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Suburban Hipsters

Are perhaps taking over the cities? The anti-planner asks, are suburbs authentic?

Andrew Potter, who recently wrote a delightful book on what is “authentic,” has now come out in defense of the suburbs. Potter challenges James Kunstler’s view of the suburbs as having no “sense of place.”

“This is the sort of thing that could only be argued by someone who has either never visited a suburb, or is so enthralled by his own prejudices that black looks white, up looks down, and a thriving community appears to be nothing more than a barren wasteland,” says Potter. In fact, suburbs have “vibrant sociability on every street,” while the cities have devolved “into social and psychological wastelands, full of apartment buildings where people barely acknowledge one another in the elevator.” New Urbanists see cities as “a version of the ‘Sesame Street’ fantasy spun by Jane Jacobs,” but in fact Jacobs’ Greenwich Village “already disappearing by the time she turned it into an urban planner’s fetish dream.”

“The entire case against the suburbs,” says Potter, “is little more than lifestyle snobbery . . . revealing itself as a thinly veiled form of contempt for middle-class tastes and preferences.” While cities like Portland are “increasingly populated by the hip, the young, and the childless,” the reality is that these people are bringing “frankly suburban practices,” such as critical mass bike rides, into the city cores. This “importation of the habits and values of the suburban lifestyle” has actually helped revitalize the cities and is turning even New York City “into one giant homogeneous suburb.” While some may quarrel with that conclusion, Potter’s point is that too much of the debate about the suburbs has been based on phony esthetic ideals.

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