Why so many suburbs look the same Why knights fought snails in medieval 2 days ago   07:20

So many suburbs have similar plans. Why?

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In this episode of Vox Almanac, Vox’s Phil Edwards investigates the system behind the shape of the suburbs.

If you’ve visited a suburb, you’ve probably noticed a similar look: same curving streets; same cul de sacs. It’s not an accident. In fact, this appearance of the suburbs is part of the Federal Housing Administration’s plan.

In the 1930s, the Federal Housing Administration, or FHA, was the financial engine behind most home development. To ensure their investments were safe ones, they strongly recommended that builders and developers comply with the ideals they set. Those regulations aligned closely with the values of the time, including segregation and a burgeoning car culture.

These rules encouraged suburbs with winding streets and cul de sacs — aesthetically pleasing designs that led to sprawl and made a car a necessity. Even though the enforcement mechanisms have changed over time, we still live in a culture shaped by the FHA’s ideal suburban design.

If you want to learn more, there are a couple of resources:

Streets and the Shaping of Towns and Cities by Michael Southworth and Eran Ben-Joseph
Eran Ben-Joseph spoke to me about his book, which provides a great overview of suburban planning. It also has more crucial detail about street widths, which influenced car culture.

FHA Underwriting Manual
If you’re curious to wade into some primary documents, this underwriting manual from 1938 is a good place to start.

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Comments 1426 Comments

In Scarsdale NY, the extremely wealthy cannot go for a walk or have their children of dog walked on a basic sidewalk. When I visit my sister there we go out for a stroll and are consistently honked at and almost run down. They cannot afford sidewalks?!? What a waste of life, sometimes wealth does not equal common sense.
Yvan Rausch
why did you have to bring in racism lol
Spy Fox
My wife boyfriend has a big but
When I was a kid, we lived on a dead end street behind a suburb, in a little mobile home. We’d call those suburbs the “rich neighborhood.”

It always took so long for the water to drain so we’d ask if we could ride our bikes in the rich neighborhood.
Ice Karma
5:26 What's with the arrow impact sound effect?
Good info never knew some of those facts
Megan Rivera
Racism is still very much an institutionalized problem and still deeply marginalizes POC even today. That's why racism isn't "over" and why POC should not be expected to "just get over it". Racial segregation happens today in schools, employment and housing, enforced by old policies still based around racist fearmongering. White people are the single benefactors of racism in America, and are wholly responsible for ending it, and de-segregating housing and making housing more affordable is one of the ways to do it.
Teo Rodrigues
It looks such a nice place to live
Dylan Thompson
In Memphis we call a culdesaq a cove. I literally thought everybody called it that for so long
David B
I lived in the ideal suburb where it was middle class homes and they all looked different! now it seems like when they build a new suburb they're either affordable cookie cutter houses that are way to close to one another or big MCMansion houses that are also way to close to each other. The middle class is dying even in suburb design
To combat the car ownership situation, along came Uber and Lyft. The game constantly changes.
Kripendra Amatya
I would intend to create a community, where there are narrow streets and people could park the cars outside the community and have to walk few meters everyday to get to their vehicle or to take a bus or a train.
This would reduce pollution inside the community and children could safely play in the streets and corridors. The narrow streets will also keep the locality cooler and would engage societal conversation which is being lost in an era of internet.
Because... Little boxes on the hillside. Little boxes made of tricky tacky...
Phoebe Wolf
These interest me a lot! You guys should make a video about greenbelt communities! (I live in Greendale, WI and I love your videos)
Haven Skye
Should probably add info about the money behind the development of suburbs... I'm not sure how early it started, but most "neighborhoods" being built nowadays are funded by super wealthy investment funds. One big consequence of this is the rapid rise of HOAs and Property Management Companies; many Americans no longer have a choice to avoid these type of neighborhoods. Another consequence is single plot home builders are running out of land options in many states. Unless a wealthy developer has already sub-divided the land, small land buyers cannot get local or state governments to allow them to build one home on vacant piece of property. Municipalities have become so painfully dependent on private developers to increase the tax base; it often gives these few wealthy businesses a tyrannical influence over local affairs and politics.
Ongkon Deb
I didn't understand what was trying to be told. Can someone please explain?
Hello Hi
And don’t forget about the HOA fee...!
John Jaracci
Adventure capitalist, Is that you?
Craig Gomes
Suburbs are also a problem for the elderly, because they are always far away from anything you can't walk. No public transport, means you either need to be able to drive still or lose some independence and rely on others for things like groceries.

They really need to be more walkable and America needs to learn that not everyone should *have* to own a car.
Roger Moore
very much interesting
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Why knights fought snails in medieval Why so many suburbs look the same 2 days ago   04:37

Look in the margins of medieval books and you'll find an unusual theme: knights vs. snails. Follow Phil Edwards and Vox Almanac on Facebook for more: https://www.facebook.com/philedwardsinc1/

Lillian Randall's paper is here: https://www.scribd.com/document/263159779/The-Snail-in-Gothic-Marginal-Warfare

And Michael Camille's book about marginal art can be found here: http://www.reaktionbooks.co.uk/display.asp?K=9780948462283

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Medieval snails and knights — who knew? It turns out that medieval illuminated manuscripts featured a lot of bizarre imagery in the margins, but this pocket of art history might be one of the most intriguing.

Scholar Lilian Randall provides the best theory for the unusual motif: these medieval knights fought snails in the margins because snails represented the Lombards, who had become widely despised lenders throughout Europe. Snail was an insult and, over time, it became a type of meme detached from its original meaning.

Of course, like much of art history, this theory is just a theory. But it gives us an insight into the rich culture of marginal art and all the complexity, confusion, and amusement that sits on the side of the page.

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