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Old 10-11-2013, 07:49 AM
 
Location: Pittsburgh, PA (Morningside)
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I was taking a look at Google Satellite view of different suburbs, and I noticed across America they tended to fall into discrete categories. Don't zoom in and look at the streetscape - look at the lot sizes.

Type 1:
Germantown, MD
Burke, VA


Type 2:
Maple Grove, MN
Schaumberg, IL

Type 3:
Kendale Lakes, FL
Laguna Niguel, CA

Basically, it seems like if you take any major metro in the Northeast, Midwest, or most of the Southeast, you'll see types one or two - medium to large-sized lots, with quarter-acre plots pretty common. But in South Florida and the West, yards are tiny, to the point where the house footprint probably takes up more than 3/4ths of the property - even in higher-class areas.

I'd guess it has to do with land values being higher, but even in lower-cost western metros, like Boisie and Albuquerque, you still see the same general pattern. What gives?
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Old 10-11-2013, 09:14 AM
 
Location: Monmouth County, NJ & Staten Island, NY
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Excellent thread idea, this is something I've noticed myself pretty extensively. My guess is that historically higher desirability the further west of the Mississippi you head (and obviously ultimately culminating with California) simply are cases of developers using higher density auto-centric developments to make a) subdivide land into more lots for more profit b) create more affordable properties.

I also think that it may have something to do with the apparent lower amount of develop-able land out west, given how much of it is done in valleys, plateaus, etc. Google Terrain maps make light this obvious fact such as Silicon Valley, Las Vegas and of course good ol' L.A.. What this ends up doing is pushing development out past these physical barriers where folks who want some kind of affordable home in a suburban setting can do so often at the expense of a much longer commute. If this is a trade-off someone wants to make, more power to them but I think we'll eventually see more job centers shifting to these communities as well over time. I guess examples here would be places like Pleasanton, Victorville, Bakersfield and Lancaster California.

Now to explain the ones closer to the East Coast, I think that metro areas have more of an "infinite" land grab the further you go out, since it mainly tends to be more or less develop-able farmland or forests. I mean taking a look at the fringe of western suburbia in Chicago, you can see this "infinite" amount of farmland that could be built up as subdivisions (not saying its actually infinite, hence the quotes: its the apparent idea behind it). Developers probably understand this, and since land values would probably be lower they can build much less dense communities like neighborhoods of similar densities as this compared to this. Far flung exurbs of NYC such as Mt. Pocono and exurbs of Baltimore such as New Freedom are great examples of this. You definitely do see a lot of communities on the eastern side of the country that do follow the more California/Western approach of denser suburban communities, however I find that these are mostly suburban-style neighborhoods located within city limits of major cities, due to the higher land cost and demand for the SFH lifestyle within city limits, reasons possibly being residency requirements, family/friends/obligations or just preference to live within the city. Neighborhoods like this one in Staten Island, this one in Brooklyn, this one in N.E. Philadelphia, this one in Chicago and this one in Washington, D.C. are all great examples of this.
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Old 10-11-2013, 11:24 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KeepRightPassLeft View Post
Developers probably understand this, and since land values would probably be lower they can build much less dense communities like neighborhoods of similar densities as this compared to this. Far flung exurbs of NYC such as Mt. Pocono and exurbs of Baltimore such as New Freedom are great examples of this.
This.

And local and historical preferences and historical technological limitations on development.

Technology at the time of development defines what one can do with any given piece of land at any given price threshold. This includes the cost of developing the land to make it move-in ready and the cost of living there (of utilities, of an internet and television connection, of transportation to work and various destinations, etc.).

Local and historical (ie, at any given period in time) preferences define what owners want to do and have done with any given piece of land.
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Old 10-11-2013, 12:10 PM
 
Location: Pittsburgh, PA (Morningside)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KeepRightPassLeft View Post
Excellent thread idea, this is something I've noticed myself pretty extensively. My guess is that historically higher desirability the further west of the Mississippi you head (and obviously ultimately culminating with California) simply are cases of developers using higher density auto-centric developments to make a) subdivide land into more lots for more profit b) create more affordable properties.
I don't think the West in general is desirable enough to explain this though. Even lower-cost metros in the west show similar patterns, and it's not all that desirable (or expensive) to live in a Idaho or New Mexico.

Quote:
Originally Posted by KeepRightPassLeft View Post
I also think that it may have something to do with the apparent lower amount of develop-able land out west, given how much of it is done in valleys, plateaus, etc. Google Terrain maps make light this obvious fact such as Silicon Valley, Las Vegas and of course good ol' L.A.. What this ends up doing is pushing development out past these physical barriers where folks who want some kind of affordable home in a suburban setting can do so often at the expense of a much longer commute. If this is a trade-off someone wants to make, more power to them but I think we'll eventually see more job centers shifting to these communities as well over time. I guess examples here would be places like Pleasanton, Victorville, Bakersfield and Lancaster California.
Denver is pretty flat. The suburbs are less dense than California, but still unusually dense compared to say the Kansas City area.

Quote:
Originally Posted by KeepRightPassLeft View Post
You definitely do see a lot of communities on the eastern side of the country that do follow the more California/Western approach of denser suburban communities, however I find that these are mostly suburban-style neighborhoods located within city limits of major cities, due to the higher land cost and demand for the SFH lifestyle within city limits, reasons possibly being residency requirements, family/friends/obligations or just preference to live within the city. Neighborhoods like this one in Staten Island, this one in Brooklyn, this one in N.E. Philadelphia, this one in Chicago and this one in Washington, D.C. are all great examples of this.
The issue I have with your examples is those all appear to be 1950s/1960s developments. A few seem like they might have even been from the 30s/40s. Lot sizes were pretty small for suburbs nationwide back then.

One big difference between the Northeast and the West Coast regard incorporation. In the Northeast, all suburbs started out as incorporated areas, and thus could set their own zoning code to preserve some semblance of their original (generally rural) character. In contrast, the undeveloped land in the West was not self-governing. Generally it's either developed when it's unincorporated county land, or only after being brought into a "city." Thus there's never any local rural NIMBY group who can force big-lot development.

That said, it breaks down because in areas like Metro DC you see Northeastern-style development patterns despite a lack of municipal governments in Virginia or Maryland. Generally speaking suburbs in the South look like Northeastern/Midwestern suburbs too.
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Old 10-11-2013, 01:54 PM
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Location: Long Island / NYC
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Quote:
Originally Posted by eschaton View Post

The issue I have with your examples is those all appear to be 1950s/1960s developments. A few seem like they might have even been from the 30s/40s. Lot sizes were pretty small for suburbs nationwide back then.
Except 50s and 60s are typical for much of Northeastern suburbia. 70s and afterwards is less common. For a place like Long Island, population hasn't changed much since 1970. New Jersey has seen more newer construction, but taking a newer suburb isn't the best example.

Quote:
One big difference between the Northeast and the West Coast regard incorporation. In the Northeast, all suburbs started out as incorporated areas, and thus could set their own zoning code to preserve some semblance of their original (generally rural) character. In contrast, the undeveloped land in the West was not self-governing. Generally it's either developed when it's unincorporated county land, or only after being brought into a "city." Thus there's never any local rural NIMBY group who can force big-lot development.
This is one of the main reasons why Boston is so sprawly.

Quote:
That said, it breaks down because in areas like Metro DC you see Northeastern-style development patterns despite a lack of municipal governments in Virginia or Maryland. Generally speaking suburbs in the South look like Northeastern/Midwestern suburbs too.
I think the Northeast tends to have somewhat different suburbs than the Midwest, due more old towns surrounding the city and excluding Chicago, a weaker city core.
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Old 10-11-2013, 02:02 PM
nei nei won $500 in our forum's Most Engaging Poster Contest - Thirteenth Edition (Jan-Feb 2015). 

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Location: Long Island / NYC
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Here's an old post of mine that's relevant:

Quote:
Originally Posted by nei View Post
Some stats:

For the NYC metro (includes city and suburbs within NY state only NOT New Jersey) median lot size is 0.23 acres; 15% of housing units had one acre or more, 29% less than 1/8 acre. This only includes housing units that are not in multi-unit buildings (not sure if attached), which is 37% of all housing units.

For the Boston metro, median lot size is 0.40 acres; 26% of housing units had one acre or more, 15% less than 1/8 acre. This only includes housing units that are not in multi-unit buildings (not sure if attached), which is 52% of housing units.

For the Pittsburgh metro, median lot size is 0.34 acres; 23% of housing units had one acre or more, 20% less than 1/8 acre. This only includes housing units that are not in multi-unit buildings (not sure if attached), which is 81% of housing units.

For the Denver metro, median lot size is 0.20 acres; 7% of housing units had one acre or more, 20% less than 1/8 acre. This only includes housing units that are not in multi-unit buildings (not sure if attached), which is 71% of housing units.

For the DC metro, median lot size is 0.32 acres; 17% of housing units had one acre or more, 18% less than 1/8 acre. This only includes housing units that are not in multi-unit buildings (not sure if attached), which is 68% of housing units.

So yes, Pittsburgh has a slightly larger lot size than DC. The likely reason you may have thought Pittsburgh feels like it has smaller lots is the smaller lots are more common among older homes, when you lived there. Boston "wins" in having the biggest lots, though at the other extreme it has a relatively high amount of multi-family + small lot single-unit homes.

from

US Census Bureau
I remember from the stats that the San Francisco and Los Angeles metros had the smallest median lot sizes (0.17 acre or so). Note that it includes all housing stock, regardless of location or age. So from what I remember Chicago ends up with a very slightly smaller lot size than the NYC metro. Does that mean Chicago suburbs have smaller lots than NYC suburbs? Probably not. Chicago has old neighborhoods with detached homes on very small lots "bungalow belt". NYC has little equivalent from the same era (and neither does Philadelphia or Boston). Which changes the numbers. Likewise, Boston detached homes are bigger lots than Pittsburgh but that doesn't mean Boston suburbs are less dense than Pittsburgh ones: Boston suburbs contain less single-family detached homes.
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Old 10-11-2013, 02:04 PM
 
Location: Monmouth County, NJ & Staten Island, NY
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Found this article from 2005 that actually discusses this very topic. Interesting line kind of touching my point on the bottom of the first page: "Open space in the West has always seemed endless. But deserts, mountains, huge tracts of federally owned land and a pervasive lack of water make much of the region unlivable. As such, it has remained the most rural part of the country in terms of land use while becoming the most densely urban in terms of where people live."

Quote:
Originally Posted by darkeconomist View Post
This.

And local and historical preferences and historical technological limitations on development.

Technology at the time of development defines what one can do with any given piece of land at any given price threshold. This includes the cost of developing the land to make it move-in ready and the cost of living there (of utilities, of an internet and television connection, of transportation to work and various destinations, etc.).

Local and historical (ie, at any given period in time) preferences define what owners want to do and have done with any given piece of land.
Kind of how the building of the subway systems in NYC/Chicago/Philadelphia/Boston developed dense row home/apartment development around mixed-use commercial nodes near stations, while the automobile/interstate highways in much of American suburbia developed less dense single-family home and garden apartment development around single use, car-oriented commercial nodes near interstate exits and "main drags".

Quote:
Originally Posted by eschaton View Post
I don't think the West in general is desirable enough to explain this though. Even lower-cost metros in the west show similar patterns, and it's not all that desirable (or expensive) to live in a Idaho or New Mexico.
One thing I do notice about the examples you provided, specifically looking at Denver, Boise and Albuquerque is that they all have large mountains surrounding at least one side of their metro areas, among other natural barriers. This combined with the likelihood of less available resources and any kind of significant pre-existing development/settlements outward would cause a much different development pattern, one that was much more centrally planned out and maximized for profit (read: dense). Kind of like how suburbia west of Chicago or in Northern NJ tends to be centered around a lot of small towns, which all tend to kind of connect up after a long period of time as opposed to a lot of the western development which was just filling in square block of farmland after square block of farmland with subdivisions and commercial development. This all varies place by place but it kind of ties into the quote from the article I posted above too.

Quote:
Originally Posted by eschaton View Post
The issue I have with your examples is those all appear to be 1950s/1960s developments. A few seem like they might have even been from the 30s/40s. Lot sizes were pretty small for suburbs nationwide back then.
A lot of the early 1950s eastern suburbia was pretty small-lot and dense, especially mass buildings like the Levittowns, but it still doesn't seem to be at the density levels of the western ones. Keep in mind the examples I posted there were within city limits of major eastern cities, where I would think densities would be higher than typical suburbia at that time in the respective metro areas. This probably has a lot to do with similar reasons as to why the western suburbs are so dense: limited develop-able area. Also, I'm not so sure about the Chi-town, Philly and D.C. areas, but the Staten Island and Brooklyn neighborhoods were developed in the late 1960s, more in the 1970s and 1980s. The Staten Island neighborhood in particular was built en masse in the late '70s, as my grandparents were one of the original homeowners there at that time.

Quote:
Originally Posted by eschaton View Post
One big difference between the Northeast and the West Coast regard incorporation. In the Northeast, all suburbs started out as incorporated areas, and thus could set their own zoning code to preserve some semblance of their original (generally rural) character. In contrast, the undeveloped land in the West was not self-governing. Generally it's either developed when it's unincorporated county land, or only after being brought into a "city." Thus there's never any local rural NIMBY group who can force big-lot development.
This kind of gets at what I was saying above regarding eastern suburbs being developed in existing municipalities rather than western ones that tended to lack the "local rural NIMBYs" as you mention.
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Old 10-11-2013, 02:06 PM
nei nei won $500 in our forum's Most Engaging Poster Contest - Thirteenth Edition (Jan-Feb 2015). 

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Location: Long Island / NYC
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Which type is this? Or this? The latter is older, but over half the population growth is post-1940.
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Old 10-11-2013, 03:05 PM
Status: "Summer!" (set 16 days ago)
 
Location: Foot of the Rockies
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Quote:
Originally Posted by eschaton View Post
I don't think the West in general is desirable enough to explain this though. Even lower-cost metros in the west show similar patterns, and it's not all that desirable (or expensive) to live in a Idaho or New Mexico.



Denver is pretty flat. The suburbs are less dense than California, but still unusually dense compared to say the Kansas City area.



The issue I have with your examples is those all appear to be 1950s/1960s developments. A few seem like they might have even been from the 30s/40s. Lot sizes were pretty small for suburbs nationwide back then.

One big difference between the Northeast and the West Coast regard incorporation. In the Northeast, all suburbs started out as incorporated areas, and thus could set their own zoning code to preserve some semblance of their original (generally rural) character. In contrast, the undeveloped land in the West was not self-governing. Generally it's either developed when it's unincorporated county land, or only after being brought into a "city." Thus there's never any local rural NIMBY group who can force big-lot development.

That said, it breaks down because in areas like Metro DC you see Northeastern-style development patterns despite a lack of municipal governments in Virginia or Maryland. Generally speaking suburbs in the South look like Northeastern/Midwestern suburbs too.
Wow, just wow! (In reference to the bold) Talk about eastern snobbery! In point of fact, Idaho and New Mexico are considered very desirable by some people.

In regard to the blue:

Please provide some documentation. There are a lot of suburbs in PA that still have the "township" form of government, which is basically meant for rural areas. Here in metro Denver, many of the burbs were once rural farming communities. You Pittsburghers make too much of annexation. The only city that I know that does a lot of annexation is Omaha. The voters of Colorado passed a constitutional amendment back in 1974 making it very difficult for Denver to annex land. The only large parcel that's been annexed since then is the land on which the airport was built.
Farewell, Freda DenverUrbanism Blog

The farther west you go in the metro Denver area, the hillier it becomes. You chose an area east of the city to feature, to "prove" your point. Take a look at this:
https://maps.google.com/maps?oe=utf-...&ved=0CKUBEPwS
Pan west
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Old 10-11-2013, 03:12 PM
nei nei won $500 in our forum's Most Engaging Poster Contest - Thirteenth Edition (Jan-Feb 2015). 

Over $104,000 in prizes has already been given out to active posters on our forum and additional contests are planned
 
Location: Long Island / NYC
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Katiana View Post
Wow, just wow! (In reference to the bold) Talk about eastern snobbery! In point of fact, Idaho and New Mexico are considered very desirable by some people.
But they don't have particularly high real estate values compared to coastal California. Land is less demand. Is Idaho and New Mexico generally more desireable than east of Mississippi as KeepRightPastLast? It's not based on land values, so don't accuse someone of being an "east coast snob".

Quote:
In regard to the blue:

Please provide some documentation. There are a lot of suburbs in PA that still have the "township" form of government, which is basically meant for rural areas. Here in metro Denver, many of the burbs were once rural farming communities.
It's true for Boston, I don't have time to document. I don't know why townships are more meant for rural areas than suburbs, in any case can't they enact zoning rules? They can in NY for sure, not sure about the details in PA.
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