seq suburbiaSequel to Suburbia - Glimpses of America's Post-Suburban Future provides details about the issues emerging from existing suburban planning approaches and construction. The Beltway near Washington, Schaumburg near Chicago and the unbridled development of suburbia along Florida coasts are all detailed. Readers will learn how these areas emerged, the problems and issues they contend with and why they took certain directions. The author highlights the fragmented and often dispersed suburban planning approach that disconnects communities from proper planning governance. 

Sequel to Suburbia
Glimpses of America's Post-Suburban Future






Nicholas A. Phelps

 MIT Press


2016 | 248 Pages | ISBN 9780262029834


Reviewed By

Jeff Thurston



In Sequel to Suburbia, Nicholas Phelps considers the possible post-suburban future, offering historical and theoretical context as well as case studies of transforming communities. Phelps first locates these outer suburban rings within wider metropolitan spaces, describes the suburbs as a “spatial fix” for the postwar capitalist economy, and examines the political and governmental obstacles to reworking suburban space.

The basic premise of this book is that the approaches, technologies and methods previously used to design and create urban spaces has changed dramatically. Whereas society previously looked toward professionals for leadership and to solve urban design issues, this is no longer the case. Indeed, there are many examples around the world today where public and other organizations are part of these processes, often supported with communication networks and tools to interact and participate in the process. 

Political issues will play an integral role in the change to suburbia, and the author bases his observations on work previously done in three centers - Kendall-Dadeland (in Miami-Dade County, Florida), Tysons Corner (in Fairfax County, Virginia), and Schaumburg, Illinois (near Chicago).  

Developed after WWII, many suburbs follow a similar pattern evolving from a center core. Some stretch short distances, however, any suburbs today are kilometers from the core. The author dubs these places "geography of nowhere," The contradictions arising from these areas of growth has changed to become identified through barriers. Many of the barriers to suburbia are now aligned with economics that link to services such as road repairs and infrastructure, transportation and time scales that originate due to distance. 

Phelps details these contradictions, citing sources and providing information about the many issues that suburbs face today. He describes the differentiation between urban citizens and suburban areas. Are there differences? How do we understand urban versus suburban? What about terms like the industrial city, the garden city, or the central city? This book speaks ot the question of boundaries often. That is because the "city edges" have become frayed and fragmented. What began as circular orientation has given way to development factors, and sometimes landscape factors. Many people in cities are pressed to answer, "where is the edge of the city?" The forces driving city growth between 1980 - 2015 have been immense, and no where is this reflected more than in the suburbs.

The models used to establish development are outdated and need changing this text suggests. And the gap between local governments and non-local government is a primary factor that needs work and alteration. The so called "in betweeness" that separates edges and core parts of the city needs attention, particularly, where political governance is applied. Transportation infrastructure seems to rise up the index of factors that deserve the most attention - probably because it has the highest influences on suburbanites. 

This text directs aim at the sprawling Florida development that, at the time of draining and building vast stretches of swamp, resulted in damaging and long term ecological consequences to the ecosystem. Beyond that, the long stretches of development share a common characteristic - unbounded issues surrounding local plannning and development. The author points to the fact that rapid, and continuing population growth is out stripping development capability - in a machine growth manner. 

Meanwhile Tysons Corner in Fairfax County near Washington. This high growth area finds it's origins in the 1960s and emerges as a result of "growth emtrepreneurs" all seeking to inter-connect the suburban area as crossroads to nearby communities. This gave rise to the "beltway" nature of the area, largely as a result of long term landowners who controlled the landscape in conjunction with State officials. Residents often wonder who is the surburbanite in relation to a city which is not quite identifiable.

Schaumburg, in Cook County near Chicago began in the early 20th century, It would later become more connected with the emergence of the Hoffman Estates. This area developed with a knowledge that future development after the Second World War in 1950s would continue. But unlike most places that usually centered upon rail infrastructure, Schaumburg emerged as a corridor influenced by the car. This meant it took a different scale, direction and approach in development that this text describes,

In summary, Sequel to Suburbia - Glimpses of America's Post-Suburban Future is a fascinating review of existing suburban regions for three different locations. It includes a wealth of material and observations for these locations over time using photographs, maps and charts. The author provides in depth discussion for these locations, and readers will appreciate the historical and factual information used. 

Readers will quickly learn what constitutes poor, dispersed and unguided devlopment and some of the factors why it arises. They will also learn the problems it leads to. Upon reading this book, it will be clear that new approaches for designing, developing and operating suburban areas are badly needed. Many of the issues identified in this book can likely be found in the areas where many of us live. As a result, this is a very thought provoking book and will stir questions and budge attitudes in new directions.