Precisely because it is the single best neighborhood way for families to live and for the vast majority of Americans that is surely the case and it is surely becoming the case for a global majority also, as this article from New Geography reports.
In the United States, over 69 percent of all residents live in suburban areas. Across the globe many other developed countries are primarily suburban, while developing countries are increasingly suburbanizing. By 2050, an additional 2.7 billion people are anticipated to live in metropolitan regions around the world, and suburbs are a significant portion of this urban expansion. Over the past two years, 150 experts from numerous, diverse disciplines contributed research that explores this contemporary global phenomenon – and on April 1st their work was showcased at the MIT Media Lab for the Future of Suburbia conference.
The “Future of Suburbia” was chosen as MIT’s Center for Advanced Urbanism biennial theme in order to shed light on the growing role suburbs play in our lives and how they may be improved for the future. Suburbia is an often polarizing issue that should no longer be ignored by the fields of Planning and Design.
The conference is just one of three products the Center for Advanced Urbanism created for its biennial research theme. An exhibition, located on the ground floor of the MIT Media Lab included infographic mappings, a 22ft x 8ft dynamic model of a 3 million population polycentric region in the year 2100, and aerial footage of global suburbs. The third product, a publication entitled Infinite Suburbia (Fall 2017), brings together 50+ authors and about 700 references, providing groundbreaking research on our low-density future.
Each of MIT’s five schools were represented at the conference, spanning twelve key fields. Attendees also included students from Harvard and Chapman University, and speakers in demographics, entrepreneurship, history, urban design and media production. The findings were presented within four design frameworks, including heterogeneous, productive, autonomous and experimental, which were explored through a variety of fields; including design, architecture, urban planning, history and demographics, policy, energy, mobility, health, environment, economics, and applied and future technologies.
The conference centered on the question, how might suburbia be upgraded to better suit our needs? Can new suburban models be created for developed, but also developing, countries? What challenges will suburbs face in the future? Despite such a large and complex topic, enlightening data, opinions and predictions were given regarding suburbs and their role in a sustainable future.
Forgetting the Urban-Suburban Divide
The urban-suburban dichotomy is highly debated (in fact, urbanists and planners themselves use 200 different terms to describe suburbia), but the Future of Suburbia conference tried to stay above the fray, instead describing the two camps as one evolving continuum. Throughout the day points were made that the suburb and urban can and should learn from one another. Traditionally, we have failed to recognize just how important suburbia is in this country and globally. By polarizing the suburb and the city we ignore how the making of peripheries can greatly contribute to urban centers, and vice-versa. However, this conference did not focus on trying to define suburbia, but on how we should think of urbanization’s holistic impact.