A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE: Reshaping the American Suburb by Philip Langdon

A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE: Reshaping the American Suburb

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A would-be Jane Jacobs of the suburbs offers some savvy analysis and worthy advice. ""The suburbs we build are fostering an unhealthy way of life,"" declares Langdon (Urban Excellence, not reviewed), as he expands on his Atlantic Monthly articles on the topic, citing examples from around the country as well as his home community in New Haven, Conn. Thus he critiques the distortions our culture wreaks on houses and neighborhoods and observes that such fragmented communities can't teach kids street smarts. He suggests good streets make connections between people and local institutions. Noting that outdoor life has shifted from social front porches to private backyards, he suggests that zoning changes and limits on mortgage deductibility could hamper the spread of overlarge houses; and he recommends that building-trade publications acquire a more critical ethos. He closely describes the Florida Gulf Coast suburb of Seaside, showing how ""neotraditionalist"" architects Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk have created a more connected community. A success story in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area shows how city and suburb have reduced competition by tax sharing, and Kirkland, Wash., is an example of suburban renewal, having rebuilt its downtown with offices, housing, and discreet parking. Observing that robust neighborhood life in the past was the product of scarce resources, Langdon tempers his prescriptions with the caution that current surplus wealth fosters waste, but he suggests that a heightened environmental consciousness could presage reform in community design. Langdon's narrative voice sometimes could be smoother as he cobbles together previous writings with new material, but this is a vital contribution to a too-often neglected issue.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1994
Page count: 296pp
Publisher: Univ. of Massachusetts Press