New Suburbanism: Reshaping the Way City Planners Think About the Burbs

An American Suburban BlockPhoto: Joseph Dunsay

For decades, urban planners have insisted that their plans be urban. A growing movement among regional planners is challenging this assumption. New suburbanism embraces suburbia as a legitimate alternative to the urban core. This philosophy takes a more bottom-up approach to regional planning. It recommends modifications to improve suburbs rather than trying to replace suburban life with urban life.

Like landscapers looking at desired paths for guidance, advocates of new suburbanism respect the choices of households that live in the suburbs. During the latter half of the 20th century, 90% of growth in American metropolitan areas occurred in the suburbs. Many cities of the American South and West sprung up after car ownership became common. They resemble coreless suburbs more than traditional metropolises. New suburbanism assumes that such a popular lifestyle must have some benefits. New suburbanists try to preserve those benefits while mitigating the disadvantages of suburban life.

An American Low Rise Apartment BuildingPhoto: Joseph Dunsay

Many past perceptions of America’s suburbs do not reflect modern realities. As suburbia matured, it became denser. Phoenix, Arizona has a higher density than Philadelphia, Pennsylvania does, even though the latter city was settled in colonial times. Today’s American suburbanites are engaged with their communities, and those communities are ethnically diverse. Suburbs are becoming more independent from nearby cities.

New suburbanists try to compensate for the lost connection to central cities by creating new local centers in the suburbs. These centers can be revitalized Main Streets or completely new creations. Planners try to harmonize human development with nature, especially in the outer suburbs. Bike paths and pedestrian trails complement roadways in newer developments.

An American Suburban DowntownPhoto: Joseph Dunsay

New suburbanism celebrates suburbia. Some urban planners even suggest making depopulated cities more suburban. Many American families like suburbs. They are efficient, social and rich in culture. What’s more, downtowns and green amenities are making suburbs even better. New suburbanism brings forth the hidden potential of suburbia.