Thursday, April 6, 2017

Soul Crushing Suburbia

"Why even driving through suburbia is soul crushing." That's the provocative headline on an insightful article in Quartz by Alex Balashov. Personally, I think the headline ("soul crushing") is over-stated, but almost all twelve points Balashov makes are dead-on. I want to focus on just a couple, because they spotlight problems being repeated as you read this right here in Richardson, in CityLine.

Steve Brown, real estate editor for The Dallas Morning News, covered the development recently in an article titled, "Richardson's CityLine project gets its first single-family home community." Brown repeats the claim that CityLine is a 186-acre "mixed-use development." But is it?
American zoning law (in all but its oldest cities) forecloses on the possibility of mixed-use development. This means traditional design patterns like shops and offices on the first floor with apartments above are impossible. Residences are constructed in special areas zoned for residential construction, while shopping and work take place in altogether different areas zoned for commercial development.
Source: Quartz.
CityLine might have been rezoned to support the possibility of mixed-use, CityLine might even be billed as mixed-use, but that's not what is being built. Very little of it actually fits the bill. Almost all of the buildings in CityLine are strictly single use. The new "single-family home community" may be near a commercial center, but it is still all single use itself.

It also suffers from another of Balashov's critiques of suburban design.
When we lived in an apartment complex in the Perimeter Mall area in Dunwoody, the nearby Walmart shopping strip was within spitting distance. I could almost see the store entrance from my bedroom window. But, perversely, that doesn't mean I could walk to the store, as a normal person from virtually anywhere else on the planet might conclude from that statement. In its fanatical quest to eviscerate the pedestrian realm and make cars exclusive first-class objects, suburbia manages to make far even that which is conceptually close. Building ordinances generally require some sort of 'divider' between these adjacent land parcels, like a ditch, a chain-link fence, or a concrete wall or noise barrier. In our case, that means I had to walk out of the apartment complex, go around the divider, and then cross several hundred feet of parking lot to go to the store.
Source: Quartz.
Go to CityLine. Go to Piada's, or Jimmy John's, or Pho is for Lovers, or SuperChix. All are within a stone's throw of that new community going up. How much walking will there be? Wait until they're done with construction of the new homes. There will be a wall separating the new community from those restaurants. I'm sure of it. If you want to walk to eat, you'll have to go out of the entrance of your house facing away from the restaurants, then walk in a direction away from the restaurants, then circle around to the shopping center entrance, and finally walk across a large parking lot to get to the restaurants. This isn't the old-style "soul crushing" suburbia from the '80s or '90s that you might think Balashov is referring to. This is the supposedly walkable, supposedly mixed-use development under construction today in the most highly touted development in Richardson in a generation, maybe ever. The foundations aren't even poured yet but the future soul-crushing is already visible.

OK, lest you think it's all negative, let me point out one of Balashov's twelve criticisms of suburbia that Richardson is *not* guilty of.
It took me some time to consciously realize it, but one of the biggest differences that makes traditional neighborhoods more appealing is that parking typically happens behind the house, reached through an alley. One is not likely to see an alley approved in suburban construction; that's where robbery happens, right?
Source: Quartz.
Yay alleys. Yay Richardson.

No comments: