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Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  2,277 ratings  ·  177 reviews
A manifesto by America's most controversial and celebrated town planners, proposing an alternative model for community design.

There is a growing movement in North America to put an end to suburban sprawl and to replace the automobile-based settlement patterns of the past fifty years with a return to more traditional planning principles. This movement stems not only from th
Paperback, 320 pages
Published April 16th 2001 by North Point Press (first published 2000)
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Stephen Haller Suburban Nation is a book for the layman. The book made me look at the immediate world around me in a new and refreshing way. It may surprise you it m…moreSuburban Nation is a book for the layman. The book made me look at the immediate world around me in a new and refreshing way. It may surprise you it may not but I do think anyone who lives in the suburbs should read this book to know how they are leaving and why. Plus Suburban Nation is one of the few books that I have ever read where it just does not point out problems but has lengthy solutions too and they are very reasonable solutions. That is why I love this book. (less)

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Aug 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
This was a great read for me. I learned a lot about why I prefer old-style neighboroods to the suburban sprawl. The authors put words on the unconscious thoughts that I usually have as a I walk around the city.

The book is easy to read and funny at times. Emphasizing how sprawl kills our sense of community and how good town planning can create that sense of community and give its citizens a place to care about.

Here is a random list of things that will improve the sense of place. The book covers e
This is interesting as a snapshot of New Urbanism at the tail end of the twentieth century, but parts have not aged well. I enjoyed the first half, which diagnosed the problems of sprawl, more than the last half, which offers solutions that often come across as more dogmatic than evidence-supported. The authors are clearly very proud of their planned communities, which they refer to frequently as case studies, but seventeen years after publication it's less clear that those artificial neighborho ...more
Dec 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
Clear with good examples (And a very visually pleasing format) BUT the book can be condensed to:

1. Learn lessons from the past.
2. Think beyond self-interest.
3. Believe it can be better.
4. Make it better.

Then again, the American Dream destroys Americans' dreams.
Isaac Thomas
Sep 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book changed my life. I always new everything I learned in this book, but had never been able to put my finger on it. In short, the way we've designed our suburbs since the end of WWII has ruined our country. Experts have been trying to ring the alarm bells since the 1980's, yet we are still under the mind control that a life in the suburbs is the perfect American experience.

In summary, modern day suburbs:
-Make people and cities poorer
-Isolate us from our neighbors
-Cause mistrust of our ne
William Cline
Oct 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Required reading for your local town authorities, or for anyone who wants help understanding why traditional neighborhoods work better than post-war sprawl. Pondering sending one or more copies to the planning department in my home town.
Mar 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes the ideas Duany and his colleagues discuss here seem ridiculously simple, and one might wonder why they keep repeating the same few simple ideas over and over again. Well, they keep repeating them because people keep resisting them, against all the evidence, against all common sense, against their own lived experience. We just keep doing the same things that have gotten us and our communities (or our suburban sad replacements for communities) into such a mess. Some say that insanity is ...more
Rebecca T Marsh
Mar 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is an absolute must-read for every American. There is a connection between the built environment and quality of living, public health, economic prosperity and entrepreneurialship. The changes in our building patterns since WW2 have been destructive, unhealthy, and nonfunctional. We can't afford low-density growth in the long run because it costs too much in public infrastructure and makes it nearly impossible for the local economy to survive (i.e.:small-business owners and shops). The book ...more
Nov 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Give me real, walkable neighborhoods, give me mixed zoning, give me my small house on my small parcel of land and I'm happy. My midsize city has a ways to go before it's truly the anti-sprawl utopia I dream of, but this book left me full of hope of what could be, and made me really understand just why I'd always been so. damn. miserable. in the 'burbs. ...more
Aug 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A quick and easy read that is also thorough and detailed down to the granular level. This book should be a Bible for anyone interested in equitable housing, smart growth, and growing communities through good governance.
Evelyn Chen
Apr 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I found the first part of this book incredibly fascinating, as it outlines exactly what about sprawl I have found so disconcerting all my life, and who bears the brunt of the negative consequences of sprawl (children, the elderly, anyone without access to a car). As someone who grew up all her life in a suburb (and quite disliked it), it put into words exactly what I find so unbearable about sprawl—the lack of independence, lack of community, and waste generated in daily suburban life. Thinking ...more
Wes Cobb
Jun 24, 2019 rated it liked it
A fine, if dated, survey of the principles of New Urbansim, particularly as it applies to town planning at the municipal or even regional level. Because of this by-planners-for-planners focus, the book at times feels a little dry and less "tactical" than some of the more recent additions to the corpus of New Urbanism literature. And like other reviewers, I'm less certain than the authors that New Urban neighborhoods, plopped in the middle of (or outside of) sprawl, will succeed long term. ...more
Timothy Riley
Mar 30, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: urban-planning
An eye-opener-I came upon this while browsing at the library only to find my sister has already read and reviewed it. She beats me to everything. The first half of this book is a five star the second half gets mired in more technical aspects of planning and is more of a two star. I am hopeful that the author is right when he concludes that Americans are searching for the communities that they've dismembered since the 1950's and look for small town atmospheres. There is still a visible march to s ...more
Matthew Hall
Oct 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: housing, policy, urbanism, 2019
It's easy to see why this book gets name-checked by other works around (new) urbanism. Clear, approachable, and it even manages to be waggishly funny.

If you live in a suburb and have questions about how it came to be, the forms it takes, and the reasons they shouldn't be designed that way, this is a great read.

If I have any qualms it's that 1) given that it was written in 2003, the writers are blissfully unaware of the economic shitstorm coming their way, they're perhaps a bit too rosy-eyed abo
Jul 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014-read

I knew about New Urbanism and its principals before reading this book, and having read some other books on the suburbs and urban design, this wasn't terribly surprising, BUT wonderfully and simply presented here. If you grew up in a suburb that you hated because it was boring, without a place to walk to at night to buy a soda, or you visited cities with amazing vibrant downtown areas and thought - I wish my town could be like this, read this book. There's a quote at the beginning describing the
Jun 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a great book, especially if you agree with its primary thesis about the evils of sprawl (which I do). It must be noted, however, that its snarky tone, (no doubt amusing to the converted) could alienate those who come from a different perspective. Since I am already persuaded, I particularly liked chapter 7, the Victims of Sprawl, which outlined how suburbia causes a lack of autonomoy in teenagers--along with boredom and depression. "Children [in the suburbs] are frozen in a form of infan ...more
Erin Caldwell
Feb 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
This book clearly describes why urban sprawl is so detrimental to society; the many causes of urban sprawl; and how to avoid it in the future. The only weakness was that it was a bit lengthy, and even I lost my gusto for anti-sprawl rhetoric by Chapter 11. I do recommend it to anyone who finds himself trying to explain why subdivisions are so detrimental but can only respond with "Because they suck!!!" ...more
Steven Yenzer
Jan 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Fantastic! I started this book not realizing that I had grown up in one of the communities planned by the authors and lived just down the street from another one. It was a pleasure to discover that the elements I appreciated in both of these neighborhoods were part of a deliberate design and in fact, a whole philosophy around urban planning.
Feb 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A coherent and well-sourced argument for ridding America of parking lots. If you've ever stopped to think about why you can't buy a loaf of bread without putting a key in the ignition, this will be an enjoyable read for you. ...more
Daniel de WOLFF
Aug 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Cool book about urban planning - or the lack of it - and its effect.
The book doesn´t stop there, it offers strategies and ideas on how to repair the urban landscape and make cities livable again.
Feb 17, 2010 rated it liked it
It's necessary but I don't have to love it, right? ...more
Jan 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Like many state departments of transportation, Virginia's discourages its state roads from being lined with trees, which are considered dangerous. In face, they are not called trees at all but FHOs: Fixed and Hazardous Objects.
p 16

In suburbia, there is only one available lifestyle: to own a car and to need it for everything.
p 25

Placing excessive curves and cul-de-sacs on flat land makes about as much sense as driving off-road vehicles around the city.
p 34

Streets that once served vehicles and peo
David Shelton
Oct 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a very good book that highlights the significant negative impacts of sprawl in a concise, easy to understand way. The specific observation I found most memorable is how sprawl promotes the private realm of individual residences at the expense of the public realm allowed by the traditional neighborhood. My only complaint is that they overstate their case in terms of public preference. To my reading, they believe that if citizens could just understand the benefits of traditional neighborho ...more
Charles Denison IV
Aug 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
this is obviously a foundational next for the entirety of modern urbanism, and its virtues are well covered. unfortunately it's also a foundational text for some urbanists' denial of the legacy of racism and the racial and class violence inherent in gentrification. redlining as racial animus is briefly mentioned but largely elided; the authors blithely state that gentrification can be minimized but provide no statistics or specific examples to back up their statement. this is in direct contrast ...more
Compare a modern American city to its European counterparts, or even an older American city, and the contrast is striking: American cities seem to have fallen apart, spewing their innards cross the landscape. Indeed, America has taken a radically abnormal approach to urbanism in the last fifty years, building out instead of up. Even while the city centers have been left to fall apart, ‘greater metropolitan areas’ – the mats of low-density sprawl surrounding those decaying centers – have grown. W ...more
Aug 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book dissects the plague of suburban sprawling. It offers ideas on how to decrease this phenomenon. I recently started a new job in the suburbs of Montreal. Reading it makes me understand even more this form of urban development. I found it technicals at times, but this kind of approach is necessary when designing living environments. Published in the year 2000, I would like to see a reedition of this must-read document for anyone wishing to live in a neighborhood that supports humans inter ...more
Dec 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
As a lay person, I enjoyed the thoughtful look at what makes a real community and neighborhood, and the inverse. There were bits that were too technical for me, and I would have liked more pictures, but I do see this being useful for the township official as a good basis in considering land use. I also would have liked more examples of towns, historic or new, that do it right. I get it- Kentlands is basically Disneyland.
Amal Hamdy
Oct 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I am an urban designer and I was a huge anti-new urbanism person. After reading this book I became a big fan of new urbanism! Why! Because this book unfolds the origins of New Urbanism design principles/techniques in a very persuasive/fathomable way. Very well-written book, rich with information about traditional neighborhood designs and the appendix was the icing on the cake because it includes a TND check list for planners.
Oct 09, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 20s, bicycle-urbanism
While the first half of this book was an engaging and fast read where I periodically nodded passionately in agreement, the second half was such a slog it felt like a different book. In some ways, reading a book about urbanism from 2000 is a bit dated, especially because I am not quite learned enough in this discipline to parse out the outdated from the not. In the end the book takes on a Florida-heavy, moderate approach, and focuses a lot more on larger scale development than what infill in Sili ...more
Terry Mark
Aug 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an excellent introduction to the ideas of smart growth and how suburban sprawl is disrupting life in American cities. While the town is a bit preachy in spots, I can forgive the authors for their passion on this subject.
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71 likes · 26 comments
“Roadways. The fifth component of sprawl consists of the miles of pavement that are necessary to connect the other four disassociated components. Since each piece of suburbia serves only one type of activity, and since daily life involves a wide variety of activities, the residents of suburbia spend an unprecedented amount of time and money moving from one place to the next. Since most of this motion takes place in singly occupied automobiles, even a sparsely populated area can generate the traffic of a much larger traditional town.” 1 likes
“Even the classic American main street, with its mixed-use buildings right up against the sidewalk, is now illegal in most municipalities. Somewhere along the way, through a series of small and well-intentioned steps, traditional towns became a crime in America.” 1 likes
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