URBAN LEGENDS: Why suburbs, not cities, are the answer

Something has been lost from our discussion of cities: the human element. The goal of urban planners should not be to fulfill their own grandiose visions of megacities on a hill, but to meet the needs of the people living in them, particularly those people suffering from overcrowding, environmental misery, and social inequality.

Ultimately, dispersion — both city to suburb and megacity to small city — holds out some intriguing solutions to current urban problems. The idea took hold during the initial golden age of industrial growth — the English 19th century — when suburban “garden cities” were established around London’s borders. The great early 20th-century visionary Ebenezer Howard saw this as a means to create a “new civilization” superior to the crowded, dirty, and congested cities of his day.

Despite all the “back to the city” hype of the past decade, more than 80 percent of new metropolitan growth in the United States since 2000 has been in suburbs.

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