Suburbia is undergoing a new trend, but will it be enough to reduce sprawl? Suburban developers are moving away from building new single family homes in favor of higher density apartments that house multiple families per building.

Planetizen blogger, Michael Lewyn, decided to visit one of these suburban apartments to see how well they hold up to the ideals of new urbanism. The apartment complex he decided to analyze was Reading Woods in Reading, Massachusetts. His results were mixed. On one hand, the walkability of the area was okay. There were five restaurants and a few stores within a mile of the apartments and adequate sidewalks were in place to get back and forth. On the other hand, there was much to be desired. Civic buildings and a full service supermarket were well over a mile away from the apartments, making them difficult to walk to. Also, both the nearest bus stop and train station were over a mile away from the development. The buses would stop running at 7pm and would not run at all on Sundays. Lewyn concluded that Reading Woods was mediocre compared to traditional city neighborhoods but better off than typical suburbs.

Reading Woods in Reading, Massachusetts

Michael Lewyn’s study of Reading Woods seems legitimate and relatable to similar suburban apartment buildings. He used factual evidence and measured distances in order to ensure that his findings were accurate. It is important to note, however, that it is difficult to completely agree with his findings without actually going out and visiting Reading Woods in person. The most a skeptic can do without actually visiting is to look up maps and satellite images of the apartments and the surrounding area. A large amount of qualitative data such as a measure of the sense of community is lost using these methods.

In his book, Contemporary Urban Planning, John M. Levy discusses transit oriented development, a key feature of new urbanism. He describes it as, “a high-density area laid out so that every residential unit within it is within a 10 minutes’ walk of a transit stop,” (Levy 190-191). Levy believes that transit oriented development is the key to reducing dependence on automobiles in the United States. The developers of Reading Woods seem to have tried to build near transit stations, but they failed in creating transit oriented development because the apartments were a bit too far away.

Suburban developers are making progress towards sustainable practices, but they still have a long way to go.