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John Morris

Well the fact that they date exactly from the 20's shows they are a pretty wierd fad item and about the most anti urban design one could have. My one sister lives in a spot like that outside of State college. The number of auto accidents in the area is amazing. All the kids have to be driving by 15 or they are trapped.

sean mcdaniel

these days kids need to drive by time they're 15 are they're trapped just about wherever they live.

i've never understood the lure of the suburban sub-division...(sorry for having to add suburban in front of sub-division. though it seems redundant, sam might think i'm talking about a city neighborhood). but far too many people are fans and love living in them. they can't be all bad.

as for all that nonsense about being insular, have you ever driving along the lower part of beechwood boulevard? do you think the people living in those mansions (some with gates) really get and mingle with the neighbors up and down the street or travel over to shady avenue to chat with the residents there?

as for that insular feeling, it's everywhere these days. sam, i know you've only been in bloomfield for a couple of weeks, but by time you move from the neighborhood (maybe even to a suburb where the schools are better) you probably won't know too many people other than the neighbors on either side of you. more and more america's becoming a closed society...thanks to dvds, the internet, cable and whatever other convenience that makes easier for us not to leave our homes.

you can't blame everything on suburban cul de sacs. people behave the same in cities too. and john morris, they drive fast in the cities too.

JM, do you really think that cul de sacs are an 80 year old fad? damn, i guess america's obession with football is just a passing fancy then. seriously, cul de sacs are a deep rooted tradtion, not a fad...unless sam's dictionary has a different definition than mine (a custom, style, etc., that many people are interested in for a short time.)

i'll say it again...you guys really don't seem to understand that american spirit to keep on moving...to stake a claim in a new space...as i've said before, if americans were happy living where they were, we wouldn't be in pittsburgh, or wyoming, or california, or kansas. americans always have wanted a piece of green to call their own.

Jonathan Potts

Cul-de-sacs epitomize many of the problems with single-use zoning--which is the hallmark of suburban subdivisions--but they do not cause those problems. My mother and sister each live in a sub-division in Penn Township, Westmoreland County. My mother lives on a cul-de-sac, my sister on a through street. From what I've seen, there are no substantial differences in the characters of the two streets. Whether or not you live on a cul-de-sac, if you live in that neighborhood, you need to use your car. The only business within walking distance is a Dairy Queen on Route 130, a busy road with no sidewalks.

Contrast that to an inner-ring suburb like Mt. Lebanon, which has many residential streets within easy walking distance of its two traditional business districts. And even its more "subarbanized" streets have sidewalks.

Sam M

For what it's worth, my family lives in a small town. About 4,000 people. Everything is conceivably within walking distance. I say conceivably because, for the most part, almost everyone drives. To church. To the grocery store. Etc.

Now, the grocery store makes the most sense. "Walkable" takes on different dimension when you talk about lugging a week's worth of food.

An interesting sidenote: All of my sister's kids walk to school. It's close, mind you. But it's farther than church. And they get in the car for that. Perhaps because they often take off for other places directly afterwards? Who knows.

I am not criticizing. I lived in the same town and as soon as I could drive, I did.

In case you are interested in a really compelling case FOR suburbs, or at least an attack on those who attack suburbs, or something like that, I direct you to this: An article explaining why people like living in suburbs. I have taken heat in the past for writing that a whole lot of people really do like it. But I maintain my position: While it might not be for me, a lot of people prefer Cranberry to downtown. Or Shadyside. Or Bloomfield.


It is Nick Gillespie on sprawl. The most compelling part, I think, is this bit on his own hometown (the rest is an excerpt from the article):

Despite the geographic suggestiveness of its name, however, the town is not in the middle of anything other than its own teeming sprawl. My town's character, you see, hasn't been harmed by sprawl--it is sprawl. Driving through it, a glib traveler might well see it as the epitome of the nameless, faceless, featureless suburbia you hear so much about in rants from city dwellers, rural folk, and, well, suburbanites.

There is a long history to Middletown--founded in 1664, the place is crisscrossed by Revolutionary War retreat routes and dotted by 19th-, 18th-, and even 17th-century buildings and graves--but you would have to know where to look to see that history's presence. In 1960, a few years before my family moved there, Middletown's population was about 40,000. Nowadays, it's almost double that. The town's two main arteries are clogged with strip malls, chain stores, and parking lots. It literally has no single center, no one "Main Street." My parents' house, bounded once by a dense, impenetrable woods, now abuts an old-folks' home and commands a view of an increasingly busy highway. Not exactly Mayberry, RFD.

But to write off such a place as dead or sterile is to validate the phony logic of Superstore Sprawl or Vital Communities. My hometown is sprawling yes, but vital, too. My parents, along with many other residents, balked some at the idea of development, but they also appreciate and benefit from it. Within a two-mile drive, my parents can choose from a cornucopia of goods and services that weren't available even 20 years ago. Within a quarter of a mile, they can walk to stores that didn't exist 10 years ago. My parents, who in old age are no longer as mobile as they once were, have neighbors, friends, and merchants (some of the chain-store variety) who help them out. And they do the same in return. Surely, that is a "vital" community.

Change, flux, and contingency may be inevitable and salutary (especially when responding to unobstructed market forces), but like most forms of growth, they are rarely painless. It is surely asking too much that creative destruction seem creative to all the people it affects. But it is even more absurd to try to maintain the status quo (or an idealized version of the past) in the face of evolving desires, products, and technologies. In seeing sprawl as the enemy of vitality, the anti-superstore activists turn a blind eye to the very ways that people keep their communities alive.

John Morris

I think that the specific design that we are talking about is a potental fad. It's real widespread use, date from say the 1960's, which in the overall sceme of things is very recent. I am certainly not an expert on that type of thing other than having a general feeling of wierdness about it.

It throws up a lot of red flags, If the road is blocked in a fire or other emergency you have a major problem. Likewise you get a crowded feeder road if a bunch of these empty into it. The whole design creates conjestion issues so I guess it works at very low densities. When LA is in the fire season one can see all the fun these road types cause on TV.

The superstore thing is another issue and not black and white at all, generally it's a byproduct of and not the cause of sprawl. NY, by the way has many, many, "big box" stores in the city but generally they are tweeked to fit in. K- Mart, has a lot of them and they often have several floors. Target is also a big player in the NY area and generally runs a smaller format for the city. Staples has it's "express" stores all over and they fit in fine. Most of these stores conform to the normal block plan. Wal Mart stands out for it's absolute unwillingness to adapt it's format even slightly to fit urban markets.

John Morris


"Kaine wants local elected officials to face up to the effects of development on state roads -- for which the state is responsible for paying. He said he wants developers held accountable for the infrastructure the new homes demand. And he wants the public to know more about the local decisions that sometimes create traffic and sprawl."

Is that the American spirit to keep moving or the American spirit to keep mooching??? This kind of development is based on a huge implied subsidy in terms of state funded infrastructure. The governor here is making a vital point in that local areas are dumping on the state a huge cost in infrastructure. The projects aproved one by one and then when the inevitable traffic crunch comes people scream for a massive road expansion.

I think that a nice chunk of these road costs were laid at the developers feet different business plans would emerge.

sean mcdaniel

Comments for JM:

Number 1
"I think that the specific design that we are talking about is a potental fad. It's real widespread use, date from say the 1960's"

hey, humankind in the scheme of things is a fad too. so are cities, for that matter. i'm still waiting to see if that United States deal will catch on...all things considered, 230 years really isn't enough to tell if that democracy deal will really take root.

Number 2
"Is that the American spirit to keep moving or the American spirit to keep mooching???"

a lot of both. lots of homesteaders moved west to stake their free claim on a chunk of land in montana. the 1862 homestead act allowed people to claim up to 160 acres of land — for free. just as new urban homesteaders took advantage of $1 homes in the inner city baltimore and the mexican war streets 30 years.

Number 3
"It throws up a lot of red flags, If the road is blocked in a fire or other emergency you have a major problem"

JM: Have you ever been to Allentown or Troy Hill, where roads are so narrow that a red corpuscle, let alone a fire truck, would have a hard time passing through the cars parked on boths sides of the street? and those ain't no cul de sacs.

you really need to hit the dictionary and history books a little more — and check out more of this city than the east end.

John Morris


Admit it, you just love to argue for argument's sake. There is a huge difference between Allentown or Troy Hill in that these were creations caused by necessity. The modern cul de sac is not generally a product of need, just a wierd anti social design and one that is self evidently illogical and dangerous. On a very narrow hill like that, a core aspect of safety if having more than one way in and out so the parked Fire truck that came up one narrow road doesn't block the Ambulance that is also needed.

Certain plans can be flagged as accidents waiting to happen. Absurdly tall buildings usually fall into that category ( generally over 60 stories ) A lot of cul de sacs would fall into that category. They are ok, if you don't have much choice.

Getting to the issue of the hills-- they are the reason that Pittsburgh needs to stop waisting it's central core. If a flat city, wants to waist space, there is always some more around. That is not the case here. There are only a few logical areas to build easy high density here and if they are waisted, there is not much one can do.

The issue of the "free land" offered to settlers in the 1800's is not close to being relevant. The settlers took compleetly raw land and in effect paid for it with back breaking labor. They did not generally expect the instant provision of massive taxpayer funded infrastructure.

What we are talking about here is the state offering developers a free ride to create communities that would not have occured if the developer had to pay a fraction of the infrastructure cost. I think that the huge opposition by the homebuilders is an indication of how much suburban sprawl relies on tax money.

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