Why so many suburbs look the same

  • Published: 09 August 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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Comments • 1 615

  • Jason Diggs
    Jason Diggs  5 days back

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

    • chezboi
      chezboi  1 weeks back

      Read it as “Why so many suburbs look lame”

      • Joshua Harvey
        Joshua Harvey  1 weeks back

        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  2 weeks back

          90% of metropolitan Phoenix looks identical

          • vivi Hutson
            vivi Hutson  2 weeks back

            I like your 🧠

            • Mike Ramirez
              Mike Ramirez  2 weeks back

              bonus points for the McMansions lol

              • xr28y ge3fl1
                xr28y ge3fl1  2 weeks back

                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
                  Matthew L'Herault  2 weeks back

                  Because they are designed that way duh

                  • Nano 108
                    Nano 108  2 weeks back

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

                    • Nathan Baribeau
                      Nathan Baribeau  2 weeks back

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

                      • TheBald1
                        TheBald1  2 weeks back

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

                        • Mike
                          Mike  2 weeks back

                          Laughs in Chilean Suburbs

                          • Elise Love
                            Elise Love  2 weeks back


                            • Lemon Head
                              Lemon Head  2 weeks back

                              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  2 weeks back

                                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  3 weeks back

                                    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  3 weeks back

                                      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  4 weeks back

                                        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  4 weeks back

                                          why don't they bother to add footpaths!?

                                          • Mark Mitch
                                            Mark Mitch  4 weeks back

                                            Because those Suburbs have to please the wealthy Liberals who are fleeing the Democrat controlled crime infested cities.

                                            • Partario Bachsvitch
                                              Partario Bachsvitch  4 weeks back

                                              Sprawling on the fringes of the city
                                              In geometric order
                                              An insulated border
                                              In-between the bright lights
                                              And the far, unlit unknown

                                              Growing up, it all seems so one-sided
                                              Opinions all provided
                                              The future pre-decided
                                              Detached and subdivided
                                              In the mass-production zone

                                              Nowhere is the dreamer
                                              Or the misfit so alone

                                              In the high school halls
                                              In the shopping malls
                                              Conform or be cast out
                                              In the basement bars
                                              In the backs of cars
                                              Be cool or be cast out

                                              Any escape might help to smooth
                                              The unattractive truth
                                              But the suburbs have no charms to soothe
                                              The restless dreams of youth

                                              Drawn like moths, we drift into the city
                                              The timeless old attraction
                                              Cruising for the action
                                              Lit up like a firefly
                                              Just to feel the living night

                                              Some will sell their dreams for small desires
                                              Or lose the race to rats
                                              Get caught in ticking traps
                                              And start to dream of somewhere
                                              To relax their restless flight

                                              Somewhere out of a memory
                                              Of lighted streets on quiet nights

                                              In the high school halls
                                              In the shopping malls
                                              Conform or be cast out
                                              In the basement bars
                                              In the backs of cars
                                              Be cool or be cast out

                                              Any escape might help to smooth
                                              The unattractive truth
                                              But the suburbs have no charms to soothe
                                              The restless dreams of youth

                                              - Neil Peart

                                              • Trigger Random
                                                Trigger Random  4 weeks back

                                                i always say ok just one Vox video and ended up watching 20 vox videos xD

                                                • Azzagard
                                                  Azzagard  4 weeks back

                                                  They all look the same because we live in the Matrix.

                                                  • Theodor Banu
                                                    Theodor Banu  4 weeks back

                                                    it is close to 1M this video in views

                                                    • EmperorEmpoleon
                                                      EmperorEmpoleon  1 months back

                                                      roads racist?

                                                      • Jason Learakos
                                                        Jason Learakos  1 months back

                                                        I HATE THEM

                                                        • Emily Lochore
                                                          Emily Lochore  1 months back

                                                          Why is there so much lawn? They don’t appear to being very creative with their gardens. I live in Australia, and here in the suburbs pretty much every garden looks completely different, as well as a lot of the houses as well.

                                                          • Theo_ VeVo
                                                            Theo_ VeVo  1 months back

                                                            White heaven

                                                            • Julia Storey
                                                              Julia Storey  1 months back

                                                              I’ve lived in Florida my whole life. I enjoy walking down the streets, it’s my favorite part of visiting other other countries. It’s really hard to walk around in America. Especially if you live in the suburbs, which I do. In my neighborhood, only the main roads have sidewalks, and to catch a bus I have to walk a couple of miles. I love visiting bigger cities and walking around/ taking public transportation. I hate how the suburban sprawl makes it so hard.

                                                              • bigdicktoe
                                                                bigdicktoe  1 months back

                                                                Damm i thought New Zealand was bad. We just have surburbs here but not everyone looks the same. We got posh and below average surburbs.

                                                                • Gates Jackson
                                                                  Gates Jackson  1 months back

                                                                  Do I feel like I'm going in circles? Yeah man my wife left me she got the kids and the bank just foreclosed on my hou... ohhh you mean suburbs, nah I got GPS

                                                                  • ninjapoodle22
                                                                    ninjapoodle22  1 months back


                                                                    • eric shippie
                                                                      eric shippie  1 months back

                                                                      Very interesting. Ty

                                                                      • Valens
                                                                        Valens  1 months back

                                                                        I love the suburbs

                                                                        • Sha Cloon
                                                                          Sha Cloon  2 months back

                                                                          I wish we had this design in Bavaria 👍

                                                                          • AlbinoCJ96
                                                                            AlbinoCJ96  2 months back

                                                                            2 words: Levitt Towns

                                                                            • Andrew Cummins
                                                                              Andrew Cummins  2 months back

                                                                              Don’t like the suburbs? Don’t live there.

                                                                              • ber mei
                                                                                ber mei  2 months back

                                                                                It's not the street layout that makes them look all the same. It's the cookie cutter houses with no character.

                                                                                • Prof. Potato
                                                                                  Prof. Potato  2 months back

                                                                                  Subdivisions designed like this make public transit a NIGHTMARE. Takes you 20 min to get to a bus stop when it would take 10 linearly. Not to mention deep subdivisions aren’t even serviced. Awful coercion into buying cars

                                                                                  • Melissa Yes
                                                                                    Melissa Yes  2 months back

                                                                                    i dont know why but there's a wooden fence that breaks up 2 culdasacks but sometime ago someone broke a little bit of it so it's walkable but like... i still dont know the point of it

                                                                                    • Duy Nguyễn Hữu Quang
                                                                                      Duy Nguyễn Hữu Quang  2 months back


                                                                                      • Calamari Sauce
                                                                                        Calamari Sauce  2 months back

                                                                                        grove street

                                                                                        • Cedrick Ward
                                                                                          Cedrick Ward  2 months back

                                                                                          I have a question...
                                                                                          Why do so many suburbs look alike ...?

                                                                                          • chica negoo
                                                                                            chica negoo  2 months back

                                                                                            I knew it was Midlothian as soon as the video started. I hate Midlothian💀

                                                                                            • eden weisman
                                                                                              eden weisman  2 months back

                                                                                              Radburn was actually based off of some foreign town. It has a Radburn association witch you can only Join if you live close enough. The town houses are at the center of fairlawn boosting the economy. Currently new town houses are being built

                                                                                              • eden weisman
                                                                                                eden weisman  2 months back

                                                                                                I went to Radburn !!!

                                                                                                • Machine Gun Bambi
                                                                                                  Machine Gun Bambi  2 months back

                                                                                                  I need a car uwu