1. A system for living

    Unlike the traditional neighborhood model, which evolved organically as a response to human needs, suburban sprawl is an idealized artificial system. It is not without a certain beauty: it is rational, consistent, and comprehensive. Its performance is largely predictable. It is an outgrowth of modern problem solving: a system for living. Unfortunately, this system is already showing itself to be unsustainable.

  2. The five components of sprawl

    The dominant characteristic of sprawl is that each component is strictly segregated from the others.

    1. Housing subdivisions, also called clusters and pods
    2. Shopping centers, also called strip centers, shopping malls, and big-box retail
    3. Office parks and business parks
    4. Civic institutions
    5. Roadways
  3. Subdivisions

    Subdivisions can be identified as such by their contrived names, which tend toward the romantic—Pheasant Mill Crossing—and often pay tribute to the natural or historic resource they have displaced.

  4. An unmade omelet

    The successes of turn-of-the-century planning, represented in America by the City Beautiful movement, became the foundation of a new profession, and ever since, planners have repeatedly attempted to relive that moment of glory by separating everything from everything else. This segregation, once applied only to incompatible uses, is now applied to every use. A typical contemporary zoning code has several dozen land-use designations; not only is housing separated from industry but low-density housing is separated from medium-density housing, which is separated from high-density housing. Medical offices are separated from general offices, which are in turn separated from restaurants and shopping.

    As a result, the new American city has been likened to an unmade omelet: eggs, cheese, vegetables, a pinch of salt, but each consumed in turn, raw.

  5. Beauty and function

    In truth, a lot of sprawl—primarily affluent areas—could be considered beautiful. This raises a fundamental point: the problem with suburbia is not that it is ugly. The problem with suburbia is that, in spite of all its regulatory controls, it is not functional: it simply does not efficiently serve society or preserve the environment.

  6. Market segments

    The segregation of housing by “market segment” is a phenomenon that was invented by developers who, lacking a meaningful way to distinguish their mass-produced merchandise, began selling the concept of exclusivity: If you live within these gates, you can consider yourself a success.

  7. Worthwhile destinations

    Pedestrian life cannot exist in the absence of worthwhile destinations that are easily accessible on foot. This is a condition that modern suburbia fails to satisfy, since it strives to keep all commercial activity well separated from housing.

  8. The twenty-minute house

    Despite the way that it sounds, the “twenty-minute house” is not a derogatory label. Quite the opposite—it refers to the fact that a house has only twenty minutes to win the affection of a potential buyer, since that is the average length of a realtor visit. The building industry has responded to this phenomenon by creating a product that is at its best for the first twenty minutes that one is in it.

  9. Homebuilders

    The term homebuilder describes the house as a product that exists independent of its context. This approach would be appropriate if houses floated freely in space, or in some other environment where actual interaction between neighbors was neither possible nor desired. But houses are not meant to exist in isolation, so to think of the individual house as the ultimate outcome of the builder’s craft robs that craft of its broader significance.

  10. The cul-de-sac kid

    In this environment where all activities are segregated and distances are measured on the odometer, a child’s personal mobility extends no farther than the edge of the subdivision. Even the local softball field often exists beyond the child’s independent reach.

    The result is a new phenomenon: the “cul-de-sac kid,” the child who lives as a prisoner of a thoroughly safe and unchallenging environment.

    This “isolation and boredom” is the outcome of an environment that fails to provide teenagers with the ordinary challenges of maturing, developing useful skills, and gaining a sense of self.

  11. On-site parking

    Most cities require new and renovated buildings to provide their own parking on site. This is probably the single greatest killer of urbanism in the United States today. It prevents the renovation of old buildings, since there is inadequate room on their sites for new parking; it encourages the construction of anti-pedestrian building types in which the building sits behind or hovers above a parking lot; it eliminates street life, since everyone parks immediately adjacent to their destination and has no reason to use the sidewalk; finally, it results in a low density of development that can keep a downtown from achieving critical mass.

  12. Architectural mysticism

    In response to their growing sense of insignificance, some architects have tried to regain a sense of power through what can best be described as mysticism. By importing arcane ideas from unrelated disciplines—such as contemporary French literary theory (now outdated) —by developing illegible techniques of representation, and by shrouding their work in inscrutable jargon, designers are creating increasingly smaller realms of communication, in order that they might inhabit a domain in which they possess some degree of control. Nowhere is this crisis more evident than in the most prestigious architecture schools.