The End of Suburbia

I just watched a rather thought-provoking show on TVO, entitled The End of Suburbia, about how the North American way of life began to change early in the 20th century and the changes that may be coming our way in the future.
You can view it at Top Documentary Films (they wanted to install a plug-in on my computer) or at Veoh (that site insists you install their Veoh Player to view their videos).

You also have the option of reading a review/summary at Earthwatch — Does the End of Oil Mean the End of Suburbia?

From the text article:

“Suburbia is the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world,” according to Kunstler. That misallocation began in the 1920s when cars for the middle class became a reality. With the cars came all the trappings of personal movement and the Victorian villa in a park-like setting became a reality not just for the wealthy.

Originally streetcars and light rail were paid for by the developers of suburbs. But General Motors, Firestone, and Standard Oil got together to kill light rail, which was at first replaced with roads and buses — made by GM, with Firestone tires, and fueled(sic) by Standard Oil.

So what will happen to suburbia? Kunstler predicts they will become the slums of the future. We may see more than one family living in one dwelling. People left behind may rip up their sod and start planting crops to feed themselves.

But on a more hopeful front what is possible is — if there is enough money, public will, and social ingenuity — that those of the New Urbanist movement will take over. Those corners near the suburban developments currently consisting of gas stations and strip malls could be redeveloped into multi-use centres. Those centres could become more densely built with things like small, three-storey walk-up apartments. The end of cheap oil will spell the end of big box shopping so local people will have to re-learn retail.

You can see this happening already in older suburbs. I’m in a suburb that was built just after WWII and there is now work going on to add more density, different types of housing, and make the nearby services more accessible to walkers. We’re already well connected by bus. These kinds of changes make a huge difference to quality of life.

A lot of the newer suburbs would be harder to integrate this way though - there is no real commercial area, bad bus connections, little public space. Plus the houses can be absolutely huge, way more than the small families you see now need.

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