Lack of Pedestrian Accessibility
It’s not uncommon in suburbia to live very close to a nearby strip mall. I live near a Lowe’s shopping strip within spitting distance. I can see the store entrance from my bedroom window.
But, that doesn’t mean I could walk to the store, as a normal person from virtually anywhere else on the planet can agree from my statement. In its fanatical mission to deprive the pedestrian realm and make cars exclusive first-class objects, suburbia manages to make it even harder. Local building ordinances generally require some sort of “divider” between these nearby land quantities, like a ditch, a chain-link fence, or a concrete wall or noise barrier. In my case, that means I have to jaywalk across the street from my house, go around the chain-link fence, and then cross several hundred feet of parking lot to go to the store. And you wonder why everyone else would rather drive the distance.
Wasted Space and Low Density
Many people that I talk with seem to like living in Mississauga, as oppose to living in Toronto, because it doesn’t “feel” like being in a big city. Also, all that wonderful space you can have! This preference isn’t uncommon. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, many people were overwhelmed by over population, poor living conditions and pollution that came from industrialization. This cause for them to create an antidote to the city. And this had created the cabin in the woods idea; Let’s drag the country to the city! Let’s own homes far away from everything with large amounts of land, even though we have no agricultural or cultural purpose do make with it! Unsurprisingly, that idea became moot. By the beginning of the 20th century, Majority of cities around the western world combated the negatives of industrialization with renter/owner’s rights, separating factories from the public, and accommodation ordinances.
Yet, here we are a century later. Suburbanites seem to can’t get over their love of space. But even if you like lots of space, you’d have to agree that the quality depends on what kind of space it is. Modern suburban developments are required to put useless frontages, pointless green space between compatible land uses, as well as chain-link fences, concrete barriers, and drainage pits. Space is still inhabited by humans, and has to be articulated to match their specific uses for it. A lot of open space in suburbia lacks that articulation. The ridiculous large width requirements for inner residential streets are a whole other story. Small, low-density streets don’t need to be so wide that one almost can’t see his opposite neighbor’s house because of the intervening curvature of the Earth, especially given that street parking is generally absent in these places. Because everyone needs their very own (expensively and unnecessarily) paved driveway. Just simply parking on the street, or behind the house like in traditional neighborhoods, isn’t satisfactory enough. Sometimes I get the impression that modern suburban homes’ primary function is really to provide parking for one’s car.
What’s more pleasant to be in. This?
(Image Source: jaybyelrod)
(Image Source: Reimagine An Urban Paradise)
In pre-WWII neighborhoods, many types of buildings of varying sizes coexist together. As a result, it makes it possible for poor, middle class and rich people to live side by side in one neighborhood, with the exception that the rich people’s houses or apartments are slightly bigger. Suburban ordinances aggressively disallow this, since it’s the fastest way to tank property values within the logic of the suburban system. That’s why every new subdivision only has a small variation similar house types, and the residents are all in a similar income bracket.
Whether or not suburbia ignites the need to be the top dog among your neighbors, it does very much seem to be interconnected with it. Especially considering that new suburban subdivisions have occupants with the same income. You already have unnecessarily large castle-wannabe house that goes beyond its primary functions. So does the rest of your neighborhood. Why not jazz things up? Throw in a customary interlock. Plant some huge funky bushes and trees. Install huge porch LED lights in every nook and cranny, so bright it’ll blind your neighbors! Don’t like your boring “885” on your house? Why not change that into Eight Hundred and Eight-five, along with your street name? Just cause, right? Let’s see your neighbors do something as schizophrenic and eclectic (which they will).
This is all fine and dandy if you’re rich enough to spend your money so frivolously, or if you’re retired. But to the average middle class household, not only you’re hurting yourself with excessive narcissism, you’re killing your poor wallet. Just for a bunch of people in your area that you may or may not talk to.
Social Homogeneity and Anti-Social Behavior
One of the things that makes interesting places interesting is variety. However, with suburban residential neighborhoods you’re being subjected to homogeneity. Economically and socially.
Every major city in the world has a nearby suburb next to it, and people live in those suburbs for whatever reason. No problem. But for some reason in North America and in Australia, life in suburban subdivisions are very sterile. Same houses, same income bracket, same lifestyle, same mindset. Every aspect seems to be the same. There might be a couple of neighbors that maybe a bit different. They don’t feel directly ostracized, but they know that the rest of their neighborhood think they just “stick out”. You know these type of neighbors? They don’t wish to participate in any gossip in their block, or just not as passionate spying on their next-door neighbor? Yes, those people.
When the public realm is so depressing and demoralizing, it’s understandable that nobody would want to take part of it. It’s inevitable to the fact that we don’t value our public realm in North America, and by no surprise, we’ve not established a public realm that’s worth valuing. Instead, we’ve retreated into our inner-world. All escapists, ranging from readers of fantasy literature to video game players to drug addicts. Sometimes I wonder why people question when they watch the news about something macabre that has happened in their cul-de-sac, instead of somewhere in the city. After years of witnessing all the stories on the news, it doesn’t surprise me. The psychological problems in suburbia backs it up.
Lack of Public Transportation and Walkability