The suburban public realm I: Its emergence, growth and transformation in the American metropolis

Michael Southworth & Balaji Parthasarathy

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Southworth, M. & Parthasarathy, B. (1). The suburban public realm I: Its emergence, growth and transformation in the American metropolis. Journal of Urban Design, 1(3), 245–263.

This two-part essay analyses the changing nature of the public realm in the evolving edge of the American metropolis and the implications for urban design and planning. Many forces are changing the form and use of public space in cities--concerns for safety and liveability, increasing dependence on telecommunications, decline in public revenues, the privatization of many amenities, and an increasingly pluralist society. The essay specifically focuses on the historical influence of planning and design practices on suburban form: density levels, land use and zoning patterns, suburban layouts and streetscapes. Field surveys and morphological analyses of urban edge patterns from the San Francisco Bay area document the current state of the suburban public realm. The second part of the essay will examine how physical planning can contribute to restoring a more vibrant public realm amidst raging debates over its changing nature and relevance.

Main finding
Densities, zoning and land-use practices, the characteristics of public space, street patterns and streetscapes have all contributed to rendering the suburban public realm bleak. There is debate over how planning and design can improve the quality of the suburban public realm - raising densities, providing a mixed or a fine grain of uses, designing public space to support public activity, improving connectivity between streets, and between streets and the buildings that line them - and whether it needs be improved at all.

Description of method used in the article
Field surveys and morphological analyses

Policy implications

Organising categories

Other or N/A
Urban Design
Physical types
Geographic locations