Sprawl With A Human Face

MLewyn's picture

I just did something I wanted to do since moving to New York: visited Levittown, a historic postwar suburb.  Photos of my visit are here.  

The residential streets of Levittown compare favorably to the Sunbelt sprawl I grew up with.  Sidewalks are (at least in the part of Levittown I was in) universal, unlike in Atlanta's 1940s and 1950s neighborhoods (even some only four or five miles from downtown).  And even though Levittown is not a pure grid, it also does not pile cul-de-sac on top of cul-de-sac; instead, there is just enough street connectivity that a child who knows what he/she is doing can get from one residential street to another without having to walk through a six-lane arterial.  Residential streets (and even some non-residential ones) have on-street parking.

On the negative side, land uses are definitely more segregated than is ideal; Levittown's collective Walkscore is about a 55, not terrible but not great either.  Levittown's commercial streets are pretty bad from a pedestrian perspective; Hempstead Turnpike, apparently the major street, ranges from six to eight lanes wide (though it does have a median in the middle, unlike some of Atlanta's comparable streets).   Even here there is some good news; if you survive crossing Hempstead Turnpike, you will find commercial buildings that aren't always set back from the street (or if they are, are often 20 or 30 feet from the street instead of hundreds). 

On balance, Levittown is sprawl with a human face: more automobile-oriented than most pre-World War II development, less so than much of what was built in the late 20th century.


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