Back to the Future: New Suburbanism

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Reimagining suburbs in the 21st century draws on the best of the past   The communities that started the trend of 20th-century suburbanism shared a number of common traits. Many of them were focused on rail or trolley lines. Most had some retail uses in close proximity – corner stores or small retail blocks. They connected to nature through tree-lined curvilinear streets and small neighborhood parks and open spaces. Montgomery County’s earliest suburbs – Chevy Chase, Kensington and Takoma Park — all exhibit these features. As suburbs grew and the areas between the rail and trolley lines filled in with auto-centric swaths of single-family homes, some of the essential traits of the older, original suburbs were lost. Now, in the… Read more »

Where (and Who) Do You Live?

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It’s not news that the suburbs are changing. Mom works, Dad may be at home, and kids, when they’re not strapped into their car seats, are scheduled  to the max. But there are other changes as well, as documented in this Washington Post interactive map tracking racial changes in the ‘burbs. The map allows you to see the mix of people in the region as well as in various census tracts. It also shows change since 1990, and not surprisingly, some places change very little. The quick pattern I see is that most tracts are less exclusively white than they used to be, but overall patterns in the region are the same. As the Post points out, it’s still rare… Read more »

A Scientific Look at Cities

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Scientific American’s special issue on cities covers nearly every urban topic you can think of, from the not so lost aromas of New York’s Fulton Fish Market to the history of the toilet and its influence on the growth of cities. From China to Saudi Arabia, from street markets to solar energy, the issue examines technological and social aspects of urban settlements. Closer to home, one article asks “Can Suburbs be Designed to Do Away with the Car,” using King Farm in Rockville as an example of the challenges inmaking suburbs and suburbanites transit-friendly. There are plenty of reader comments with the usual claims of elitism and happiness; see where your ideas fall.

Edible Estates

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We have a Greek cousin who tried to explain our front lawn to his friends. “Do they park their cars there,” they asked?  “Do they grow food, do they sit there?”  “No, it’s just grass,” he said. “They don’t do anything with it.” And when our Greek uncle built a little villitsa by the seashore, in true lord of the manor style, he fronted it with a lawn. But he couldn’t let the rectangular grass strip alone and planted shrubs right down the middle, a somewhat confused aesthetic.  In Edible Estates: An Attack on the Front Lawn , Fritz Haeg unpacks the front lawn—why are we mowing instead of growing? In various essays, landscapers, designers, and gardeners point out that… Read more »