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Identity Crisis- When Your Suburb is Really a Town

Sorry Alexandria, you’re really a city, but I think we all knew that deep down(Photo Shot by me in August of 2008)

What makes a suburb a suburb? It’s one of the major questions that is at the center of the battle for how governments or independent communities of people should regulate and create public space.

This issue has been on my mind quite a bit in the last few months. First, it was Emily Badger’s Pseudosuburbanism as a resident of Alexandria, VA. Then it was this article I shared on the social media pages about how diversity is changing the old rules of what constitutes suburbia. Ultimately, some of this debate is the old civic inferiority complex rearing up its head again.

Ultimately, I’ve found a few things make a town an actual town. They are as follows:

-You have an individual or several individuals who govern your affairs as elected officials. This government is recognized in the town charter.

-You have your own post office (However, this one is becoming less prevalent with many rural towns losing their post office)

-Your population is heterogeneous. Diversity is the rule, rather than the exception.

-Organic community creation (non-governmental entities such as fraternal organizations and neighborhood associations) includes and embraces the diversity of the community.

-Your school system services children from birth to the end of college. This is done through Head Start, a vibrant public K-12 system and a community college. Bonus points if your town is a college town.

-You have either a traditional or a created main street apparatus. This apparatus does not count if it’s really just the suburban mall that’s been grafted into the form. Old Town Alexandria is a good example of having national stores, but under multiple owners and with public streets, sidewalks and parks.

-Once again, there are multiple owners, renters and the like. The community wasn’t planned. If it was planned, it has long ceded into having multiple private owners of buildings and public control of infrastructure.

You may note that this list does not address form, outside of having a true main street. I am not excusing places that do not have a good urban or town form. Yet, this post is to highlight that not all main cities have a monopoly on good urban form. Unfortunately, in many cases in the U.S. today, you are either a town or a city.

If you don’t recognize that, it’s time to act like one.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • (@NewUrbanism) (@NewUrbanism) August 1, 2012, 11:30 am

    Identity Crisis- When Your Suburb is Really a Town | The Black Urbanist http://t.co/UA7Fq3z7

  • Sharon McMillan August 1, 2012, 3:02 pm

    Interestingly enough we have a situation here where residents differentiate between the Town and City designations.  Our town is technically a city based on size and other criteria but it is officially called a town (the Town of Markham). At the insistence of his constituents a councilor put forward the motion to change the name of our “Town” to “The City of Markham.”

    This councilor is an active voice for the business sector in our community and the sector feels the “Town” designation poses a disadvantage to businesses and the region as a whole. Assuming the “City” designation would, they argue, put us on more equal footing when it comes to competing against larger communities for regional development opportunities.

    After much debate on Council and the in the media the motion passed much to the chagrin of those who felt our city would lose its small town character which in and of itself had proved to be very profitable in other ways (e.g. tourism, etc.).

    Goes to show still too many equate the term “city” with big and bad and that negative connotation will continue to be a challenge for new urbanism in the mainstream. Re-branding at the local level is sorely needed.

    • admin August 1, 2012, 9:42 pm

      That’s interesting that you bring that up. My colleague also lives in a town that’s really a city, but is adamant about remaining a town and will defend that to it’s death. Unfortunately, the urbanism in the town is very poor. It’s sprawl after sprawl after sprawl.

  • InfrastructureUSA (@InfraUSA) August 1, 2012, 3:40 pm

    What makes a suburb a suburb? http://t.co/nVvxXTsz @blackurbanist

  • Claudio Sarmiento (@urbanistmo) August 3, 2012, 12:12 pm

    @NuevoUrbanista “@NewUrbanism: Identity Crisis- When Your Suburb is Really a Town | The Black Urbanist http://t.co/KEe4X2uR”

  • Matthew W. Hall August 13, 2012, 4:12 pm

    I think it is a delusion to think that ‘community’ can be consciously created. Relationships can be created, but community is the entirety of human relations in an area. That just happens or its doesn’t. No individual can make that happen. If you live in a place where there isn’t enough community for you, your only real choice is to move or accept it. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is community.

    • Kristen Jeffers August 13, 2012, 8:37 pm

       I believe that community doesn’t exist without relationships. My attempt is not to create community as a solo entity, but to facilitate the creation. Also, we assume that people can just pick up and move at the drop of a hat and that they should. I feel like we are far too homogenous in our modern relationship/community creation. Maybe we don’t have the same common bonds, but I don’t think it means we are less of a community and less of a relationship builder.

  • @blackurbanist September 25, 2012, 8:39 pm

    @capntransit @justupthepike @ggwash This is a perfect breakdown. I also dealt with this id crisis a few posts ago-http://t.co/zEvMFryN

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