But what if we don’t want vertical living? Charles Siegel, political activist and author of Unplanning: Livable Cities and Political Choices, argues that there’s a better way than the suburbs we have today.
Writing at Planetizen, Siegel suggests that suburbia as we know it — sprawling, with freeways that connect everything — ought to be reconsidered as a spectrum of ideals, rather than a single answer shaped solely by political or technical considerations.
He suggests three models of low-density cities:
The car-free city: Entails a ban on automobiles for personal transportation in the city. The feel: streetcar suburbs that were popular in America a century ago. A “high point of American urban design” that includes free-standing houses, small front yards, adequate backyards, apartments above main street shops and trolleys to get around.
The car-tamed city: Entails a speed limit of 12 to 15 mph for private vehicles, allowing cars for local trips but requiring high-speed rail for longer hauls. Distances would be shorter than today’s ‘burbs. Communities would gather at transit nodes.
The car-friendly city: Entails a speed limit of 25 or 30 mph. A high-speed commuter rail system would allow for houses with two-car garages on quarter-acre lots, but render freeways and high-speed arterials unnecessary. Commuters would use rail. Feels like: Post-World War II suburbia as it should have been.
The goal? Increase density to a point, without completely cracking down on the utility of the private vehicle.
Or, as Siegel writes, leave most decision-making to the individual, but use political means — such as a limit on cars — to start the discussion to make cities more livable and sustainable.
That’s not all Siegel has to say. Read the entire essay for a brief dive into how things ended up this way.