Musings on the History and Fate of Suburbia

Some 70 years ago we began our grand suburban experiment. A utopian vision of a tranquil and natural setting for our nations homes. Garden communities full of happy children and the promise of tomorrow. I grew up in one of these vast suburban tracts near Long Beach, California. Our new 1,000 SF 3 bedroom, one bath home was one of thousands built of returning WWII veterans and their families. It’s detached one car garage housed our family car and in 1950 the men used that car to commute to and from work and the women stayed home to raise the children. The white collar dads worked 9 to 5, and the blue collar dads 8 to 5 with an occasional overtime shift. For the most part all the dads were home on the weekends. Black and white TV’s and record players were the extent of our electronic life, and drive-in movie theaters and burger joints extended our automobile lifestyles.

As the population grew, new roads and freeways would be built and eventually a sprawling suburban would spread from north of Los Angeles south to San Diego as far the the Mexican border and from the Pacific coast to inland desert. Progress would bring us two hour one-way commutes, two income families, and three car garages as we became trapped in lives that could only be lived by driving 20 and 30 thousand miles a year. Our original utopian vision of peaceful tranquility would instead become one of road rage and isolation, and leave us obese and addicted to tranquilizers.

Today, I wonder what will become of this grand experiment as the production of oil peaks and we can no longer afford our auto dependent lifestyles as gas prices first reach $5 and then $10 per gallon. Will we become a nation of telecommuters? Will zoning laws change so that our suburban neighborhoods become sprinkled with offices, cafes, and small shops? Will our suburbs become sufficiently urbanized (see Drivable Suburbanism v. Walkable Urbanism) so we can get to work, restaurants, and stores by foot? Or will vast tracts of suburbia just be abandoned for something more sustainable and the land returned food production

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