White Picket Fences In The Sky? Suburbia’s Vertical Future

Suburbia is too big too fail. Here’s why tomorrow’s subdivisions might include a skyscraper or two.

White Picket Fences In The Sky? Suburbia’s Vertical Future
[Image: Suburbs of Scottsdale and Aerial suburbs via Shutterstock]

As much as urban designers hate suburban sprawl, suburbs in the U.S. (and Canada too) are essentially too big to fail. As Amanda Kolson Hurley points out at Next City:


More than half of Americans live in suburbs, and about 75 percent of postwar construction has happened in the suburbs. That is a lot of people, and a lot of built environment, for urbanists to just wish away. One hundred and fifty million or so suburbanites have to live somewhere, and preferably not too far from their places of work, which are mostly in the ’burbs, too: More than three-quarters of jobs in U.S. metropolitan areas are located outside the urban core, and 43 percent are at least 10 miles away.

The suburbs are growing and changing, and suburban life can no longer be summed up by 2.5 kids and a white picket fence. As city living becomes more popular (in the last census period, urban population growth outpaced that of the “burbs”) suburbs are competing to attract residents. As residents begin to lobby for more walkable, city-like features, local officials and developers are implementing design tweaks to make suburban life just a little denser. For instance, in Montgomery County, a suburban area just outside D.C., zoning codes have been rewritten to allow new 300-foot towers, a winding network of secondary streets to break up unwalkable blocks, and fewer required parking spots.

On a large scale, these kind of suburban redesigns (similar to what’s happening in San Jose, California) could have a major impact on making formerly sprawling neighborhoods less resource-intensive, allowing people to walk more and drive less.

“Nothing has the potential to curb climate change as much as suburban retrofits on a vast scale,” Kolson Hurley writes. “We’re used to hearing that suburbs are the problem. Could they also be the solution?”

Read more at Next City.

About the author

Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences. She's on a lifelong quest for the perfect donut.