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When the architect Robert A. M. Stern was a kid in the ‘40s, he used to spend his Sundays perusing The New York Times real estate section. In those days, recalls the self-described “modern traditionalist” best known for buildings like 15 Central Park West and the George W. Bush Presidential Library, “It was all about new houses that were being built in suburbia. I would look at them and redraw the plans. At the basic level I thought they were so damn bad and I thought I could do better.”
Decades later, Stern is still fed up with the state of suburbia and remains resolutely committed to its betterment. He’s now thrown down the gauntlet with what can be described as a McMansion-size manifesto called “Paradise Planned: The Garden Suburb and the Modern City.”
Stern and his co-authors David Fishman and Jacob Tilove want to bring back the garden suburb, and in so doing hope to restore a “tragically interrupted, 150-year-old tradition.” While the book engages a bit with contemporary issues plaguing suburbia — homogeneity, automobile-dependency, sprawl — its primary focus is former and existing garden suburbs, in hopes of transforming the ways future suburbs are created. (It also continues a deep and fractured academic debate among modernists, traditionalists and a whole host of other “ists,” but we won’t bother ourselves with that here.)