The Continuing Problem Of Suburban Sprawl: How Architecture Creates Usability And Civic Sanity

Suburbia is where they cut down all the trees, and name the roads after them.

From the 1940’s until current times, there has been a steady increase in the unhappiness and uneasiness of urban developers. They have begun to realize the problems that were created in the past by their parents, and have gone unnoticed until recent times. There is also a larger concern for the future, and how to correct the mistakes so brazenly made.

Current Environment
Current development outside of cities follows seemingly a single rule, which is to spread out. It’s been designed such that everything is disconnected and unassociated with everything else. Whole blocks devoted to single stores, malls that have failed with their dilapidated carcasses remaining behind as a reminder of things to come.

These habitats, for no better word, do nothing beneficial for our society, but rather create feeling of anxiety and depression. These feelings, and how we develop our surroundings have created immense conflicts, which are not easy to first notice. But once you take a closer look you begin to wonder what exactly spurred everything on.

What It Shouldn’t Be
Our schools look more like prisons than they do learning environments. Many Government buildings appear as though they’re constructed by despots with the sole purpose of instilling fear and compliance in their subjects. Meanwhile, our homes are hardly distinguishable from all the others even though they are set apart, as though they are unique. Why are these built as such? It can hardly be blamed on individuals as if that was the case, there would only be individual problems. But there isn’t.

It’s well known that good architecture can create serenity, beauty, comfort, and functionality. So it should be known as well that the opposite holds true for poor design. When you see an area that has been developed and is barren of people, it’s probably also barren of the things mentioned that makes an area worthwhile. Places for human use should be meaningful, have character, and are driven by quality ideas. What we appear to have today in America, are the remnants of an era highlighted by grand and continuous misallocation of resources. We have literally created more space that is worthless and not worth caring over, than space that is actually meaningful.

Civic design should consist of a culmination of knowledge, skills, and specific trades that can create areas that are practical, useful, enjoyed, and wanted. After World War 2, architects stopped thinking in that fashion. We no longer have market places, bazars, or plazas for businesses, or generally any large gathering areas. Rather we have unconnected and separated business in downtown areas, where a handful of business takes up all the space on one side of a street in a single block. Mostly single storied buildings, forcing smaller business even further away from “shopping centers”, even though that term can only be loosely associated with American architecture.

They’re more like shopping strips for individual areas, and as a whole, shopping wards, if anything else. Huge areas of land used to separate only a few businesses from one another. How often can you go out to an area where you know there will be many people gathered, and they are all there because they simply like the area? The answer to that is probably very few areas, as can be well assumed.

What It Should Be
What needs to happen is we have to stop creating places that people simply don’t care about. Stop creating inefficient roads and walkways. Paths with trees placed randomly for the purpose to instill nature where we first destroyed it. Unused parks scattered everywhere, immense parking lots that have gone unused, essentially a country with “dead space” as far as the eye can see.

We need to create places worthy of our enjoyment and presence. Permeable areas where traffic flows naturally and doesn’t have to be guided there by man, but rather, people are drawn there by the pleasure they receive from it. Pedestrian walkways and plazas, where small businesses can flourishworking with one another. Where competition is less feared than the potential pleasure derived from providing a service or product to people who want it. There are places in the country that have achieved this, but they are few and far between.

When you degrade the public realm, and when architecture is developed in such a poor fashion, you literally decrease the quality of life and everything that takes place there. We need to focus more on the manifestation of the common good in public design, because as far as business and civic happiness is concerned, they are interconnected.

The Greatest Problem Of Our Future
The biggest issue to be seen here has yet to occur. There is going to be a great shift in how we live in this country as the cost of energy increases. This means that over time, we cannot rely on things from afar as easily. Commutes to work, food from afar, entertainment, everything is going to have to be done and found more locally. Which requires less senseless development, which only separates us further. The problems created from inefficiencies in the future will only be compounded more when those mistakes have worse consequences.

Proper design for a downtown should entail multiple leveled buildings. These buildings should have shops on the bottom that will comprise the shopping areas for food, entertainment, clothing, etc. Meanwhile above the shops should be houses and perhaps other businesses such as office spaces. In this fashion everything is connected and ergonomic for civic use. You wouldn’t have to travel great distances to go to work, shop, go home, visit a friend, etc. The best part is that resources are saved in the process which makes everything cheaper overall, which also means it can then be designed in a better fashion since so much is saved on construction.

In this fashion, we can start to create environments in the future which will be cheaper to build, maintain, and will actually have meaning to the people using them. They can be visually appealing, physically useful, and emotionally satisfying. The time of waste has passed, and though it was good, long and gluttonous run, it’s time to pay the piper. Thankfully, the children of the baby boomers, and their children as well, have the foresight to see the problems created in the past, and are intelligent enough to make corrections in the future. All we have to do, is allow to happen, and all will be well.

The author of this article is Damien S. Wilhelmi. If you enjoyed this piece you can follow me on twitter @AvantGuard. I am writing on behalf of, where you can view and purchase the best Modern House Plan online.