Suburbs Design WIP

This project is a work in progress. My plan is to post updates periodically, until it’s finished.

I’m starting off this project with trying to think of solutions to problems with city design. I noticed there’s a slight lack of community in suburban neighborhoods. Some people never even meet their neighbors. I think this might be because the streets are the nearest public space for socializing, but are dangerous because of cars. My solution to this problem is to remove the fencing in backyards to join them into a private park. Instead of a back yard, each block would have a long community park for neighbors to socialize and play in a safe area, with lots of fun things to do (trampolines, pools, etc.), away from the busy street. There’d be community gardens on every block for growing healthy food to supplement people’s diets and offset the amount of unhealthy food in most cities. Side yards could provide private outdoor spaces for residents. Restaurants on each street corner are designed to bring people together and make it easy for everyone to be social. I think people prefer to buy food at restaurants over online, so hopefully they won’t get put out of business by online shopping and cause blight. Anyways, here’s a rough sketch.


Restrictive building codes prevent housing from being different styles, so, as a result, some people don’t approve of the style of their house. That’s why I want to relax the building codes, so people can have housing styles that appeal to their tastes, such as minimalist modern, victorian, or even tiny houses. This part is harder to model.

Feel free to let me know what you think. Suggestions are welcome too. :smiley:


You have some very good innovative ideas for strengthening community (although depending on background, a reader still might not be used to this style of suburb and find it repetitive or similar to existing ones). I assume the buildings are so far placeholders for individual houses.

In some regions of the world the term “urban consolidation” is under discussion, out of the increased demand for housing near the urban centers while there is a huge lack of space. In such regions, new residential areas at the city border are inconvenient and increase distances and traffic.
Personally, I first perceived the roads in the screenshot wide as motorways. I am wondering, does it not incite people to use cars to get away from their house (even if it is only for the restaurant at the corner)?

The shared (but private) park between the houses is a good idea. It is a place where people might meet in their free time, but it is not where people’s everyday paths have to intersect (they leave and enter their houses at the front). Some approaches are to design the city quarter around social interaction instead of aligning it to roads.

  • For example Cologne has a car-free city quarter (residents declare not to own a car, shared cars and all kinds of transport vehicles are available outside at a parking garage). Main paths cross the center park-like yard. Foot paths are shortened and thus more attractive than using cars, which makes it also a saver place for spare time and a playing ground for children.

  • Another example is the social housing project of Zürich (Europe’s most expensive city). Building area is so expensive, which makes building companies prefer not to build affordable housing. The city fought it by buying land and building on their own, increasing number of storeys and density and providing shared facilities which means people need less space in their appartments. There are shared workshops (you don’t need to own a drilling machine and have access to more professional equipment than you could ever own), shared gardening and shared bikes and vehicles. That saves expensive space, reduces cost and strengthens social interaction.


Interesting project. Modeling both in the visualization and planning sense. I did a little study in school looking at social interaction in housing. You may have already found there is some literature on this. Possibly some environments do drive people apart and some help them be together. The question of social engineering comes up–what are we doing: manipulating people or providing opportunity? Private and public (or social) space, and defensible space etc. are involved. The perceptions and expectations in each society or demographic affect the response. Similarly interaction in the workplace has been reviewed in relation to buildings and spaces.

I think you’ll find a lot of traditional American style suburbs do isolate neighbors. Many people find their friends other ways. For some: being at home is NOT where they want to interact with non-family members, except for special occasions ( I think I am one of these).

You can find examples of special projects or jurisdictions with different zoning laws that have resulted in different sorts of neighborhoods or multi-family housing, and community projects taken on by individuals. The success, failure, or evolution of some of these has been studied or at least written about.


tall fences make good neighbours…


1 Like

Actually, we do “know” some of our neighbors. And it appears to be important for a sense of well-being, whether or not we ever act together for the common good. And I feel the presence of people on the street changes things and can have a positive affect on how the public areas are treated. Some neighbors we never see.

In addition I don’t think the “building” codes affect the type of house people get to have so much as jurisdictional planning or zoning codes. And the real overriding factors are probably cost, wealth, and financing. Most people can only rent or buy a house someone else has designed and built. These factors drive what the builders can offer. In the case of suburb tracts , it’s an attempt to please common tastes, with efficiencies of volume (sameness) and a bit of variation, meet a certain cost, and get a bank to accept it as well.
I’m lucky to have the neighborhood I have.Things are going a different direction in this world. Photo by Michael Wolf R.I.P.

“A number of local governments now have “neighborhood conservation districts” to prevent in-fill development that is radically different from the existing neighborhood.”


I read some of my local building code once and saw something like that, if I remember correctly. They want the housing to be designed with likeness to the surrounding houses.

Nice idea.

I lived in a Condominium complex which had all these things - houses clustered around playgrounds, pools, tennis courts, sports fields, etc. It was very fancy and expensive. Even though we didn’t have our own back lawn, as a kid it was far superior because i had 20 other kids to play with every day in one huge, safe playground. People seem to think “if i have kids, i need my own back yard” but as a kid, communal areas are even better.

You hit the nail on the head with “streets are the main communal spaces” in suburbs - which leaves two basic options:

  1. make the streets safe , with space alongside them and even within them for green areas, park benches, zones for playing etc. This requires cars to slow down a LOT. It also requires houses to have frontages that are “open” to the streets so that the street feels more part of the home - not simply having a high fence or garage door facing the street (which makes is unwelcoming and also results in cars driving faster through it).

  2. make communal spaces away from the street - this is often easier to do in a brand new neighbourhood. The challenge here is to make the communal space well-managed, not neglected. Not too big, and not too “public” (cant have loads of people going through it). Privacy is important for the surrounding houses.

My advice - continue with your idea, think about scale (how big is the space and what is the ideal number of houses to create a “Micro-neighbourhood” with a good community feel? (too many houses sharing it may create less of a community than a smaller number).

Also, think about the internal rooms of the house - where are the living spaces and bedrooms, which direction do they face (its best to have the main living rooms facing the public spaces so they can connect with them and enjoy the amenity). Draw up a internal plan of a couple of homes to help figure this out…

1 Like

I previously considered something like that (specifically underground streets with parks on the ground level), but decided it’d be too expensive and the reduced traffic speed would increase emergency response times. Turning the back yards into a communal area seems like a safer idea.

Yeah, I just mean “building codes” usually means the standards for building construction, often legislated by the state based on a uniform code, and cities have a planning code or ordinance that tells you what kind of building may be built where, sometimes down to the paint color.

Looking at Andres Duany may give you an idea on what has been done regarding streets.

1 Like

What if, when the technology gets cheaper, the house could be made of MicroLED screens? You could change your facade, so your house appeals to your tastes, with the click of a button.

Cheaper: VR glasses


(They are also the solution to the problem that we are living above our means, but are too comfortable to adapt our standard of living to the sustainable ration of resources that are available to us.)


Maybe this is a good example of urban parks providing what you are after

Hope Island ; Gold Coast Australia

hope island.kmz (684 Bytes)

1 Like

I’m guessing you’re in the USA. If you suggested to a UK homeowner that their garden would be part of all the others (IE not a garden at all), they’d ‘tear you a new one’. (I believe that’s the phrase).


In my sketch, each house had 15’ x 30’ side yards. They’re big enough for personal gardens.

Anyways, I’m not satisfied with my LED facade idea, but now I’m considering a recycled plastic hull and foam insulation construction. Plastic takes about 1,000 years to decompose, so it’s a very durable building material. Also, I’m trying to figure out disaster resistance.

Plastic is a lightweight material. The houses could be designed to be easily transported in the event of a wildfire. Also, the neighborhood could have fire lines in its design to prevent the spread of fire.

Plastic is a flexible material, so the housing could be bendy enough to handle earthquakes.

Connect all the houses to each other with steel cable. In the event of a sinkhole, the houses will be caught by the cable.

The housing can float and is anchored by cables to stay in place.

People can live underground until the storm subsides.

I’m having difficulty deciding on an architectural style. Googie architecture seemed like a good idea at first, but now I’m considering neo-futurism. Before I start modeling, I’d like to have a clear vision of what I want it to look like. Unfortunately, I’m extremely picky, so it’s taking a while. I’m probably watching too much YouTube for my own good too.

There are communities as you describe, Greenbelt Maryland is one:

It is set up somewhat in reverse of what you propose - the roads and “service” features were kept hidden to the rear and the houses opened out the front into the public pedestrian space.

Blockquote Greenbelt borrowed techniques pioneered seven years previously at Radburn, New Jersey, which turned housing layouts “inside-out” to keep automobiles and service traffic hidden. The architectural design, while modern in tone, borrows details such as pitched slate roofs, plain walls and steel casement windows from the English garden cities at Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City.

1 Like

I’ve think I might’ve figured out a construction style I’m liking. It’s lightweight modular architecture.

  1. Assemble the structural poles and connectors into a building shape:

  2. Wrap supports with cut-resistant (for security) foam insulated wall panels (there are window and door panels too):

Here’s a sketch of the interior:

I want seamless inflatable furniture (made with a blow mold) covered with a layer of cut-resistant fabric to prevent the furniture from deflating. The fixtures can be inflatable too, such as the washing machine, bathtub, and sinks. The buildings would be anchored to the ground with structurally sound stakes. The floors could be net hammocks, fabric hammock floors, or foam floors for acoustic insulation in private rooms. The floors could be connected by inflatable stairs, inflatable slides, and net hammock ramps. I’ve still got a long way to go, but I figured I’d share my progress.