What are some things that could help a suburb reinvent itself?
A place people want to walk around. Organic, village-type environments that are how the suburbs started to begin with. Public transit also. People want out of their cars, especially millennials.
One criticism of these walkable, hip places is that they will be bastions for the wealthy, who can afford to live right next to whatever transit and amenities are most desirable.
That’s a fair criticism. Home building has become commoditized to the point where builders know how to shave away every cost behind the kinds of houses they build. When you change the model — building in a way that’s slightly smaller, mixing houses and retail — it does get more expensive.
But there are some models that are not bastions for yuppies.
I liked the little tangible things builders can do to make suburbs work: building porches on the front of houses, building houses not that far away from the sidewalk, having sidewalks in the first place.
How the design of a neighborhood and a house impact the social element of how we live is really interesting.
How do you interact with your West Village neighbors in New York?
They’re all investment bankers in their 20s. They’re more interested in talking on their cellphones and where the next party is.
Isn’t that the urban experience millennials crave, though? A reader suggested to me that even when we build walkable urban places where people can interact, everybody is talking on their cellphones and ignoring one another anyhow.
Millennials are going to be on their phones and texting no matter what. It’s better if they’re at least somewhat social while doing it.
What are the main differences between the way you grew up in suburban Pennsylvania and how your kids will grow up in the West Village?
I don’t know if I’ll be able to afford to raise kids in the West Village. But I grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia called Media, Pennsylvania, that has a lot of ingredients you don’t really see anymore. It has a trolley that’s not just for show — people actually take it into Philadelphia. It’s got this thriving State Street with tons of stores and restaurants.
My neighborhood abutted downtown Media. It was leafy and beautiful, old colonial houses. We all played in the triangle, where three streets converged, and had a great Fourth of July picnic there. That doesn’t really exist for a lot of people in the suburbs anymore.