The City versus Surburbs debate has been going as long as there’s been both – and suburbs emerged along with the first cities.
There’s an interesting discussion on this theme happening (almost) locally.
It begins with a review in Seattle’s Stranger by Matthew Stadler. He critiques and comments on two books: Sprawl by Robert Bruegmann, and Cities Without Cities by Thomas Sieverts.
Start by reading Matthew’s article – Losing You Might be the Best Thing Yet: What has become of cities. Here’s a quote:
… the virtues we’ve long called urban (including, increasingly, density) now reside [in the ‘in-between’ suburbs], having fled the center long ago.
The pattern is even more pronounced in Vancouver, BC, San Francisco, and Los Angeles—larger, denser cities where the margins have become home to a globally mobile population whose patterns of settlement contradict our deepest myths about the city. No more the crowded, polyglot center surrounded by white-bread suburbs: Now the world spreads out across a patchwork landscape.
Then check out Clark Derry-Williams response – City Slickers – in the Sightline Institute’s Daily Score blog. Here’s Clark:
Stadler lays out his thesis quite nicely here. He’s a skilled and smooth writer, and while it would be easy to caricature his perspective as reflexively anti-city (or, really, anti-urban elite), that’s a mistake.
He’s making a more subtle point: the old idea that “city” and “suburb” are separate and distinct entities — either physically or culturally — no longer holds water. He finds common intellectual ground with a German architect and planner, Thomas Sieverts (more here), who rejects the urban-suburban-exurban distinction in favor of the notion of the “in-between city,” a single entity that encompasses the entire built environment in all its permutations.
Ok, that’s fine — as far as it goes. Obviously, the political boundaries separating “city” from “suburb” are arbitrary, and perhaps not all that helpful in understanding an ever-changing metropolis.
But the unsettling thing about Stadler’s writing is that — as far as I can tell — some of his facts are simply wrong.
Stadler and others respond. It’s good stuff for urban policy wonks.
Maybe we should get both of ’em up here for a little more debate.