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Downtown suburbs

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The All About Cities blog just had an intriguing post that suggests residential high-rises in the inner-city are no different than homes built in the suburbs. I wanted to get the opinion of our users on this.

We all know what points define a home in the suburbs. Nearby strip malls, cookie cutter styles (for the most part), and a specific class of people for each neighborhood built.

We also know what defines a residential high-rise in the city, but going a step further, the buildings often look very similar, people of a particular background or 'well-to-do-ness' will buy the units, and often retail chains inhabit the lower level(s) in what could be described as an inside out strip mall.

The question posed by All About Cities was does this matter? Obviously residential high-rises have been around for quite some time in our downtowns, but most are not equal to what is being built today. The design and materials have changed to the likes of cheap and cheap looking EIFS and we've grown so accustomed to our suburban strip malls that we have done our very best at recreating that experience in the lower level(s) of our buildings.

Obviously there are differences between the two, one being the ability to use public transit instead of relying heavily on a personal automobile, but it is striking just how many 'cookie cutter' high-rises are being built these days.


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It's all about context, but their definition of what constitutes a suburb is flawed. It's not that the houses are all the same. Go to New York, Boston, or Charleston. The row houses in these cities are all identical. The problem is that the low density and lack of connectivity forces you to drive all over creation to do anything.

The other issue is that when it comes to new housing, the well-to-do people always get the new housing. The 'diverse' populations take years to develop. That is just as true with urban redevelopment today as it was when the true suburbs were first being built in the 1920s. The old neighborhoods we know and love today were once just as homogeneous (and tree-less) as our new subdivisions are today.

As a side note, I take issue with people calling subdivisions "neighborhoods" because to me they each connote different things.

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I think the Duany quote that comes to mind is, "The problem with suburbs is not that they are ugly, it is that they don't work."

Before beginning my education on the topic - I took issue with "cookie cutter" neighborhoods because they were ugly. I knew I didn't like them or want to live there. I associated them with a lack of civic pride and social skills as "neighbors" seemed never to converse.

I didn't consider the suburb where my parents grew up to be like that. The houses had moderate character and didn't feel mass-produced.

But the same flaws were there. The flaws that all suburbs have but do not necessarily exist in the downtown high-rise.

- Lack of walkability

- Roads not fit for pedestrians even if things were in walking distance

- Lack of a public realm

- Lack of mixed use (unless you showed me an area with blocks and blocks of residential-only high rises with nothing else nearby.

- Not transit-friendly (Can't get a bus down a cul-de-sac...but you don't find many high-rises without a stop outside).

That's my take - I really don't see the problem except maybe the idea that ok, everyone in the apartment building pays approx. the same rent and therefore is somewhat homogeneous. I don't know if that's a problem. It would have to be a helluva building for me never to go outside and share the public space with the neighbors.

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I guess it all depends on what you consider a suburb. It sounds like what they are comparing it to is not so much a suburban neighborhood as a condensed commercial district. And the criticisms are certain stereotypes. What makes a strip mall versus any other retail bad? Its not that they are shops, but that they are all either oriented around cars or big companies, whichever you particularly hate most about suburbs. And look alike? Is that because they all look similar or that they are ll traditional?

somehow I think cities, suburbs, neighborhoods and developments are a little deeper.

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