Any escape might help to smooth
The unattractive truth
But the suburbs have no charms to soothe
The restless dreams of youth – "Subdivisions," lyrics by Neil Peart
Remember that saying, you can’t judge a book by its cover?
For those of us who have read the book, we know the title, more than likely written by the publisher and not the author, is an exaggeration. Gallagher says the bulk of the change is taking place in the suburbs, leading to the emergence of “urban suburbs.”
We’ve seen the beginning of it here in Groveton. Developers are listening to urban planners and building more walkable places. Retail has followed and a transit study will determine what type of mass transit is appropriate for Route 1.
The suburbs are not ending, but it is the end of their peak. The key to understanding the author’s point is to focus on the subheading - “Where the American Dream is Moving.” Today at Greater Greater Washington, Dan Reed also made a good point:
While "The End of Some Places with Suburban Land Use Characteristics and/or Bad Schools" isn't as catchy or provocative a title, it's more accurate description of what's actually happening. People will still be able to live in a big house on a cul-de-sac, if that's what they want. But we'll also see new kinds of suburbs for those who want something else.
The author does face a challenge. Christopher Leinberger wrote eloquently on this topic with “The Option of Urbanism.” Of course, that was five years ago, so Gallagher brings new information and a different set of eyes.
We learn about Clarence Perry, who helped create the suburban movement, and William Levitt, a mass production home-builder.
Reading about the build of suburbia took me back to the 60s, when my parents moved from an older downtown adjacent home to a new subdivision further out called “Random Woods.” I was eight when we moved in “64, so I had no clue about the forces behind what was happening across the country.
Gallagher writes that in 1950, 23% of housing was suburban. In 1970, it sprouted to 38%. Veterans of World War II like my Dad could afford the move. But he once told me the thing he did not like about the new neighborhood was how close together the homes were.
The suburban model was great until we abused it and it abused us. The author documents all the reasons this happens, as well as the outcomes such as higher crime and poverty rates in the burbs.
The good news for the planet and the health of the country is that the Millennials have said no to soul-sapping commutes that drain budgets more than most realize.
Statistics enrich this book, things like in 1980, 66% of 17-year-olds got their drivers license (in our neighborhood it seemed like 100%), while 30 years later, only 47% do. For the first time in a long time, car dependency is trending downward. The cities have come alive, and people are biking and walking more, a much healthier way to go.
When I began writing this review, Subdivisions came on my Rush Radio station. With his piercing lyrics, Neil Peart nailed the negative aspects of sprawl. 40 years on, however, some of those shopping malls are being replaced with urbanish town centers and some of the suburbs are gaining charms.
Book titles? They never seem to change…