Dolores Hayden: The Cycle of Suburbia

"Dolores Hayden", accessed 2/3/2014,

“Dolores Hayden”, accessed 2/3/2014,

Dolores Hayden is an accomplished academic, author, poet, historian and urbanist. Her career has been speckled with success and notoriety; the notability of her publications would make some of the most-read authors cower with respect. Hayden is most known for her work delving into the antithesis of “idealistic” living: the Suburb.

Ms. Hayden has devoted a good portion of her professional life into the investigation of the character and relationship of urban areas, especially in relation to the individuals living within those areas.

Throughout her research she has noted the growth spurts that suburban areas have experienced. Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth” outlines what she has labeled as the seven types of suburbs present in the United States from 1820 to present. Her work establishes the foundational history of changeability seen in suburban living in the United States.

Suburban communities and the negatively connotated sprawl associated are not new concepts in the United States. However, it seems that academics such as Dolores Hayden have been attentively observing these areas far before the average citizen. “Smart Growth” is continuing to buzz among city officials, astute citizens and planners. How do we reach a compromise between what citizens want (or think they want)  and what is viable for our sustainability as a country and population? Dolores Hayden has devoted her career to this question.

How does the built environment affect society and the individuals living within?

Could suburban areas meld into more sustainable and self-contained regions, nodding to picturesque planning theories such as the Garden City  or New Urbanism? As Hayden has noted throughout her career, suburban areas, along with the definition of these areas, change. How we define suburban and urban areas could very well shape the way we develop further as a nation. The peripherally created urban areas have become centers of urban growth, creating larger MSA areas than have been known throughout the United States’ history.

"Making Place or Planning Chaos?", accessed 2/3/2014,

“Making Place or Planning Chaos?”, accessed 2/3/2014,

As Dolores mentions, it is important to our country from an economic, environmental and cultural standpoint to understand the push for suburban development. Urban areas are often idolized and romanticized, but continue to be neglected by developers and citizens in search of more space at a lower rate. A Freakonomics Quorum on the definition of urbanization details the opinions of several prominent scholars and veterans in the fields of architecture, urban planning, economics, et al. Here, Dolores pushes the reader to consider the definition of “urban” and “countryside” and how those definitions may not fit in today’s world.

Hayden’s book “Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth” mentioned above, assigns a multitude of definitions to suburbia.

The last two, and most historically pertinent to modern society, the “sitcom suburb” and the “edge node” have led us to the current state of suburbanization. The “sitcom suburb” harkens to the day of “Leave it to Beaver”, after WWII financial risk was lessened, automobiles predominated, families were reunited and large subdivisions were planned.

"The Future", accessed 2/1/2014,

“The Future”, accessed 2/1/2014,

The “sitcom suburb” led to the “edge node,” the product of residents desiring more space, resulting in fringe cities and (further) sprawl. The “edge node” has led us to our current urban/suburban predicament. Dolores Hayden is undoubtedly asking herself what the eighth phase of suburbanization has in store. City planning blogs and websites are also well aware of the changing definitions suburban and urban areas are experiencing. “The Suburbs Are Dead, Long Live The Suburbs”, “Wrestling with the ‘D’ Word (Density)  are just two examples grappling with the ideas presented by Dolores Hayden.

Dolores Hayden is no doubt a prolific and important figure in the urban design, development and city planning realm. Her work will continue to guide and answer questions regarding society’s role in the built environment. The suburbs are a societal enigma, to quote Harlan Douglas, a sociologist quoted by Dolores Hayden herself:

“It is the city trying to escape the consequences of being a city while still remaining a city. It is urban society trying to eat its cake and keep it, too.”