Why so many suburbs look the same

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  • Published on:  Friday, August 9, 2019
  • So many suburbs have similar plans. Why?

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    In this episode of Vox Almanac, Vox’s Phil Edwards investigates the system behind the shape of the suburbs.

    If you’ve visited a suburb, you’ve probably noticed a similar look: same curving streets; same cul de sacs. It’s not an accident. In fact, this appearance of the suburbs is part of the Federal Housing Administration’s plan.

    In the 1930s, the Federal Housing Administration, or FHA, was the financial engine behind most home development. To ensure their investments were safe ones, they strongly recommended that builders and developers comply with the ideals they set. Those regulations aligned closely with the values of the time, including segregation and a burgeoning car culture.

    These rules encouraged suburbs with winding streets and cul de sacs — aesthetically pleasing designs that led to sprawl and made a car a necessity. Even though the enforcement mechanisms have changed over time, we still live in a culture shaped by the FHA’s ideal suburban design.

    If you want to learn more, there are a couple of resources:

    Streets and the Shaping of Towns and Cities by Michael Southworth and Eran Ben-Joseph
    Eran Ben-Joseph spoke to me about his book, which provides a great overview of suburban planning. It also has more crucial detail about street widths, which influenced car culture.

    FHA Underwriting Manual
    If you’re curious to wade into some primary documents, this underwriting manual from 1938 is a good place to start.

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  • Jason Diggs
    Jason Diggs  yesterday

    Easy way to keep black people out, just like anything else in America.

  • chezboi
    chezboi  4 days ago

    Read it as “Why so many suburbs look lame”

  • Joshua Harvey
    Joshua Harvey  5 days ago

    Aha, now I know who to blame for the appalling state of American suburbs. I grew up in one and I've hated them since I was old enough to realize there was anything else.

  • Bill Olsen
    Bill Olsen  7 days ago

    90% of metropolitan Phoenix looks identical

  • vivi Hutson
    vivi Hutson  7 days ago

    I like your 🧠

  • Mike Ramirez
    Mike Ramirez  7 days ago

    bonus points for the McMansions lol

  • xr28y ge3fl1
    xr28y ge3fl1  7 days ago

    Suburbs are where young couples go to raise kids, Thru streets are bad for kids to play in. Culdesacs are great for kids.
    When yard sizes were reduced to limit upkeep and costs the Culdesac became important. This factor is far more significant than any FHA input.

  • Matthew L'Herault

    Because they are designed that way duh

  • Nano 108
    Nano 108  7 days ago

    You should put a video of now and later photos of those suburbs

  • Nathan Baribeau
    Nathan Baribeau  7 days ago

    Will VOX do a documentary on the rise and fall of the "Mc-mansion"? The ugliest housing projects in America.

  • TheBald1
    TheBald1  7 days ago

    I helped build a lot of those houses in Midlothian Virginia where you're at now and along with Roxshire and Salisbury

  • Mike
    Mike  7 days ago

    Laughs in Chilean Suburbs

  • Elise Love
    Elise Love  7 days ago


  • Lemon Head
    Lemon Head  7 days ago

    Because they are made with the same arithmetic. Also they are normally mass produced all at once when you mass produced something what would be easier? Doing the same thing over and over or making somthing new everytime? Of course they would stick to the same design for easier work and quicker housing. Quicker housing =more pay/money.

  • Bob Saget
    Bob Saget  7 days ago

    Feel like this video was working up to a point but then just ended.

  • I'm Not Using My Real Name

    Lol looks like housing under communism if every family had a house.

  • I like Green
    I like Green  14 days ago

    If you're actually going in circles (as seen at 0:05) the only logical answer I could give is yes.

    If you weren't going in circles the only logical answer I could give is no.

  • derek yasmar
    derek yasmar  14 days ago

    a home accessible to public transportation is where i aim to live. its ridiculous to think that you need to drive a car to move around.

  • Doctor Games101
    Doctor Games101  21 days ago

    Ah.....the music. lol If I have the money to literally buy a house in full, it should not matter what race or class I am in, especially that money is involved.

  • nonsEns
    nonsEns  21 days ago

    why don't they bother to add footpaths!?