Why so many suburbs look the same


Aug 9, 2019

So many suburbs have similar plans. Why?

In this episode of Vox Almanac, Vox’s Phil Edwards investigates the system behind the shape of the suburbs. If you’ve visited a suburb, you’ve probably noticed a similar look: same curving streets; same cul de sacs. It’s not an accident. In fact, this appearance of the suburbs is part of the Federal Housing Administration’s plan. In the 1930s, the Federal Housing Administration, or FHA, was the financial engine behind most home development. To ensure their investments were safe ones, they strongly recommended that builders and developers comply with the ideals they set. Those regulations aligned closely with the values of the time, including segregation and a burgeoning car culture. These rules encouraged suburbs with winding streets and cul de sacs — aesthetically pleasing designs that led to sprawl and made a car a necessity. Even though the enforcement mechanisms have changed over time, we still live in a culture shaped by the FHA’s ideal suburban design.

If you want to learn more, there are a couple of resources: Streets and the Shaping of Towns and Cities by Michael Southworth and Eran Ben-Joseph https://www.amazon.com/Streets-Shapin…
Eran Ben-Joseph spoke to me about his book, which provides a great overview of suburban planning.
It also has more crucial detail about street widths, which influenced car culture.

FHA Underwriting Manual https://www.huduser.gov/portal/sites/…
If you’re curious to wade into some primary documents, this underwriting manual from 1938 is a good place to start.

Help us make more ambitious videos by joining the Vox Video Lab. It brings you closer to our work and gets you exclusive perks, like livestream Q&As with all the Vox creators, a badge that levels up over time, and video extras bringing you closer to our work! Learn more at http://bit.ly/video-lab

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s