10 Most Enlightened Suburbs

Suburbs are often stereotyped as selfish and soulless, but the
communities highlighted here could teach towns everywhere a thing
or two about civic spirit and livability. We?d like to hear your
thoughts on other great suburbs throughout the world. Send us your
suggestions (editor@utne.com or Enlightened Suburbs, c/o editor,
Utne, 1624 Harmon Place, Minneapolis, MN 55403) and we?ll take
another look at enlightened suburbs in a future issue.

  1. Montgomery County, Maryland (Washington,
    D.C.)

    A mostly affluent stretch of communities northwest of D.C., it?s
    home to probably the leftiest ?burb anywhere (Takoma Park) and one
    of the very first New Urbanist communities (Kentlands). Montgomery
    County stands out as a national leader in preventing sprawl by
    preserving thousands of acres of farmland. It has also achieved
    impressive results on affordable housing by requiring developers to
    include 15 percent lower-income units in all major projects or
    subdivisions.
  2. Tempe, Arizona (Phoenix)
    Standard-issue Sun belt sprawl has been transformed into a
    genuinely lively town through smart redevelopment and historical
    restoration. Local planners capitalized on the presence of Arizona
    State University to create a lively main street that attracts
    shoppers, cultural patrons, and lovers of urban atmosphere from
    around the area.
  3. Suisun City, California (Bay Area)
    Once a tough town notorious for pollution, drugs, and crime, Suisun
    City took bold steps in revitalizing its waterfront, investing in
    its tatty downtown, and building a handsome city hall and two
    public plazas. To the surprise of numerous skeptics, it worked, and
    this suburb on the way to Sacramento is now enjoying a
    renaissance.
  4. Shaker Heights, Ohio (Cleveland)
    A classic 1920s garden suburb built around a rapid-transit stop,
    Shaker Heights has worked hard since the 1960s to encourage racial
    diversity. Controversial pro-integration policies have prevented it
    from becoming either a segregated white fortress or a resegregated
    black enclave. (Oak Park, Illinois, has accomplished much the same
    thing.)
  5. Royal Oak, Michigan (Detroit)
    Sure, some suburbs can be progressive, public-minded, and even
    pedestrian-friendly, but hip? Well, take a look at Royal Oak?a
    suburbohemia filled with ethnic restaurants, sidewalk caf?s, art
    galleries, theaters, a farmer?s market, and some of the Motor
    City?s best live music.
  6. Hammond/Whiting/Gary, Indiana (Chicago)
    Folks in these hard-hit steel towns might be excused for feeling
    hopeless about the future. But they?ve refused to give up on their
    communities. As part of the Northwest Indiana Federation of
    Interfaith Organizations, a coalition of religious congregations,
    local activists won a five-year uphill battle to establish a
    regional transit system. This victory not only will make it easier
    for residents to get to jobs in outlying suburbs, but also
    demonstrates the power of people working together.
  7. Burlingame/San Mateo, California (Bay
    Area)

    Burlingame offers a grand example from the early 1900s of what a
    suburb can be: a bustling downtown clustered around a train station
    and surrounded by tree-shaded neighborhoods. Neighboring San Mateo
    is newer but is increasingly recognized for its vital and
    pedestrian-friendly downtown. This has made a big difference for
    the community?s many older people, who suffer isolation in most
    suburbs when they no longer drive.
  8. Delray Beach, Florida (Palm Beach)
    Suburban civic spirit is not an oxymoron here. This mixed-income
    beach town has won national awards for programs that help at-risk
    youth, minority senior citizens, and low-income elementary school
    students. Atlantic Avenue has been revitalized and low-income
    neighborhoods nearby are seeing signs of revival without wholesale
    gentrification.
  9. Markham, Ontario (Toronto)
    toronto has been described by some wags as ?Vienna surrounded by
    Houston.? But this booming technoburb defies the sprawling,
    ticky-tacky, no-there-there image of the region?s suburbs.
    Municipal officials in Markham have embraced New Urbanism more
    sincerely than almost anywhere else, working hard to instill a
    vibrant, bustling feeling to new developments.
  10. Naperville, Illinois (Chicago)
    An old town on the Fox River encircled by suburban development,
    Naperville has maintained the amiable spirit of Main Street USA.
    But these charms have made it a target for tear-downs?classic old
    homes being razed to make way for oversized new McMansions.
    Community First, a local citizens group, established successful
    guidelines for maintaining the character of Naperville?s
    neighborhoods without stifling homeowners? creativity.

Peter Katz was founding director of the Congress for the New
Urbanism and now lectures widely on the benefits of urban places.
Author of the influential book
The New Urbanism: Toward an
Architecture of Community, he lives in Alexandria, Virginia.
Jay Walljasper, editor of
Utne, writes frequently on urban
topics.

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