or their housing-as-commodity situation but there might be some parallels there.

    2. Sanxi

      False. What your really talking about, is a problem of energy consumption per output, e.g., standard of living. Concrete and rebar are unbelievably energy intensive and very costly to maintain. Simple thought experiment, assume all food needs to local, thus everyone needs access to a garden, as in their garden, the best arrangement for that is what? (Not all the food required but a few months worth). It ain’t urban. All I ask is evidence based outcomes. It is relatively easy to determine all energy costs in a system. High density has incredible costs to create and maintain, suburbs are built entropically to decay quickly and with the energy costs of automobiles are also not sustainable, because automobiles in any form are not sustainable. There are however other models of living that do work. The only question is are we going to adopt them and like it or simply adopt them and live. Reality suggests adoption.

      1. Anon

        This an excellent link. Take the time to read it.

        Especially if you live in California. The Ponzi scheme of suburban development described in the article is what led to Prop 13 (property tax relief) and (eventually) the underfunding of not only infrastructure maintenance, but Schools, Parks, and other essential community services.

  3. Cal2


    “Promoting much higher densities in infill developments along with mixed uses can help a lot, but you can be absolutely sure existing residents will fight this tooth and nail. And often developers don’t want it either if they think the market is in ‘family homes’ rather than denser developments, which inevitably involve terraces and/or apartments….”essential if you are to create the densities required to make them more sustainable and liveable.”

    The independence of American polities, separate town and county police, fire school district and building departments make them more independent of nearby cities in the Australian and English models, where for example, there is a national police force with standardized laws nationwide.

    Some suburbs on the S.F. Bay Area are quite sustainable without stack and pack housing, which the developers do love. As to sustainability, a large suburban backyard can provide recreation, gardening and fruit growing opportunities. Large ranch style homes; one story, central hallway, side rooms, garage, can be easily modified to house multiple adults and even families depending on their configuration. Their large roofs are ideal for solar and hot water. In addition, one can ride bicycles to transit or, of course drive to it, or more likely, drive all the way to work.

    Soviet style apartment blocks are profitable for developers, strip people of the ability to live independently, collectivize their interests, making them more susceptible to politicians’ promises and in the end, use huge amounts of energy when preexisting suburban structures, along with all the embodied energy they contain, plus topsoil, are bulldozed and replaced with new building material. They have a smaller solar footprint and require elevators. There are always parking places required which eats up even more land. The residents are not going to ride transit to their jobs, even if they wanted to, as jobs are widely disseminated.

    Transit Oriented Housing Developments in California, are favored by law. They are a sop to developers and override local zoning, environmental impact requirements, density and community standards, creating large numbers of additional cars hitting the road at commute time, hardly “sustainability.” Most importantly, they bring large numbers of new residents into an established community and break up its demographic coherence and resistance to Orwellian state government with lots of new voters with no connection to the community except their new zip code.

    When the lights go out after a blackout, earthquake, or PG&E’s ever more common power failures, where would you rather be?, in a suburban house with sun, a backyard, a workshop, stored water and food, or, on the fifth floor of a tiny apartment with a shuttered supermarket down the street?

    Also, there is the important issue of where people who are reaching child bearing age want to send their children to public schools. Most cities are not their ideal choice. High quality suburbs are more likely their preferred option. As you can see, I love the suburbs and will fight tooth and nail to keep them from being degraded as have nearby cities which are beyond hope.

    1. Bob the Builder

      Apartments are Soviet style? Redbaiting? This post looks like it was written in the 1950s. To suggest that suburban city planning is good to prepare for the apocalypse or that there actually is suburban farming going on in any appreciable way sounds like a weird dream world from the Truman show. Show me the areas where people are running multiple family mini-ranches with carrot and potato patches covering their lots. I’d love to actually see them.

      If the municipal taxes required to sustain low density infrastructure were actually fairly paid by the people living there, I guess it would fair, but the data don’t show that. In fact rates are usually paid based on RE value, so the people in the core pay more to sustain higher cost infrastructure in the low density areas.

      1. Cal2

        “Bob the Builder”?
        “Show me the areas where people are running multiple family mini-ranches with carrot and potato patches covering their lots. I’d love to actually see them.”
        Ranches are for animal husbandry. It’s more like permaculture:

        Suggest you look at this. Might even be a whole new business avenue for you:

        You assume that stack and pack high density development will pay fair taxes?
        Why are there so many tax incentives, tax exemptions and waivers attached to said building then? New York City, based on its density, should be the wealthiest municipality in the world.

        Suggest you watch “car crashes Russia” videos. You will see the preponderance of high rise apartments in the former Soviet Union. Guess I should have said “Russian style apartment blocks”.

        Here’s the kind of bad thing that I’m talking about:

        1. Anon

          As I’ve mentioned in prior comments beware of the “straw man”.

          Here’s a quote from the first linked article:

          Fifteen years ago, I bought this modest 1,100-square-foot house. From the start, the plan was to make best use I could of the assets this quarter-acre provided. The grass is gone front and back. The 350-square-foot patio has become a closed in passive solar space that helps heat the house. There is edible landscaping all over. Automobile space has been reclaimed as the driveway was taken out and the one-car garage turned into a living space.

          Does that look like a viable option for your family/lifestyle? While this person has made masterful transition to solar energy, his transportation/lifestyle options are reduced. How do his kids get to school? How does he access medical care? Whom is paying for the road system; if not for his use but potential fire trucks to access his burning home?

          The second link does not debunk Transit Oriented Design (TOD) but exposes flaws in ONE TOD proposal. The proper design of transit stops requires assessment of the broader setting; a walkable community. Suburban living has its attractions, but with AGW bearing down the planet, is not sustainable.

    2. SerenityNow

      You’re talking about TOD as Orwellian government yet you seem to support low-density zoning? All zoning is the imposition of a moral geography on our landscape. It tells people what they can or cannot do inside their own homes. What could be more Orwellian than that?

      No matter what someone says about how great the suburbs are for their residents, once you peel back the top layer, suburban apologists are usually primarily concerned with property value (whether they realize it or not).

      1. davidgmillsatty

        That is just urban prejudice. There are a lot of people who just don’t like being that close to other people, who don’t like the noise 24/7, who don’t like the pollution and the fact they can’t see stars at night. I could go on and on. Urban living is just disgusting to me and to most people I know. If I could I would live a hundred miles from a major metropolis.

      2. Cal2

        “Zoning tells people what they can or cannot do inside their own homes”?

        One has much more freedom and space to do what they want in a suburban house with a garage, backyard, front yard and bedrooms, than does an urban dweller with no land and a hard configured set of bearing walls. You can’t even Air B&B your apartment in many towns.

        Face it, most urban dwellers are stuck where they are and would love to live in the suburbs. They just can’t afford it and in the case of San Francisco, are trapped by living in rent controlled apartments. They send their children to miserable schools, confront homeless bums, car break ins, if they can afford a car and higher priced insurance in the city and street crime when they walk to “easily accessible shopping.”

        The “Green” eyed monster of jealousy shows itself in attacks on tax policy and all the other chimeras of denial. Maybe they believe that if they build enough stack and pack towers in the suburbs, some city dwellers might get a chance to move there?

  4. Pym of Nantucket

    Apartments are Soviet style? Redbaiting? This post looks like it was written in the 1950s. To suggest that suburban city planning is good to prepare for the apocalypse or that there actually is suburban farming going on in any appreciable way sounds like a weird dream world from the Truman show. Show me the areas where people are running multiple family mini-ranches with carrot and potato patches covering their lots. I’d love to actually see them.

    If the municipal taxes required to sustain low density infrastructure were actually fairly paid by the people living there, I guess it would fair, but the data don’t show that. In fact rates are usually paid based on RE value, so the people in the core pay more to sustain higher cost infrastructure in the low density areas.

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      High density living can pack more humans in a given area.

      Given human nature, Jevon’s paradox, ‘you build it, they will come, or there is open space, humans will make it not open,’ etc., will high density living not make it worse?

      1. SerenityNow

        Humans will always spread out–but generally they will spread out more slowly beyond the limits of infrastructure like water, electricity, and most importantly, roads. Want to limit sprawl into farmland? Don’t use any public funding to maintain roads going out there. Harnessing internal combustion allowed us to detach from geography, massive road building facilitated it even further.

        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          High denisty living has been a reason for people to spread out.

          Usually because humans have trouble getting along with each other.

  5. chuck roast

    Drive ’til you qualify.

    The next time you fly, get a window seat. Look down. You can see the huge spider-web of macadam, but also envision the vast subterranean web of natural gas, potable water, sanitary sewer, storm sewer and electrical lines. The great unmentionables. Now imagine a couple of decades into the future…and then a few more decades. Now imagine who is going pay for the inevitable failure of all this infrastructure. I’m imagining that I am happily mouldering in the grave, and won’t be suffering from the suburbanites demanding my cash to fix it for them while they happily motor from suburb to suburb.

    Too late to fix my friends. The (US) suburbs will some day be vast national sacrifice zones. Only high-density areas and farmland will be subject to active and costly preservation.

    Land value taxation can be helpful, but it’s way too late for that.

    I used to think that taxing vehicle miles traveled was a way to mitigate suburban sprawl. The yellow vests have put paid to that idea, and we are not going to get any solutions from Planning School professors. We get the same solutions from them that we get from Neo-classical Economists.

    Maybe, way less people is the solution.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Some suburbs may go extinct altogether in the Great Abandonment.

      Others may turn into peri-urban and ex-urban semi-rural peasant settlements growing as much of their own food, water, heat, chill as they possibly can. Hopefully those neo-peasant 2.0 settlement zones will have enough people heavily armed enough to protect eachother’s houses and hovels from drive-by scavengers and strippers.

  6. Adam Eran

    [sigh] There’s actually a lot to this.

    Suggested reading: Andres Duaney, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck’s Suburban Nation: The rise of sprawl and the decline of the American dream.… Duany has lots of Youtube videos too. Speck has a TED talk.

    Meanwhile, some commenters appear confused about the efficacy of modern planning and zoning. Jane Jacobs (The Life and Death of the Great American City) put it best when she said “Modern planning is positively neurotic in embracing what does not work while ignoring what does…It’s an advanced superstition like [19th century] medicine when doctors thought bleeding patients cured them.” The dysfunction typically inures to the benefit of developers and land speculators. It’s kind of an ongoing disaster capitalism.

    So…it’s crap. It’s designed-to-fail, and working as designed. My frustration stems from the fact that we have the knowledge (and have known the design principles roughly since the Renaissance) about how to build hospitable, low-impact cities, we just sabotage it.

    One example: Phil Angiledes employed Peter Calthorpe, the planner who came up with “Transit-Oriented Development,” to revise a sprawl plan for a development south of Sacramento (“Laguna West”) after Angiledes heard Duany talk in Folsom. The stakes in these things are multi-million-dollars, so… a courageous business decision from Angiledes. This also provided civic benefit in giving Sacramento County planning guidelines they could use elsewhere. … So, in typical fashion, Sacramento County ignored this, even though their general plan says they must consider such guidelines for any development larger than five acres. The state now mandates (pedestrian-friendly) “Complete Streets,” so California is not a complete loss now. On the other hand, at the height of the last housing boom (2004 or so), there were 35,000 acres proposed for rezone in the region. That’s not a plan. It’s barely even a suggestion. Again, designed-to-fail, and working as designed. I’ll stack these guys up against CalPERS any day…but am not sure this is a contest anyone would want to win.

    Of course revising FNMA underwriting guidelines to mandate New Urbanism for any new construction getting permanent financing (and believe me, FNMA sets the standard)…would mean sprawl would stop immediately…but that would be too easy, no?

    As designed, Laguna West would be an outlying development configured as transit- and pedestrian- friendly. Density (at least 11 – 13 units per acre) is essential for such developments to have un-subsidized transit and working neighborhood commerce. Unfortunately, no multi-family construction money was available from the banks when it came time to build the apartments in this development. So it’s kind of a lame, non-working arrangement now. The neighborhood commerce and transit limp along without enough potential patrons to thrive.

    Why wouldn’t the banks lend the money? I’ve considered the possibility that they’re protecting their auto and auto dealer inventory flooring loans by discouraging a development that gets people out of their cars. Warren Mosler told me it could be because regulations permitted no such apartment loans (this was a few years after the S&Ls gave us all the sprawl apartments we could manage, and then some, so that’s credible). Mosler says no bank thinks as deeply as my suspicions…but…whatever! Now this transit-oriented development is cited as a lame failure! Arghh!

    The truth is that successfully implemented TOD, traditional neighborhoods, New Urbanism, or whatever you want to call it commands premiums when sold. These premiums average around 40%, but I’ve heard that Seaside interior lots (the set for the Truman Show) sell for as much as 600% of neighboring sprawl lots. This is true across the U.S. (see Kentlands, MD, Orenco Station in Oregon, etc. Duany’s website, cited below, has more recent info)

    One other comment about taxes (see realestate4ransom.com): they “euthanize” the rentiers and prevent dramatic booms and busts, and land speculation. California’s Proposition 13 is exactly the opposite of what’s needed to make real estate affordable. (Note: Texas avoids boom-and-bust housing. It has plenty of land, but also forbids cash-out refinances, so people can’t use their homes as ATMs.)

    One burden inner cities often have to bear where taxation is “normal” (non-prop 13) is that the center city must pay for the actual cost of its infrastructure, but outlying development gets promoted with “incentives” that add some of the costs of their infrastructure to the center city tax burden…so inner city infrastructure deteriorates to subsidize the ‘burbs.

    Finally, it’s perfectly OK to “dense up” retrofitting suburbs. The acceptance of such development by actual markets is fine. For example “lifestyle” shopping centers that contain apartments along with commerce earn more than their purely commercial siblings. Sure, there are ignorant people who don’t appreciate the benefit of being able to walk to the store or office from home, but they are growing scarcer as the millenials come of age. Right now, the hip place to live is downtown. The most valuable real estate in the Sacramento region is the McKinley Park neighborhood–pedestrian-friendly, mixed use. It’s also mixed-income–apartments are integrated within the single-family homes. Oh yes, and it’s at least 60 years old, so the houses aren’t exactly “modern.”

    All the objections to lower-environmental-impact development are baloney. ALL of them are strictly in the area of pre-emptive resignation that says “give up…before you engage in any conflict.” So…not helping.

    For the curious: topics for Googling (or Duck-Duck-Going): New Urbanism, Smart Growth (actual open source plans!), Complete Streets (what it takes to have a pedestrian-friendly streetscape). Try dpz.com, too (Duany’s website)

    …that should keep you busy!

    1. Darius

      One reason banks won’t lend for urbanism is that it isn’t even in their codes. They won’t finance a three story building with a store at street level and two apartments above. They don’t even recognize the concept. A hundred years ago, that building dominated American commerce. Tha FHA pretty much is in exurban mode also. An unfortunate downside of the New Deal, which uplifted the planners Jane Jacobs decried.

  7. McWatt

    “Transit oriented development” is code for “increasing density”. Transit oriented development is what is used today to demolish local zoning laws. Density does no one any good. After maybe 75 to 100 years since the last annexation of a suburb to Chicago someone is calling for the annexation of more suburbs to the city to increase the “cities” tax base. Watch for this movement to grow and for that to be the new local fight here in Chicago.

    1. Darius

      Density and urbanism aren’t the same thing. Evanston is a transit suburb. Most of outer Cook an DuPage are car suburbs. Rule of thumb. Anything post WWII sucks.

  8. The Rev Kev

    Late to comment here so a few random observations. Look, it is only our oil-fueled industrial civilization that makes the concept of suburban sprawl possible past a certain range and as the supplies of affordable oil runs down, these suburbs will either be abandoned or reform themselves into free-standing satellite towns. As the article mentions that in Australia the people that live in the suburbs also work there means that the transition will not be so rough. Detroit is an example though of a city in contraction from previous growth. Over a century ago 80% of people lived in the country but this was reversed as the industrialization of farms meant the need for fewer people while the industrialization of the cities absorbed these superfluous people as workers. In moving to the city the dream was still alive to be on their own block of land and as better conditions arose, this translated into people moving from these inner city areas to leafy suburbs. The inner city then fell on hard times.
    There has been moves for decades to turn what were essentially inner city slums into residential areas for city workers. The once infamous Rocks area in Sydney immediately comes to mind. An advantage here is that Australian cities have a lot of century-old worker’s cottages (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terraced_houses_in_Australia) which lends themselves to being gutted and turned into semi-luxurious homes for those who can afford it. I do sometimes wonder about at least one area in inner city Sydney which was historically populated with brothels in these terraced houses and how the people living there now would feel knowing about their home’s previous history.
    Sure people could all be crammed into tall apartment buildings to save on suburban sprawl but social conditions degrade for people rapidly in those very same buildings and they get a bad reputation if done wrong. They can also be dangerous as seen in the Grenfell Tower fire and sometimes they just do not get even the construction right as in the Opal Tower debacle. Also Gropiusstadt in Berlin and those Tower developments in London comes to mind of how bad things can become for the people there. When they are torn down, nobody misses them. In some countries apartment living is normal such as Germany. But (West) Germany had 63 million people when I was there and in size was equivalent to only one of our smaller States.
    Reading how Elizabeth Farrelly deplores the suburbs (because they are full of deplorables?) may be fine for her but I have just read that she lives in only 80 square meters so maybe it is a matter of different strokes for different folks. Most people that have young kids want a yard if possible for their kids to play in as well as to have entertainment areas. We did. Farrelly lives an international lifestyle and there is a distinct disdain for others unlike herself. All I can say is ‘Stay out of the ‘burbs!’ Another trend is how inner cities suck up resources to make life better for themselves while starving outer lying areas of resources. You can see this in the UK, the US, France, Korea and other countries which in the end lead to a bad disconnect between the city and country areas. How does that turn out. Why with Trump and Brexit and Yellow Jackets as the people in the outlying areas strive to be heard. So perhaps inner city elites should give thought to how resources are allocated then.

    1. Comradefrana

      “As the article mentions that in Australia the people that live in the suburbs also work there means that the transition will not be so rough.”

      No, it says that most people live in suburbs and work in suburbs. That doesn’t mean that people work in the same suburb they live in, or even a close one.

  9. Ataraxite

    As an Australian, I feel I can add to Yves’ comments about what “suburb” means in Australia. It is true, that we use the word “suburb” in a narrow meaning, to denote a specific, small part of a city, such as Potts Point in central Sydney (where I also lived, many years ago!) or Mount Annan (on the very outskirts of Sydney, a full hour’s drive away from Potts Point).

    But if an Australian were to say “I live in the suburbs” or speak of “Suburban Sydney”, it would be universally understood in the way that Americans use the word – as talking about the parts of a city outside the central core.

    I wouldn’t also pay too much attention to Elizabeth Farrelly. She’s widely considered a laughing stock, a representative of the reactionary baby boomer class who bought their inner-city terraces back in the 90s, when they were affordable, and now demand that any new development is minimal to preserve their privileged way of life and inflated house prices. The young and the poor – they can piss off to the suburbs.

    1. Shane

      A major distinction though is that suburbs in the American sense of the term are not just outside of the central city core they are usually outside of city limits and not a part of city governments.

      So for the author to then claim that cities policy should be focused on suburbs which are not part of the city is illogical using the US version of term. One of the very reasons people move to these areas in the US is they generally have cheaper land values and lower taxes, again because they are not part of the city and their own township governments choose this policy.

      The fastest growing suburb of my city isn’t even in the same county as the city, let alone in the city government. To move there which people and companies are doing in droves for the cheap land and lower taxes and then turn around and complain about lack of city policy focus, which you are not a part of, is kinda crazy no?

      From a US perspective the arguement would be better directed to counties, state, federal level governments to focus more on these areas. However these areas are generally already over represented in the US system of government.

      1. Ataraxite

        It’s the same in Sydney – the local level of government is split into quite a number of councils, each of which only covers a small area.

        It’s different in Brisbane – there, there is just one much larger council which governs almost the entire city.

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