It was 9:30 P.M. on a November evening when the nation's premier critic of suburbia decided to cross the road. Town planner Andres Duany had just started a weeklong design session in Huntersville, N.C., and we went out for dinner. The first place we tried was closed, so we left the car and set out in search of another. What were we thinking? Sidestepping Texaco pumps, pushing through a hedge, scampering down an embankment, hopping over mud puddles and dashing across four lanes, we made it to an isolated stretch of sidewalk by a drive-through bank teller. "Sometimes I forget where I am," Duany told me the next day. "They all look the same."
Duany came to this suburb of Charlotte, one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S., to help it map a way out of the sprawl. Across the country he and his wife, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, are forging amalgams of burb and burg: pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods rather than more subdivisions, more mini-malls, more parking lots and more traffic. Talk of "smart growth" owes much to their insights. But are they also achieving their broader goals of social engineering? Duany argues that modern architecture shouldn't be a game of one-upmanship, as it often becomes, but a means to strengthen communities: "Success is not just to say, 'My house is in better taste,' but, 'My daughter has more friends than before.'" By those standards, however, their success is uncertain.
This article was originally published with the title Between Burb and Burg.