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Radical Suburbs: Experimental Living on the Fringes of the American City

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  99 ratings  ·  17 reviews
America’s suburbs are not the homogenous places we sometimes take them for. Today’s suburbs are racially, ethnically, and economically diverse, with as many Democratic as Republican voters, a growing population of renters, and rising poverty. The cliche of white picket fences is well past its expiration date.

The history of suburbia is equally surprising: American suburbs
Paperback, 160 pages
Published April 9th 2019 by Belt Publishing
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Susan Grodsky
Jul 08, 2019 rated it liked it
I grew up in a typical suburb: Silver Spring, Maryland (ironically, the author’s residence as well).

My house was in a typical subdivision. It was a brick split level on a lot of about 6000 ft.², one of many identical houses in the subdivision that stretched for acre after mind-numbing acre. Everyone was white and middle class and the kids needed a parental taxi for most activities. This all seem typical. It was what it was.

This book shows that suburbs don’t have to be this way. What it does not
Jay Wilson
Jul 15, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: urban-planning
This book is a short six chapters, each a vignette of a different community that highlights the surprising potential of suburbs: the architecture, the ideas, the diversity (or lack thereof). Being from Northern Virginia, I was especially enthralled by the chapters about the New Deal city of Greenbelt, MD, and the modernist planned city of Reston, VA. As a resentful suburbanite, I'm even intrigued by its arguments for suburbs as a solution to housing, equality, and even climate change. However, ...more
Peter Tillman
Oct 21, 2019 marked it as to-read
Here's an interesting excerpt:
"Back in the early 1960s, Malvina Reynolds wrote a song called “Little Boxes,” inspired by a drive past rows of lookalike pastel-hued houses in a new suburban housing tract in the Bay Area. (Her friend Pete Seeger had a hit with the song in 1963.) Reynolds saw the cookie-cutter houses as both symbols and shapers of the conformist mindset of the people who lived in them—doctors and lawyers who aspired to nothing more than
Erin B
May 10, 2019 rated it liked it
This book was definitely well-researched and well-written. The case studies were interesting and informative, although at times I found myself skimming ahead to get to the analysis after reading so many of the facts of the cases. I was under the impression that the book would delve into more contemporary examples of radical, experimental, or non-normative living in the suburbs, and with the exception of the lingering effects of the intended community in Reston, it didn't really do that. I would ...more
Apr 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I learned so much about suburban experiments and how they evolved and, in some cases, still exist. Hurley visits the places and talks to long-time residents and sometimes to experts or curators of the neighborhoods, and builds this book with layers of theory, research, and personal experience.
May 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Very thought-provoking and well written. Only wish there could have been a comparative analysis of the other "greenbelt" towns of Greenhills, OH, and Greenfield, WI to the results in Greenbelt, MD; as well as a chapter on Columbia, Maryland.
Cailin Pitt
May 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
this was a really good read. i've always disliked suburbs, mostly because the vast majority of them feel too cookie cutter and boring. they also have served as a reminder of the places people who look like me weren't welcome in for such a long time. however, it was really cool to learn about the suburbs that were built to address issues like segregation in cities and unwalkable communities. i really enjoyed learning about the New York suburb built by communists and anarchists, as well as the DC ...more
Andrew Westphal
Nov 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A great chronological whistlestop tour of all the suburban typologies that break the nuclear family ticky-tacky mold. From religious communes to top-down planned brutalist developments, the "sub urb" is a diverse development type with a longer history than is often acknowledged.

In addition, special attention is paid to the proven ways some of these radical suburbs have dealt with socioeconomic problems that plague suburban communities today, including race and class based segregation, NIMBYism,
Heather Phillips
Nov 06, 2019 rated it liked it
This book made me look at the history of housing in America in a whole new light. Instead of drab ticky tacky boxes where creativity goes to die, suburbs are portrayed as an area of experimentation in spacial design and community building. Although the book sometimes bordered on being a little too informal (lack of citations for facts, retelling about her personal experiences on a vacation) for my tastes, I enjoyed the subject matter enough to make up for it.
Gwen Owen
Sep 06, 2019 rated it liked it
I was hoping for more contemporary inspiration for progressive suburban living. Instead, this book is more about historical examples, which are interesting but not what I was looking for. I did not read all the chapters, but chose a few.
Sep 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Nice, short, journalistic case studies of a few interesting planned communities.
Dan Seitz
Sep 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019, history, paper
Thoughtful, informative, and I wish it were longer.
Nov 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent investigation of the ways suburbs have helped encourage innovation in the United States.
Joe Huennekens
May 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Too short, but interesting
Jennifer Howard
Jan 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book transformed how I look at American suburbia. What a fascinating history.
Darren Nelson
Sep 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Almost makes me want to move to the burbs (if they were master planned by talented architects and urban planners).
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Amanda Kolson Hurley is a writer who specializes in architecture and urban planning and a senior editor at CityLab. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Architect magazine, The American Scholar, and many other publications. She lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.