Category: Planned Suburbs

Mountain House, CA

Mountain House is a planned suburb of Tracy, CA. Originally given development approval in the 1990s, the bulk of the single family houses were built in the pre-recession era, leading to a high percentage of vacancies. The development suffers from various zoning restrictions, most notably that there can be no commercial center in the development. This makes it a very vehicle-dependent suburb. Its conception as a pure suburb, with limited transit options, means that life is built at a larger spatial scale than what would otherwise be considered human-scale. Perhaps its only redeeming quality is the concentration of schools at regular intervals, which assist in forming intra-community social bonds. Mountain House raises questions on the ethical nature of purely residential suburbs. In an ideal world, demand for suburb living would be met by the right amount of development, but given the modern nature of bureaucracy and developer-capitalism, Mountain House is likely the only available housing stock for many people that would prefer another lifestyle. Ideally, pure suburbs are not wrong to contemplate, but their manifested reality is usually harmful. Given that I-205 (the main road into Tracy) is almost at capacity, Mountain House is an excellent example of what not to do when planning a new suburb.

Vällingby, Stockholm (Sweden)

The plan of this city was to decentralize the population of Stockholm and solve the housing shortage. Set on agricultural land, the design was inspired by the Radburn idea and the New Towns of the United Kingdom. In its early stages of construction, small-scale suburbs had been realized in the style of Garden cities and low block apartments. High-rise buildings were placed near the metro stations, and smaller houses and green areas radiate further out.

Medina, Washington, United States of America

Medina, Washington is a residential suburb that houses affluent executives in Fortune 500 companies and their families. Medina reflects how the ideas of the bourgeois can translate into segregated suburbia – this area rose to prosperity in the 1980s when technology brought big money to the area and large mansions were set up for executives, which hiked up the price in this area, and moved out immigrants and farmers living in low-density areas. The area currently has 24/7 surveillance by the police, and with a median home price of 2.5 million, it is socially and economically separated from Seattle. This suburb reflects the ideas of the ultra-rich in the country, separated from the urban city and technoburbs they have created for the working-class and middle-class. The more ideal setting for the rich should be intertwined with the lives of those whom they employ – there should be more social interaction between classes, and a neighborhood should have some aspect of self-sufficiency by its residents.


Pripyat’ is a planned town in the middle of Ukrainian forests. It was built next to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, as a suburb to serve the power plant and supply housing for the power plant workers. It is now a ghost-city due to the Chernobyl accident, but it has successfully operated as a town in 1973-1786. It was planned and inhabited efficiently – the center of the city contained cultural and commercial units, while the housing was surrounded by numerous parks. The streets were wide and had fast communication with the power plant. In the first few years, the population grew from 0 to 40 thousand, as people willing to live there were given free accommodation. As a lot of government resources were spent on Pripyat’, its former inhabitants report that the town was extremely comfortable and navigable, full of opportunities hardly found in other places.

Flemingdon Park, Toronto, Canada

Flemingdon Park is a planned suburb in Toronto. It was developed from farmland into an Canada’s first completely planned “apartment city” in the post-WW2 planning and population boom. Like several of the “tower in the park” developments in Toronto, the community suffers from crime and violence. Flemingdon Park was largely settled by immigrants (my parents!) and refugees because of its affordability and publicly-subsidized housing. Bordered by two ravines and a freeway, the community is relatively secluded, and is difficult to leave without a car. There is little intermixing of commerce and residential areas, with much of the stores restricted to a single mega-shopping plaza, preventing vibrant street life and entrepreneurial jobs from growing to absorb the community. The high density has caused an overcrowding in schools (with Canada’s most populous high school), and a lack of opportunities to keep young adults occupied, driving more of them into gangs and making the plentiful green space feel dangerous. Ironically, a golf course, the provincial science museum, and several white-collar office buildings are located in the community, showing that placing nice amenities without meeting the actual needs of local residents is ineffective.

Flemingdon Park is a good example of a well-intentioned suburb focused on exclusion – of the community from the city, and of the residents from community commerce – can leave residents disadvantaged.

Shaker Heights, Ohio, United States

Shaker Heights is an example of the suburb as a physical manifestation of the bourgeois rejection of the metropolis. Where Cleveland was polluted and crowded, Shaker Heights featured ample green space and carefully spaced lots. It was developed by O.P. and M.J. Sweringen, the owners of a railroad and real estate empire, who envisaged Shaker Heights as an exclusive community that was both socially and physically distanced from the big city ills of Cleveland. To that end, development was highly restricted by the “Shaker Village Standards,” which not only denoted acceptable architectural styles, but also “desirable” vs. “undesirable” residents.

Llewellyn Park, New Jersey

Llewellyn Park, NJ was a forerunner of the 19th-century shift towards suburbanization in the US. A perimeter city to New York City, and it has many properties conducive to family life that defines suburbs tradition for Robert Fishman: substantial houses set in open, tree-shaded lots with a blend of property and union with nature. In classic 19th-century suburban fashion, the city was restricted to the bourgeois elites alone. However, it diverges from Fishman’s concept of a natural development or creation of a suburb, as it was the one of the first planned suburbs in the United States. Instead of an initial, natural progression of suburbs unfolding naturally in a movement of housing, industry, and commercial development in a perimeter city, Llewellyn Park was carefully planned, even for details like the landscaping, which was designed to mimic New York City’s Central Park.

St. Kilda West, Melbourne, Australia

St. Kilda West was established as a suburb of Melbourne Australia in 1879. The area that St. Kilda West exists on was once a swamp that was drained in the 1870s to accommodate urban expansion. It is an almost exclusively residential suburb home to a diverse group of people including young professionals, singles, retirees, and families. Like most Australian suburbs, St. Kilda West also has a number of parks and vegetated areas that contribute positively to the surrounding area. However, given that St. Kilda West is exclusively residential, most of its commercial facilities (ie. Supermarkets and schools) are located in other suburbs, and it has been criticized for this in recent years as residents have to drive or take public transport for their basic necessities.

Cheremushki, Moscow, Russia

Cheremushki is a planned Soviet suburb of Moscow, Russia. Developed in the 1950s as a Soviet suburb for working-class Muscovites, it was the first of what would later become Khrushchevki, or block-panel suburbs across the Soviet Union. These five-storey apartments were highly desirable, especially in comparison to shared apartments or wooden barracks. Although Cheremushki has some Garden City ideas, such as open spaces and the superblock, it is firmly suburban – workers were expected to commute to Moscow proper for work or entertainment, and the area was planned from the beginning as an extension of Moscow. Originally intended for egalitarian living, the apartment buildings’ large plots of land and general lack of public transportation have today turned Cheremushki into a car-dependent bedroom suburb.

Las Colinas, Texas

Las Colinas was formed to provide an affluent community to the large corporations and businesses in the Dallas metro area. It is the pinnacle of suburbia with its middle/upper class inhabitants, single family homes, retail centers and well groomed walking paths throughout the community. Las Colinas has a place for all types of inhabitants creating a bustling community. The one thing separating Las Colinas from the bourgeois definition of a suburb is inhabitants that are of extreme upper class as it is home to many Fortune 500 business people and continues to have competitive advantage over other Texan cities.

Levittown, NY

Levittown is the first modern American suburb, built in 1947 after the Levitt & Sons company purchased a 7-square-mile plot of land. Many couples viewed Levittown and other suburbs as a chance to start over after WWII, and had the opportunity to purchase houses because of the G.I. Bill. People left cities like NYC and the larger, denser parts of Long Island to move to Levittown, where homes were built every 16 minutes at its peak. Each house was exactly the same, and the population was similarly homogenous. The mortgages were cheaper in Levittown than they were in large cities, but there were specific rules that prohibited minorities from buying houses and moving in, creating the homogeneity. Regarding the people themselves, the men usually worked in the nearby cities, while women stayed at home taking care of the children, a trend that echoes Robert Fishman’s note of the Evangelical movement encouraging women to return to the home and revolve their entire lives excusively around their family.

Riverside, IL

Riverside, IL is a planned suburb west of Chicago designed in 1869 by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Olmsted. The new railroad that passed nearby going directly to Chicago sparked new access to transportation and commerce for the area, which brought significant housing and a construction boom. Olmsted aimed to create a scenic area available for all residents by designing curved streets and avoiding right angle intersections to create more public space. The suburb serves as a low density environment defined by the primacy of middle-class single family houses set in greenery. However, Riverside is known to be a white suburb as Caucasians make up around 95% of the population, which limits further cultural and racial diversity.

Pine Hills, Florida

Pine Hills is a planned suburb in Orlando, Florida.  Built in the 1950s to house defense industry employees, this suburb was constructed to the same cookie-cutter standards as its peers and promoted by local authorities as a vision of the modern American Dream – albeit a restrictive middle-class, white version.  Later issues outside of the design’s control, like its annexation into Orlando, lead to initial decline in the 1980s.  Hit with worsening crime, businesses fled and residents lacking access to proper capital have struggled to adjust a sprawling area designed for middle class class commuters to their community and employment needs.

Tapiola, Finland

Tapiola, established in 1951 and located west of Helsinki, is a planned suburb designed by a number of prominent Finnish architects including Alvar Aalto. Much like Howard, this group of architects believed there to be a functional limit to both the area and the population of the city, and so the suburb was planned to house 26 residents perf acre and no more than 15,000 in total. The suburb, planned to be self-contained, was also designed to accommodate a range of income levels, mixing various types of residential units and building densities. Today, Tapiola serves as a reminder that planned suburbs are not necessarily always monotonous, single-class entities. Instead, they can represent experimental ways of living — together and with nature.

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