Housing Policy

Why New Urbanism Doesn't Work

The latest trend in urban planning builds bureaucracy, not affordable living.


After the housing bubble burst a few years ago, sending real estate prices to the floor in many places, some influential academics and urban planners celebrated the supposed demise of something they had always hated: the suburbs.

In their view, the kind of homes and neighborhoods we live in are tacky, ugly, unsustainable blights. "Suburbia represents a compound economic catastrophe, ecological debacle, political nightmare, and spiritual crisis for a nation of people conditioned to spend their lives in places not worth caring about," wrote James Howard Kunstler, a prominent New Urbanist writer who calls for the wholesale reordering of our built environment.

New Urbanists such as Kunstler push for the recreation of the old city model – people living in high rises and apartment buildings, relying on mass transit to get around and shopping at local stores filled with goods produced in the surrounding area. While they make some good aesthetic points, they are elitists who believe we should all live in ways that they prefer.

It's easy to chuckle at them, as they seize on every crisis (housing bubbles, rising gas prices, etc.) to warn about the coming doom, much like those doomsday preachers who are sure that the latest event is a signal that the world is coming to an end.

But while most of us think only about short-term real estate issues, these ideologues have been changing the laws and building codes to mandate their long-term vision. Given the enormity of suburbia, it's hard to see the impact of this wide-ranging policy change. But pay attention to debates over new construction, and look at the requirements for higher densities, small or nonexistent yards, construction around transit and other common building mandates. They are designed to make the common form of suburbia obsolete.

"I live where a majority of Americans live: a tract house on a block of other tract houses in a neighborhood of even more," wrote D.J. Waldie in his 2005 book, Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir. Waldie spoke last Monday at the "No Place Like Home" conference in Anaheim, where he described his spiritual connection to the modest Lakewood, California, suburb where he has spent his life.

Kunstler described Lakewood, where thousands of homes were built quickly across farm fields after World War II, as "the place where evil dwells," Waldie said. But it is Waldie's "beloved community," a place mocked by snobs but where middle-class people raise their kids and share their lives. These days, the new residents often are immigrants who have come from Mexico or Korea, but they share the same aspirations as those who moved there from places such as Des Moines and Pittsburgh.

The conference defended the ideal of homeownership – something the sponsor, conservative philanthropist Howard Ahmanson, argues is particularly important given "the phenomenon has arisen of syndicates buying up houses in the Inland Empire in quantity for cash, to rent out." Ahmanson's father had built the Home Savings of America empire that helped many Americans afford a home of their own.

A recent Sacramento News & Review article detailed the results of the re-inflated housing bubble, in which ordinary people have been unable to compete for the purchase of homes with those companies that are buying them in bulk. Sellers, the article noted, won't risk the uncertainty of an offer made by someone who needs a mortgage when they can take the cash offer from big corporate buyers.

This situation will no doubt pass, but it is a reminder that in many places of the world, people have no choice but to spend their lives as renters. The planners who attack suburbia offer as alternative models the big cities and stylish towns where few Americans could ever afford to live. These are nice places, but not realistic models for the nation.

San Francisco and Carmel, for instance, are wonderful playgrounds for wealthy people, who enact regulatory and land-use policies that inflate the cost of entry and keep out people on normal incomes. Then they lecture us about how much better they are than us because they walk to work and shop only at environmentally friendly local stores. (Note: Despite their pretenses, even trendy San Franciscans pack the big-box stores located under the 101 freeway in the heart of the city.)

Urban elitists don't recognize that their policies helped create the "sprawl" that they disdain. It's not as if middle-income San Jose workers would choose to live over the mountain ranges in places such as Tracy, but the growth controls and other regulations that make it tough to build new houses in the Bay Area have so inflated the prices of the existing housing stock that people head into the hinterlands to afford a place of their own to raise their kids.

I can pick nits—the conference advocated a role for broad government involvement and subsidy in the housing market. Yet government involvement has distorted the market, and has even led sellers to choose corporate buyers over regular buyers. The myriad federal rules designed to protect homebuyers from themselves has led to a Rube Goldberg-esque buying process filled with the uncertainty that sellers are no longer willing to tolerate—at least not in a seller's market.But as conference speakers noted, the homeownership ideal is the backbone of a free and democratic society given that it gives people a stake in the community. That's worth remembering as today's planners and officials mock suburbia and design a different kind of future.

NEXT: Vermont Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession in Small Amounts

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. While they make some good aesthetic points


    A suburb is more aesthetically pleasing than a high-rise building.

    1. I personally like the look of the high-rise. Not the people or the parking, nor would I live in one, but if we built a few empty shells as art pieces, I’d be in favor of that.

      1. Wow, it’s almost like it’s a matter of personal taste.

        1. Well, it is why I prefaced my comment with ‘I personally’. I also hate the ‘art’ that Nelson Rockefeller marred my office building with during his governorship (hint, it looks like scrap metal) I endeavored to contrast the flat statement by the other commenter that copy-paste neighborhoods were universally pleasing to the eye. All I see there is pressure to conform to the expectations of others.

          1. copy-paste neighborhoods

            Not all suburbs are that way.

            For example, on my street the ages of the houses range by over 80 years.

            In fact, a new 2013 model will soon be going in an empty lot between two of the oldest.

            Nothing copy-paste about them.

            1. Then you’re lucky, I’ve never seen any of those.

              1. Also, no HOA.

                1. Also, no HOA.

                  This is the key. A farmer divided up and sold a bunch of lots, but didnt sell it all to a single developer, so there is no HOA and interesting stuff has happened over the years. The final bulk of the old farm got sold to a developer a while back and smack in the middle of all those different houses is a bunch of identical patio homes.

                  But, amusingly, I think it gives the neighborhood character, as they provide contrast with the rest.

                  1. He had patience. Most farmers shedding land just need/want the upfront payment a developer gives to cover some outstanding debt, or to cover their flight from the farm.

                    1. Or, perhaps, the kids inherited the farm and no single kid could afford to buy the others out and still make a living off the farm.

                      Happened to a friend of mine. His father had inherited a farm as an only child and was able to earn a good living of the farm. When he died, there were multiple kids. Since the land had a value many multiples above the agricultural value, he could not buy his siblings out and still earn a living off the farm.

                      No idea how taxes play into the situation.

              2. Hannah. even though Dawn`s article is shocking, I just bought a brand new Aston Martin DB5 after I been earnin $5713 thiss month and just a little over $10,000 this past-munth. this is really the most financially rewarding I’ve ever had. I began this 10-months ago and almost immediately started bringing in more than $79, p/h. I use the details on this website…. Grand4.com
                (Go to site and open “Home” for details)

          2. Weren’t the fucked-up highways of Albany specifically designed so that people could get a grand view of the ugly concrete buildings was having built in the late 50s and 60s?

            The Egg needs to be demolished, if you ask me.

            1. Seconded. Let’s implode the entire plaza!

              1. … when I’m not in it.

            2. If you think Rodney`s story is impossible,, last month my uncle easily made $5341 working thirteen hours a week from there apartment and there classmate’s half-sister`s neighbour was doing this for 10-months and got a cheque for more than $5341 parttime from their computer. applie the guidelines on this site, kep2.com

      2. I like the skyscraper. They can be pleasing. But more as an office building.

        I mean, to each his own, if you want to live in a hive, feel free. But I like having a yard between me and my neighbors.

        1. nor would I live in one

          I want more than a yard between me any my neighbors. Perhaps a wall and a mine field.

        2. You’d be surprised how private an apartment in a high rise can be.

          1. Yeah, my high rise apartment is very private. The walls are thick and everybody living here hates communicating with each other. It’s perfect, and I have a view of downtown. Someday I’ll have a house with a yard but this is good for now.

            1. Exactly. I have privacy, views of the Space Needle and Elliott Bay, a pool and a huge deck, and the last fucking thing in the world I want is a yard. I’ve had 8.5 acres before and all I learned is how much I hate having a yard.

              1. I had a condo before me house because I didnt want to deal with a yard. Now, I like my yard.

                It is a small yard though, so mowing and edging takes less than an hour.

            2. Seconded. Aside from the doormen, I generally don’t have to spend much more than a few pleasantries with the neighbors. But, I’ve also lived in smaller urban buildings (hint, unless you’re willing to shell out, that’s where you’re likely to live) and privacy tends to be much more limited.

              1. Most people keep to themselves in my building as well, but there are plenty of opportunities to be social if you want.

                I like high-rise living because I hate spending precious time doing routine maintenance on where I live. Someone takes care of everything from the A/C and plumbing to the pool and grounds. To dispose of garbage, I walk about 10 feet from my front door to the trash room and throw it down a chute. If I didn’t find the thought of a housekeeper creepy, I could spend virtually all of my free time on things I actually enjoy.

                1. To dispose of garbage, I walk about 10 feet from my front door to the trash room and throw it down a chute.

                  Really? It seems like you just spread it around the internet. 😉

                  1. Woderful comment!

                2. Jesus, you people are fucking lazy.

                3. I finally agree with you on something.

            3. what kind of dumps are you people living in?

              I live in a suburb where the sidewalks are shoveled for us and the garbage men go to your house (not the street) to pick up the trash bin by the garage.

              Add in a lawn + garden service and I don’t lift my fingers to do any maintenance work.

              1. Wow! Post-apocalypse Australia sounds pretty nice, actually.

                1. Only for someone with his clout. Think of the waste runners!

        3. Yards are great if you have the time, money, and inclination to take care of them.

        4. I lived in South Korea for a year and there was a series of high-rise apartments surrounded by a sleepy neighborhood with three story buildings with shops on the first floor and apartments on the second and third. It was highly walkable, traffic in and out of the neighborhood was manageable, and the apartments were surrounded by parks. Land tends to be at a premium in Korea, and the high rise apartments often afforded significantly nicer accommodations than the houses (primarily rural) or low-density apartments (such as the one I was in) did.

          Put “Gosallo 4(sa)-gil, Daegu, Korea” and you can see my neighborhood. It was a really pleasant setup except around Christmas time when the Italian restaurant on the first floor would play Wham!’s Last Christmas on infinite repeat for a month.

          1. when the Italian restaurant on the first floor would play Wham!’s Last Christmas on infinite repeat for a month.

            Ugh, every Japanese department store must have had the same music subscription when I lived there. And all of the Japanese people I would go to karaoke with during December would still insist on singing it at least once per session.

            1. Something went horribly wrong when east Asia imported western Christmas. It’s like they only got the worst excesses of Christmas kitsch.

              My neighbor got a small tree and we all brought over food and cranked up some classic carols loud enough to drown out Last Christmas for a while.

              1. We took some fellow foreign exchange students–mostly Chinese and Korean–to Denny’s (the most American restaurant there) for Thanksgiving. Of course we didn’t realize how bastardized the Denny’s of Japan’s menu would be, so it really amounted to little more than your typical nomikai, but heavier on the demi-glace sauce.

                1. I started work November 1, 2006. Thanksgiving is probably our biggest family holiday. That Thanksgiving (a Canadian friend working in the same town brought me a rotisserie chicken from the Walmart equivalent for dinner), and trying to find limes or avocados were the only things that ever made me homesick.

                  There was an Outback Steakhouse kitty-corner to my school. The menu was largely authentic. I don’t think I ever saw a Denny’s.

            2. Last Christmas is pretty much universal here in Taiwan. I can’t imagine why Asians like Christmas so much since just about everybody’s Buddhist. Lots of people even put up Christmas trees. I did see a really cool Christmas decoration(?)once. I went into a little religious idol store in Japan and they had this 10-inch-tall ceramic statue of Santa Claus nailed to a cross. I almost pissed my pants laughing, but it wasn’t worth two hundred bucks.

              1. “I can’t imagine why Asians like Christmas so much since just about everybody’s Buddhist.”

                Same reason non-Catholics like St. Valentine’s Day?

      3. Not the people or the parking, nor would I live in one, but if we built a few empty shells as art pieces, I’d be in favor of that.

        “China: The World’s Center for Skyscraper Art!”

    2. ditto

    3. I like high-rises, myself. I also like mid-century modern low-slung apartments, Craftsman bungalows, Victorian mansions, Mediterranean estates, and post and beam ranch houses.

      The point is, don’t use government to dictate what to build, how to build, or where to build. Leave people the fuck alone. Why is that such a hard concept for Kunstler to grasp?

      1. The two government actions which push my berzerk buttons are zoning and eminent domain. It’s my plot of dirt!

      2. People have been calling him Kunt-ler since 3rd grade and he chose to live up to his name?

        Thats my best guess.

        1. I’d have gone with Kunt-slur myself.

          1. 8 year olds arent that witty.

  2. spend their lives in places not worth caring about

    Fuck you, James Howard Kunstler, I will decide for myself what places are worth me caring about. And densely populated urban cores arent it.

    1. …aaaand ditto

  3. What they are really after:

    For centuries in China, communal lifestyles have dominated. Families have aspired to house five generations under one roof. Friends wash together, students share crowded dormitories, and neighbours live in each other’s pockets.
    It has created a culture of communalism. Children are encouraged to put the group first, themselves second.

    People do not expect privacy. And individualism is discouraged.


    1. It is not like communalism has ever gone wrong in China or anything.

      1. Because what COULD go wrong with communalism, amirite?

    2. Ding ding ding!

  4. Whenever you hear a liberal bitch and moan about the suburbs remember one thing. The shopping mall and the suburb were both invented by socialist architects trying to create a new model society. Back in the 40s and 50s socialists hated main street businesses and all of the tacky spread out commercialization and big signs. They wanted to eliminate all of that and turn the signs inside facing. Go look at a vintage shopping mall sometime. There are very few signs on the outside walls.

    Now 50 years later, it is liberals who bitch and moan about the death of the beloved downtown.

    1. Yep, their tastes change and thus we must all obey their whims. Reason has been slagging on this garbage for almost two decades now.

      1. “their tastes change”

        Actually, I think it is the people who change. The urban planners and socialist architects of the 40’s and 50s are dead or retired now.

      2. Liberal elites tend to hate whatever the norms are for mainstream culture.

        There is also the fact that their visions of what malls would be did not work out like they had planned.

    2. There is nothing organic about suburban sprawl. It was created by government subsidies.

      1. No so in mine – all privately finded, including the ROADZZZz!111!

        1. finded? == “funded”

      2. Tony you are a fucking moron. You really do know so little about so many things. Sadly I have neither the time nor the inclination to give you a short history of post war urban planning and the rise of the suburb. And even if I did, you wouldn’t listen anyway. You really do seem to enjoy your own ignorance.

        1. He certainly seems blissful.

        2. The rise of the suburb has a complicated history but it’s mostly white people fleeing black people. Which I suppose could be classified as a market phenomenon.

          Nevertheless suburbs wouldn’t exist without highways, utilities, or homeownership subsidies.

          1. “”””but it’s mostly white people fleeing black people.””‘

            Which was then followed by black people fleeing black people. One is called White Flight, the other is considered to be a Civil Rights Victory.

          2. “””Nevertheless suburbs wouldn’t exist without highways, utilities, or homeownership subsidies.””‘

            Cities would not exist in their present form without highways, utilities or various subsidies. So lets get rid of the subsidies and let everyone pay for their own stuff.

            1. Not feasible–so we get around to the point. There’s no such thing as no government city planning policy. So we might as well do it well.

              1. It’s perfectly feasible. It’s even preferrable.

                1. It is neither feasible nor preferable. It really is best for there to be one centrally planned sewage system, and I can’t think of any city that’s thought differently since the concept was invented centuries ago.

                  1. I don’t have a sewage system. My septic tank works just fine. And the water from my well is better than anything in a bottle, let alone from the tap in a city. I’ll stick to country living, fuck you very much.

                    1. I enjoy country living too! Sometimes you do have to get away and be somewhere quiet. I go to the lake house, where you can’t even drink the tap water. It’s suburbia that’s the abomination.

                      But you can’t really have dense population areas without central planning for utilities.

                    2. But you can’t really have dense population areas without central planning for utilities.

                      Sure you could. Heck, if you had competition among private utility providers, likely the services would be both cheaper and better. Competition always generates better results than government granted monopolies. Without exception.

                    3. Except every time they’ve tried it with utilities.

                    4. Example? **Without government interference mucking it up.

                    5. Example? **Without government interference mucking it up.

                      Tony never lets facts get in the way of the narrative.

                    6. In the early days of electricity, Chicago, which was densely populated, had dozens of electric companies.

                    7. In 1892, Chicago had more than 20 electric companies.

                  2. The gong farmers did a brisk business emptying houses privvies at the heart of the densest city of their day. there are alternatives, you just close your mind to them.

                    1. Plus, the government isn’t the only body that can build a sewer. There doesn’t even need to be just one per city – redundancy in case of system failure at the processing plant.

                      Central planning means single point of failure. Distributed systems for the win.

              2. “Not feasible–so we get around to the point. There’s no such thing as no government city planning policy. So we might as well do it well.”

                I guess we’re fucked then because no one doing the city planning is doing it well.

          3. Highways – paid for by gas taxes on the cars and trucks that use them to get to the suburbs.
            Utilities – paid for by the users.
            Homeownership subsidies – apply to condos and inner city housing as well.

      3. Tony: Unsupported premise.
        Someone else: These verifiable facts prove that premise wrong.
        Tony: Unsupported assertion based on previous premise.
        Someone else: This assertion doesn’t follow logically from the debunked premise.
        Tony: Move goalposts.

        Could you at least not be so fucking predictable, taint?

    3. And then you have situations like the Superblock in Baltimore.

      Basically, it is a shitty part of the city but close enough to the good parts where it could rebound with some redevelopment. Private developers actually want to develop in the area.

      However, nothing has been accomplished for almost a decade now because of all of the back and forth with the city. The highlight being the fight with the historical society over perhaps the shittiest part of the entire block, where a sit in once happened.

      1. Are you saying their Superblock has been corrupted? No wonder there’s no storage available there.

  5. They pass regulations mandating minimum lot sizes for homes, then bitch about sprawl.

    1. Where I live, they pass regulations mandating minimum lot sizes for homes as a way of preventing sprawl. When you point out the difficulty, they start spouting nonsense. It’s almost as though they emoted instead of thinking things through.

      1. Almost?

  6. Guilty. I grew up in a suburb but hate them with a fiery passion now and could never live in one. I hate houses with facades 2/3 taken up by garage doors. Hate having to drive 20 minutes to get anywhere remotely cool. Hate the big box stores and the parking lots. My neighborhood is plenty bustling, but driving out to the suburbs makes me want to install side-mounted missile launchers on my car. Only when I get back to downtown does the stress go away. There is nothing virtuous or pleasant or aesthetically pleasing about suburbs. Where I live, there’s more crime in the suburbs than there is downtown to boot. No one is ever going to break in to my apartment, since it’s 300 feet off the ground and protected by a gate and a doorman. My mother’s house, in the middle of fucking nowhere, has been burglarized twice. Urban living is simply, objectively superior in every way.

    1. Funny – There’s no traffic in the suburbs, and it’s downtown where the nasty traffic snarls and parking nightmares ensue. My stress hits the roof once I get into that brutal downtown traffic.

      1. Living downtown and working about 15 minutes outside means I’m always driving against traffic on workdays. It’s wonderful.

        1. You should try that in Louisville. Rush hour traffic flows both ways…and about equally.

          Of course, neither is that bad.

      2. Is it not obvious to you that Tony is trolling? Do you think you’re actually going to convince it of anything? What is gained by responding to it except shitting up yet another thread?

        1. Don’t waste your breath, Hugh. Some people actually want to argue with a sockpuppet, because the sockpuppet represents the exact profile of who they hate. It not being real matters not.

          1. Are you saying that’s the only reason people respond to my comments?

            1. That’s exactly what I’m saying.

              1. It is almost as if you were positing a conspiracy right at the heart of ReasonOnline to gin up commenting and therefore pageviews.

                1. Tony is Gillespie’s sock account.

                  No, wait. It’s the Jacket’s account.


        2. I’m trying out a generator that runs on troll rage. The internet could power the planet!

      3. Here in Houston the traffic is ridiculously better inside the loop than outside. I don’t have to get on a highway to go anywhere.

        1. Which loop?

          1. Inner loop 610. But I’m really referring to the highways to get everywhere. If you live in the burbs and don’t commute the traffic isn’t bad either, but neither is it inside the city if you stay on surface roads.

      4. Eh fuck you both, I’ll take a nice RURAL little town embedded in the middle of a larger metropolitan region.

        Not sure if there are any places like where I live now in Metro NY or LA but outside of Boston we have about a dozen of them.

        Right now I am living on 2 acres and can’t actually see another house from mine and there are 3 active Horse farms within a 5 mile radius but I’m only 20 miles from downtown Boston and only a 15 mile drive from “cool” places to go.

        Funny thing is the housing prices aren’t even all that expensive for the Metro Boston Area. I looked up the valuation on the house I’m renting and was shocked it was only $440k, this is for a 4 BR 2 BA ~1900 sq foot home with a detached 2 car garage and full basement on 2 acres

        1. Moved out to the boundary between burbs and country last weekend. I now pay the same rent for triple the space, I have deer in my yard, and no traffic or streetlights.

    2. No one is ever going to break in to my apartment, since it’s 300 feet off the ground and protected by a gate and a doorman.

      Right. Like the guys climbing up the downspouts to break into the upper floors and steal shit while we were in Glasgow a couple years back. We had gates and guards, too.

      It’s amazing what people will do to fuel a heroin habit.

      1. Burglary was one of the most common crimes in South Korea, the deadbolts were excessive on the doors and people would use the close proximity of buildings to shimmy up the spaces between buildings and break in through windows. I never had a problem, but always figured if I locked myself out I could try scaling the building.

    3. I have three neighbors within eye-shot of my house. My town is so small it has no police department of its own. Everyone is armed. Couldn’t feel safer.

    4. I live in the city as well, for many of the reasons you mentioned. That is my preference. But I don’t want the government to force people to conform to my preferences. Do you?

      1. yes, he does.

      2. Well there’s always going to be city planning. They can make a hash of it, no doubt. I very much support policies that encourage denser living and working. It’s just better for the environment.

        1. My version was more succinct.

        2. I very much support policies that encourage denser living and working. It’s just better for the environment.

          And you can ride the train everywhere you need to go.

        3. “It’s just better for the environment.”

          Beautiful example of magical thinking. This is the kind of nonsense that fuels the green energy movement.

          1. Are you suggesting that denser living is not better for the environment?

            Let’s make a deal. You can have your suburbs as long as you agree to large subsidies for the development and deployment of electric cars. Your preference of living in a low population density is fucking up my planet, so that makes it my business.

            1. No Tony, you don’t get to fuck with other people because of your apocalyptic religious superstitions.

              1. Ignorance is no defense. Especially the willful kind.

                1. Ignorance is no defense. Especially the willful kind.

                  Yet you keep engaging in it.

                  So why do you behave in ways that you consider to be inexcusable?

                  1. I don’t know what you mean.

              2. No Tony, you don’t get to fuck with other people because of your apocalyptic religious superstitions.

                You don’t understand! Really smart people took a vote, so it must be true! Consensus!

              3. I’ve been trying so hard not to troll reading these comments but you have forced me to create a username simply based on the above comment.

                “No Tony, you don’t get to fuck with other people because of your apocalyptic religious superstitions.”

                It’s called science…

                There are PHYSICAL LIMITATIONS to what we as humans can do for pleasure on this planet. Should the government tell you how to paint your house-no. Should the government tell you how many people can live in a house-no. Should the government tell what to watch on TV or internet-no. Should the government tell you to stop paving large portions of your yard because its altering the soil’s natural absorption of rain runoff, causing downstream flooding on property not related to yours-no, wait…

                Your actions have physical consequences on the environment around you. If you think libertarian policies will fix that, good for you, I’d like to hear them. But saying crap like that makes you sounds like an absolute clown

                1. Your actions have physical consequences on the environment around you. If you think libertarian policies will fix that, good for you, I’d like to hear them. But saying crap like that makes you sounds like an absolute clown

                  The mere fact that you’ve built a house and have people living in it is an alteration to the enviornment. Saying that the government shouldn’t tell you how many people can live in the house, but that they should stop you from paving the front yard is so self-contradictory I’m surprised your head didn’t pop off.

                2. Tony creates new username to make it appear someone agrees with his bullshit.


                3. “Should the government tell you to stop paving large portions of your yard because its altering the soil’s natural absorption of rain runoff, causing downstream flooding on property not related to yours-no, wait…”

                  Yeah see, there was this guy named Pigou, already came up with a solution to that sort of problem. You should check him out.

                4. Models that can’t predict are useless.

                  But enjoy your modern-day Piltdown Man.

                5. Notice how this commenter writes, “it’s science”, as if that settles it.

                  This person doesn’t know that science is a method, not a position. How sad.

                  No wonder many Americans think public schools are underfunded.

            2. You can have your suburbs as long as you agree to large subsidies for the development and deployment of electric cars.

              Don’t you mean “coal” cars?

            3. Are you suggesting that denser living is not better for the environment?

              Well, there’s scientific evidence that it results in sociological dysfunction.

            4. “Let’s make a deal. You can have your suburbs as long as you agree to large subsidies for the development and deployment of electric cars.”

              Nah, lets make a different deal. I will keep living as far out from urban areas as I can and you can stick electric cars up your ass.

              You dont know shit about what is good for the environment and you do even less. Fuck you Tony.

    5. “Urban living is simply, objectively superior in every way.”

      In other words, your personal preferences are the ultimate litmus test for all that is right and good.

      Good to know.

      1. yeah it is amazing how much Tony sounds like my uber religious christian fundamentalist brother with his facebook rants on “gods objective truth”.

      2. In other words, your personal preferences are the ultimate litmus test for all that is right and good.

        That is exactly how politically correct people view the world.

    6. Hate having to drive 20 minutes to get anywhere remotely cool. Hate the big box stores and the parking lots.

      These two sentences explain so much about Tony’s world view.

      1. Google car solves both those “problems”.

        1. I think you mean “might solve”. The thing doesn’t exist yet.

    7. Well, let me guess. You make good money. And you have no kids. And live an work near a reliable form of public transit. Yet, somehow, we’re supposed to take your experience living under these highly specific circumstances to extrapolate that urban living is universally “objectively superior”. Schmuck.

    8. Wow, that comment was a “Stuff White People Like” post all on its own.

    9. Urban living is simply, objectively superior in every way.

      Yeah, sure it is.


    10. You enjoy urban living and it works for you. That’s nice. The rest of us are not you and enjoy different things.

    11. That’s funny – I’ve lived in suburbs (and currently live in a town that’s basically a suburb of a suburb) AND inside of a city center (Gaslamp District in San Diego).

      I can tell you that where I am has no traffic, no-one has ever broken into my house in 4 years, no big box stores, and its quiet (except on Saturday night – Mexicans love them some Saturday night parties).

      The Gaslamp on the other hand – full of bums (I had one guy trying to break into my apartment, he claimed he lived there – also that he was the president of the US), street-crime, can’t drive anywhere because its all one way, one lane streets, big-box mall (Horton Plaza) down the road from me, and nothing but chain restaurants and bars outside the mall.

      City living is great, but SUBurban not urban.

      But the funny thing is – despite the best efforts of people like you, there’s *both* available. You can live in your city center if you like and I can live in my suburb. We’re both happy. Well *I* am, I know it drives you crazy that people are not living by your code.

  7. I also love how they “push for the recreation of the old city model” like that’s “normal” or “historical” any more than “people eking out a living in small groups living in rural areas”.

    Yeah, there was Masada, and Athens, and Rome, and Medieval London before there was New York and San Francisco…and there was also “everywhere else that wasn’t a megalopolis with shit tons of people”.

    As noted upthread – it’s like some people prefer cities, while others prefer more-rural/less-dense living arrangements.

    But best we force fit everyone to what I like. Well, because “Fuck you”, that’s why!

    1. Yup. And the very people who railed against the old city model and pushed building of suburbs and new model communities were fucking leftists. And now they tell us the old city model is some kind of Platonic ideal.

      1. I think Houston has the platonic ideal.

        Zoning? What the fuck is zoning?

        1. Plato was a douche. Houston, for one thing, is too close to the sea. Plato didn’t want people looking at the sea and thinking of other places. His Republic described an Orwellian hellhole.

      2. I think they hated old cities because the icky, non-protestant immigrants had enclaves that had grown organically, rather than per the plans of the godly protestant brahmins.

        No matter how much the brahmins stamp society with their mark, they will always be unsatisfied; perfection is always one more transformation away.

  8. …perfection is always one more transformation oven away.


  9. I get claustrophobic after a while in a real high-density city. I’ll take the x-urbs, thanks. To each his own. I work with plenty of people who pay a premium to live in NYC or Hoboken.

    I find it creepy when socialists tell me how I ought to live in their version of a concentration camp.

    1. I find it creepy when anyone tells me how I ought to live.

    2. “…their version of a concentration camp.”

      I think you hit the nail on the head there.

    3. “version of a concentration camp.”

      In a sane world, this would end every conversation with a WIN.

  10. Well, here’s a bit of a story to give you a bit of a hint at how these lovely ideas of would-be planners work out. Philadelphia, of the pre-20th-century Eastern cities is actually one of the more sprawling and suburb-heavy. It didn’t just happen. It was the result of a long-standing rule that no building could be taller than the hat of the William Penn statue at the top of the City Hall. The intent, at least in part, was to preserve the city’s “communal feel”. This, in turn, drove up rents and property prices. This, in turn, drove businesses out to the suburbs.
    The point being, even if douches like Kunstler were well intentioned, they can’t predict the myriad of consequences of their little schemes. They can’t predict how their little scheme is going to create the new “problem” for the next little authoritarian to dream of lording over others to “fix”.

    1. It’s fractal authoritarianism.

      1. “It’s fractal authoritarianism”

        So full of fucking win.

    2. DC has the same issue: nothing can be taller then the Capitol. So it sprawls out into NoVA and Maryland.

      1. Dunno what the specific target it, but Paris suffers from the same idiocy.

        1. Actually I think the issue in Paris is that the soil is kind of lousy, plus the catacombs and old tunnels make it hard to put up tall buildings.

        2. Paris can’t build tall buildings because the entire city is on top of hollowed-out catacombs.

          1. Won’t fly.
            If that was true, there wouldn’t be a building in downtown SF taller than two stories. That may be the claimed justification, but it’s bullshit.
            Oh, and:
            “590ft controversial ‘Triangle’ tower to be built in Paris”

        3. I read that the height of Parisian buildings was determined so that the police/army could see all the action on the streets, and have clear sight lines for targeting and communicating. Might have been here.

          1. Yeah, Hausmanisation was explicitly to modernize Paris and kneecap protesters and revolutionaries. Wider streets are harder to barricade (suck it Frenchies if you still had any balls you’d find a way) and they build mini-armories for “civic defense” all over the place. The same aspects that make it a beautiful European capital make it ready-made for national guard occupation if there’s civil unrest. That and the demographic makeup is why civil unrest happens in the banlieues.

      2. Actually, building heights in DC are tied to the street width.


    3. In Boulder CO no new buildings can be more than two stories I believe. Maybe just one. Don’t want to obstruct the view of the mountains. Then they complain when suburbia spreads like mold.

      1. Hell if it weren’t for the incredibly stupid level of overrregulation by the FAA, I’d argue there’d be quite a few people flying light airplanes in to the city from far flung homesteads.

        1. John Denver comes to mind.

          1. What was the last thing that went through John Denver’s mind?

            1. His ass?

      2. Boulder, Colorado – 70 square miles of wishful thinking made into law, surrounded by reality.
        The great irony about Boulder’s height restrictions is that the University is exempt from them and throws up multi story buildings all over the place with “Gee, sorry, but we need this.”

    4. The intent wasn’t to preserve the city’s communal feel. That’s BS. It was merely tradition, unenforced by law. Philadelphia had plenty of skyscrapers, just not as big as other cities.

      This didn’t drive people into the burbs, either. That was the availability of cheap property in the suburbs and the postwar influx of Southern blacks who replaced the poor Irish in North Philly and poor Italians in South Philly.

      While we’re on history, Billy Penn himself was the original American urban planner. He designed Philly and also created a concentric ring of small suburban towns every five miles out.

      1. He owned the whole state so it was his decision.

  11. “Why New Urbanism Doesn’t Work”

    Easy! It’s centrally-planned by dick-heads who think they can tell me how to live.
    Next question, please.

    1. Actually, it mostly revolved around removing restrictions already in place – until politicians latched on it and turned it inside out.

      1. Yes, nothing wrong with New Urbanism in theory, so long as everything is voluntary.

        Many suburbs require minimum 1500 square feet homes and a maximum number of houses per acre – usually not higher than 4. Compare that to traditional densities in many towns of 10 or more houses per acre. The lower density and required larger house sizes drives up infrastructure costs and makes it much more difficult for a community to support small-scale local businesses. It also forces everyone to spend time maintaining lawns, drive everywhere, etc. Of course, the higher costs were really intended as a new way to keep neighborhoods segregated after new laws struck down the old ways of segregating neighborhoods. Now neighborhoods are segregated by income rather than race or ethnicity.

        There’s nothing particularly bad about suburbs (despite the author calling suburbia an enormity), but there’s nothing particularly good about them either. Same with higher density living. It is nice to have the options, though, and a lot of the new urbanism (at least initially) was concerned with getting rid of the zoning laws that had outlawed traditional neighborhoods.

  12. http://www.latimes.com/local/l…..5861.story


    1. I wish I could find out from National Grid how much juice coming to my area comes from Nine Mile Point and Niagara Falls. I like nuclear and hydropower. (most places haven’t got the water flow to drive viable hydro plants)

    2. If I were a neighboring state, I’d think seriously about not exporting any electricity to California. (Of course, all three states would have to do the same thing for it to have any effect.)

  13. Re: Tony,

    There is nothing virtuous or pleasant or aesthetically pleasing about suburbs.

    There is something virtuous about suburbs: people live in them.

    Where I live, there’s more crime in the suburbs than there is downtown to boot.

    That’s because you’re not living in the suburbs but in a slum. Somebody took you for a ride, Tony. If there is ONE place I woulod NEVER visit when the sun comes down, is precisely downtown.

    No one is ever going to break in to my apartment, since it’s 300 feet off the ground and protected by a gate and a doorman.

    Never say “never”. The “Can’t Happen Here” mentality will be your undoing.

    My mother’s house, in the middle of fucking nowhere, has been burglarized twice.

    Tell your mommy to get a husband. I heard those come in handy when women hear noises downstairs…

    1. Tell your mommy to get a husband ,gun. I heard those come in handy when women hear noises downstairs…


    2. If there is ONE place I woulod NEVER visit when the sun comes down, is precisely downtown.

      Depends on the city. Not every city has a dead downtown.

      1. True – Denver’s 16th Street Mall and Union Station area are teeming with action. Most of the threats of violence, of course, come from the cops, not muggers.

        1. Denver’s made a very concerted effort to get retired boomers and childless 20-somethings living downtown for decades, while creating a frat-house nightlife on the weekends that appeals to suburbanites to spend their money. And it’s all because Coors Field effectively gentrified the area and pushed most of the winos north past 21st.

          Most of the threats of violence, of course, come from the cops, not muggers.

          There was an issue a couple years ago where gangbangers were playing the “knockout game” with white victims, but there hasn’t been anything similar reported since then.

          1. Excellent point, but the gentrification of LODO started almost a decade before Coors Field was built. My wife worked as a nanny in the early nineties for a couple that bought a condo in a converted warehouse in LODO in the late 80’s. They were there before Coors Field, Pepsi Center or Mile High II were built. But I will definitely agree that north of Coors Field is not a place for the faint of heart after sundown.

            1. Excellent point, but the gentrification of LODO started almost a decade before Coors Field was built.

              I should have clarified that Coors was what served as the main catalyst, although not the originator. You’re correct that it started with the loft-living movement in the same area.

  14. Because of development rules in California it now takes 10 years to develop a sub division of anything larger than one home. Because of this most developments now require big money corporations because they are the only ones who can afford to sit on land that long before making a profit. because of this and road requirements etc a developer must get the biggest buck back by getting the most homes into the smallest area and making all homes cookie cutter to save cost. Our own regulations are what destroys suburbia. There is a development in my town of 14 lots only two have been built on in 15 years because they are required to build an economical rental next to their half million dollar home. Few want to build when the potential renter will be a scum bag and few want to be a landlord even if they could get a good renter anyway.

  15. The model for urban utopia has been mapped out already:

    Sorry, me no alt-text.

  16. Is it hilariously ironic to anyone else that progressives dismiss classically liberal economic ideals as a gateway to the living conditions of the industrial revolution, yet then procede to laude the idea of everyone living exactly the same way, in a cramped city above where they work in a studio apartment, because it just makes the most sense.

  17. While I agree with your points overall, I think your version of New Urbanism is worst strawman I’ve seen since the high school performed Wizard of Oz.

    Kunstler (who has gone off the peak oil deep end in recent years) aside, New Urbanists by and large don’t want us living in high rises, necessarily. What they want is pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use walkable communities of the sort that 20th century urban planners made impossible.

    They don’t want everyone to live in cities. Look at the New Urbanists communities like Celebration and Seaside, Florida or the Kentlands of Gaithersburg, Maryland. These aren’t cities –these are purpose-built suburban towns that wouldn’t have been out of place anywhere in the US before WWII.

    Yes, they disdain sprawl. Sprawl is made possible by the ridiculous (and anti-liberatarian, I might add) zoning laws that forbid building a business or shop next to a school or housing development. What you get are regulations that keep people from building within urban areas, forcing them go further and further into the suburbs to do so. The same sort of regulations that dictate that every store has X+1 zillion parking spots that they don’t need.

    1. +1

      Zoning laws are generally evil.

      Exception: Heavy industrial uses and things that might explode should be located away from places where people live.

      1. “Exception: Heavy industrial uses and things that might explode should be located away from places where people live.”

        Industry (un-zoned) usually wants cheaper land than residential, so the market covers that pretty well.

    2. I agree! It always seems to me that critics of New Urbanism don’t understand the concept. They just think it’s snobbery. Anyone who listens to James Howard Kuntsler’s podcast or reads his books knows that he is more likely to condemn the federal government’s complicity in suburban sprawl than celebrate it. And they know that he really really hates skyscrapers. And they know that he thinks New York and Chicago will be as unsustainable as suburban sprawl in the coming decades. Personally I think their message is a philosophically conservative one: don’t fix what wasn’t broken in the first place. Before ww2 we built towns for people. After, we built them for cars. And, given that we can’t afford to mainain the infrastructure required to service them in the future, we’ll have to do something different.

  18. Once upon a time when I was a young, single fella, I thought it was just peachy to live crammed into a 400 sq ft efficiency in a big city. I had escaped those oppressive suburbs at long last! It was a lifestyle that fit me at the time.

    Now that I’m not as young and have two children, I’m quite happy that I no longer have to tromp down four flights of stairs every time my dog takes a piss. I’m enjoy be able to have a catch with my son by simply walking out of my backdoor. I like laying in a hammock in the shade in my backyard on the weekends to read a book or take a snooze, or firing up the grill to make some steaks. I enjoy my fresh tomatoes and peppers from the garden. Since I can’t afford private schools, I’m glad that I can live in an excellent school district. Best of all, I love the fact that I live this way for much less money than if I stuffed my family into an apartment in the city where we could do none of those things. And fuck anyone who tells me that we’re wrong for doing so. Cities appeal to statists because it provides them with a greater degree of control, pure and simple.

    1. New urbanism doesn’t require everyone to live in small apartments. It just doesn’t demand a maximum of 2 or 4 houses per acre, when historically people often built 10 or 12 – and still had room for small gardens.

  19. just as Jason replied I can’t believe that a mother able to profit $4034 in a few weeks on the internet. did you read this link Go to site and open Home for details

  20. Progressives extoll the virtues of planting organic gardens and using solar energy while wagging their fingers at the inferior, “environmentally challenged” people who want to have homes, fruit trees and gardens of their own in the suburbs.

    But, of course, you can grow an organic “garden” in a pot on a balcony that’s shaded by another high rise. It’s pretty darned hard, though, getting energy from that solar panel you installed on the balcony’s ceiling. (How will renewable energy companies stay in business if there are no roofs to put the panels on? Maybe there should be a new government subsidy to design mini-wind turbines that you can suction cup to your bathroom window.)

    Since hardcore progressives think no one should have kids a highrise apartment with no backyard is all a person really needs, right? There is room for the politically correct gerbil though. If you get hungry enough you can tell that poorly paid maid you’ve illegally hired to make it into curry.

  21. You make good points about New Urbanism but what you missed addressing is the main detriment to suburbia, it’s required energy intensity. To function in this sprawled land form it requires a car which requires gasoline to burn. There is a finite amount of recoverable oil in this world and if we don’t transition into a land use pattern that requires less of this resource many more people will have much more of a challenge upholding this great standard of living that you have alluded to. The dynamics of real estate economics is generally that less wealthy folks have to head farther out into the suburbs to qualify for a mortgage or rather “drive to qualify”. Oil has stabilized relatively in the $3-4/gallon range but it there is a high probability that it will far outpace wage inflation in the future and those living on the outskirts will pay the price. Yes new urbanism has its downsides but developing densely near work centers and walkable communities benefits everyone. Yes the yuppies are the first to have benefited but with more supply of these communities comes lower prices

    1. You have excellent arguments. Two sides are always better than one.

      Your point that poorer people have to live farther out to be able to afford housing is definitely true in many and perhaps even in most cases. My husband had to drive an hour to get to work until we had the money to build closer to the city center. It’s now a 25 minute drive each way (longer in rush hour) which is a lesser burden. I cringe when I read about people, mostly Californians, who have to commute 2 or 3 hours each way in order to buy homes.

      It would be an enormous challenge to build affordable, comfortable housing in city centers without ending up with the crime ridden housing projects that blight many cities now or to become “Horrid Chinese City Apartment Living.2” either.

      I’m not too sure about the “peak oil” argument. More and more sources of fossil fuels are being discovered. Natural gas has been a major factor in reducing “green house gases.” (On a side note–many “climate change” assumptions are being accurately refuted recently by well-educated scientists in regards to the effects of CO2). Cars will use less fuel in the future significantly reducing demand which will lower gas prices.

      I think the “witty” sarcasm of my original post is something to be a bit embarrassed about. It’s always a temptation to try to “out-nasty” each other.

  22. When I wanted to build on some very rural property that has been in my family for 50+ years I went to the planning department and rec’d a 1″ thick stack of forms. The Schedule of Fees listed $30,000+ a % “low income housing assessment.” Housing is so expensive that I am supposed to pay more to “mitigate” the expensive housing. Only nut jobs in league with the government could think this one up.

    The part of the discussion that everyone is missing is that people are trying to flee the horrible schools the unions in league with the progressives have created.

  23. I don’t understand how anyone could look at the skyrises versus the suburban areas and think that the suburban area isn’t more peaceful looking than the hectic skyrise. They are both decent things to look at, but the real question is where would someone want to live. People live in cities often out of necessity, but if people had a choice – and the ability to do so, they would often live in the suburbs.

  24. The rantings of one author, and your interpretation of his work, completely distort the vision behind this planning philosophy. Ironically, your description sounds more like the le corbu city model. The concept is more about choice. The market typically offers the average American one affordable choice: a single family house in the burbs. We are then taxed, and yes it is a tax, to own a car to get to work, school, groceries, etc. New urbanists advocate for the choice to live in a land use pattern that does not require each member of your family to have a car to get your daily needs. It doesn’t have to be a high rise. It doesn’t have to be accessed by transit. It should be a compact enough neighborhood for you to access a place on foot. And your zoning code should allow for this development choice. We know people will still want the burbs and there is nothing wrong with that. But please amend your zoning code to give us more choices.

  25. And by the way…. What you call “the latest trend” is over 30 years old.

  26. Great New Urbanism video: “built to last” http://youtu.be/VGJt_YXIoJI

    Also, a conservative view on New Urbanism: http://www.strongtowns.org

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.