City Lab Editor: Reston is a ‘Radical Suburb’

Stereotypes of suburban life — with its big homes, picketed fences, and affluent people — thrive in America. But in some “radical suburbs,” people flocked to the urban fringes to chase a different way of life, according to City Lab Editor Amanda Kolson Hurley.

In her new book, “Radical Suburbs: Experimental Living on the Fringes of the American City,” Hurley examines six suburban towns that are “fertile ground for utopian planning, communal living, socially-conscious design, and integrated housing.”

Hurley says that Reston is a community that strays from the typical idea of a conventional, middle-class suburb. She discussed her book in a Kojo Nnamdi Show segment on Wednesday (April 24).

Reston is an “anti-suburb” developed by Bob Simon, who was born into a family of real estate developers, Hurley said. After taking a bike trip across Europe — with all of its plazas and community-style living — Simon was inspired to sell off his share of Carnegie Hall to build a new town. Like the founder of Columbia, Md. – Reston’s sister city — Simon was tired of the soul-less and ugly character of other suburbs, Hurley said.

“People thought he was nuts,” Hurley said.

But Reston turned out to be a good bet. Unlike other suburbs at the time, Reston was integrated from the very beginning, giving it a forward-looking vision, she says.

But now, Reston — like other radical suburbs — faces a question of identity.

“The question it faces and that more and more suburbs will face in the coming years is one of identity,” Hurley said, “Should it be a suburb or a city?”

Her book examines other model suburbs like Old Economy, Pa., Piscataway, Nj., Lexington, Ma, and Greenbelt, Md.

Photo via Belt Publishing

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