Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream makes the buzzwords "new urbanism" come alive. The authors, who are community planners, have written and designed an easily accessible and smartly illustrated book, which is not surprising, since Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck believe that what works to build a thriving community is rational design. They prefer streets that are narrow and homey and a village square that draws both the eye and community events. They like neighborhoods rather than isolating cul de sacs, and they encourage sidewalks for pedestrians. In other words, these "neo-traditionalists" champion small towns. When growth occurs, they urge, focus it in towns that already exist and mix up uses to allow diversity of income. Here's one of their zoning tips: Allow corner stores; they will cut down on the need to drive to buy sundries and encourage impromptu meetings with neighbors.


True, it is disheartening to realize that what's new in urban planning is what was old and disdained by developers after World War II. But how wonderful to see the values of living in a vibrant community emerge again, seeming new because we've suffered so long with "placeless" suburbs.


Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck, North Point Press. Hardcover: $30. 290 pages.