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A Better Place to Live

What is it about modern American suburbs that has led to so much dissatisfaction? How has the typical suburban design of the past fifty years exacerbated the stress of daily life, and what better alternatives can be found? With these questions in mind, Philip Langdon crisscrossed the country to see how suburbs are being built and to interview designers, developers, planners, and residents. The first results of his research were published in a 1988 cover story in the Atlantic. Since then, he has broadened his analysis to create this well-illustrated and highly readable book. Training his eye on houses, streets, parks, gathering places, stores, employment and transportation, Langdon shows how these elements can generate frustration and isolation or, under better circumstances, contribute to a more congenial way of life. He points out the underappreciated virtues of older suburbs and takes a close look at the neotraditionalist movement in community design, whose advocates seek to emulate the most pleasing aspects of older suburbs. Without ignoring the obstacles to change, Langdon shows how suburbs could be designed much differently than they are today - with networks of walkable streets, neighborhood stores and gathering places, compact town centers, and more varied and affordable housing. His book provides both an incisive critique of existing practices and an intriguing glimpse of some of the best work being done by a new generation of community designers.
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American suburbs foster social isolation, dependence on the automobile, long commutes and segregation of land use, thereby contributing to family distress and civic decay. That damning verdict by Langdon ( Urban Excellence ), who crisscrossed the U.S. over the past 10 years, informs a much-needed and visionary critique of suburban planning and lifestyles. Among his proposals: organize communities around well-defined public spaces; create generous networks of streets and sidewalks that encourage people to explore their neighborhood; design houses oriented to facilitating residents' interactions and daily involvement in community. Policymakers and developers, in Langdon's view, ought to encourage pedestrian-scale, affordable suburbs--with shopping, services and employment close to home. Compelling reading for those concerned with the declining quality of life, his well-illustrated analysis will serve as a sourcebook for planners, architects, builders and designers. (June)

A student of American middle-class life, Langdon has written some impressive books, including Orange Roofs, Golden Arches: The Architecture of American Chain Restaurants (LJ 6/1/86). Here, he trains his eye on that landmark of American middle-class culture, the suburb and small town. Walkable streets, neighborhood stores, affordable gathering places, compact downtowns, dense housing, and more amenable parks and public places-these are the palliatives he prescribes for suburban residents crucified on a grid of commodity fetishism. He is also a postmodernist; he wants to return to the circumstances of his upbringing in small towns in western Pennsylvania and New York. This book summarizes a great deal of recent writing on the dystopia of suburbia, and it prescribes sensible and workable cures for many of our environmental ills such as improved pedestrian circulation, greater contextualism in design, and better use of older buildings. Recommended for subject collections.-Peter Kaufman, Boston Architectural Ctr.

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