The Suburbs Are Central in New Book Edited by UC Planner

Don’t dismiss the suburbs.  To simply equate them as nothing more than willful eating of arable land, countryside and natural resources is far too simplistic, according to current and former University of Cincinnati planners who are soon due out with a book that provides a snapshot of “suburban diversity” around the globe. 

“Suburban Form,” due out later this January from publishers, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, is edited by Kiril Stanilov, assistant professor of planning at UC and former UC colleague Brenda Scheer, now dean of the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Utah. 

According to Stanilov, the diversity that marks the peripheries of modern cities includes:

• the high-rise public housing that characterizes Singapore’s suburbs,

• the “favelas” of Rio de Janeiro which consist of unplanned, high-density housing – sometimes of makeshift materials – rising one to three stories;

• North American-style suburbs of single-family homes with attached garages on a small plot of land.

This small handful of examples shows the complexity of the issue because it’s currently impossible to say the word “suburb” and mean the same thing around the globe in terms of growth, development, form, density as well as housing and land-use patterns.   

“All that can be uniformly said about suburbs is that they’re growing dramatically as the world’s population shift, from rural to urban areas, continues unabated.  Currently, nearly half of the people on the planet live in urban areas.  It’s estimated that by 2007, for the first time in human history, there will be more people living in cities than in rural areas.  We can also safely say that the building of cities and suburbs at an unparalleled pace will bring consequent social, environmental and economic challenges,” explained Stanilov.

As an example, he pointed to his native Bulgaria.  “I recently visited there, and I saw a lot of ‘big box’ retailers moving in to the cities’ peripheries, a lot of single-family homes there with attached garages, more stratification of society.  This is very different from what previously existed, and it would be naïve to think it won’t have challenging and unexpected effects,” said Stanilov, whose next books will focus on Eastern European cities in transition. 

“Suburban Form” includes 11 case studies of cities like Quebec, Rio de Janeiro, Lyons, Singapore, Stockholm, Rome, and Portland, Oregon, by planners from Europe, North America, South America and Asia.  It’s written and edited for students in geography, architecture, planning and history as well as for professionals in these fields and public officials. 

Though the book focuses on describing current reality, certain questions are inherent in its study of suburbs, according to Stanilov.  He added, “As you begin to study the issue, you have to wonder if cities won’t grow more and more alike due to growing population pressures and the spread of cultural homogeneity.  Globalization is not only aligning economic, political and social systems but urban form and the physical environment.  Are cities going to have an identity crisis?  What will it mean to life-styles around the world?  It’s a challenge to even begin to answer these questions since we cannot wait till the construction dust settles in order to study the issues.”

Apart from the upcoming book edited by Scheer and Stanilov but related to questions surrounding today’s urban growth patterns is an upcoming debate hosted by UC’s School of Planning.  A free symposium, “Cost of Sprawl: Who Is Paying for Current Growth Patterns,” is set for 7-9 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 21, in Room 5401 of UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning.  Speakers include Robert Burchell of Rutgers University’s Center for Urban Policy Research and William Niskanen of the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.  The event is open to the public.  For more information, call 513-556-4292.

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