Suburban sprawl was a dreadful mistake–and not one brought on by “consumer choice,” but rather by a specific set of government policies.
Let’s hope sprawl’s forward march can now be stopped–the bursting of the housing bubble no doubt helped with that. But existing sprawl isn’t going away. It’s our built environment–a brute fact that won’t be wished away by my desire to see walkable, bikeable, flourishing neighborhoods everywhere.
The question becomes, what to do with this existing, admittedly awful infrastructure? Here’s one answer, from Good Magazine:
In cities, agriculture might be able to take the place of vacant lots. And in suburbia? Well, in 2008, the New Urbanism evangelist Andrés Duany, of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company (DPZ), architects and town planners, proclaimed that “agriculture is the new golf,” a prescient and deliberately provocative claim that is helping frame the conversation about suburbia’s future. “Only 17 percent of people living in golf-course communities play golf more than once a year. Why not grow food?”
Admittedly, the article deals mainly with new development: planning housing communities around farms. Here’s an example:
[In Solano, Calif. , architect Brendan] Kelly and his colleague Amie MacPhee created a plan for a clustered rural community that marries innovation with deeply rooted farming patterns. The big idea here is that they’ve retrofitted not buildings but the typical pattern of development: The existing agricultural land is clustered into a 1,400-acre plot, while the rest of the community is preserved open lands, habitat preservation, and a village of 400 homes at the center. A land conservancy, partially funded by a percentage of home sales, would provide a mechanism with which to manage and monitor the land. As MacPhee explains, “Agriculture is an amenity. You can’t just wish for it, you have to support it.”
The article is actually pessimistic about retrofitting existing suburbs. I’m more sanguine. Projects like Durham’s Bountiful Backyards are expert at turning home lawns into dramatically productive gardens. And that is one possible vision for the future of suburbia.