Disco, fad diets and jogging weren’t the only fallout from the “Me” generation. Turns out the self-obsession and narcissism of baby boomers in the 1970s and 1980s had an impact on suburban streets across the country, including ours in Aurora.
According to Jim Sayre, a planning manager with the city, street design in some of the city’s older neighborhoods reflects a time when homeowners wanted to be left alone. Many neighborhoods south of Mississippi Avenue and east of Chambers Road feature curving, twisting streets designed for isolation. That winding, curving layout helped keep pesky neighbors away during exciting episodes of “M*A*S*H,” and gave homeowners personal space to listen to the latest Fleetwood Mac record in peace.
“Connectivity was not the principle. It was building curvy streets that provided a lot of privacy. People didn’t necessarily want to live on a connected street,” Sayre said. “That sort of street system was for the automobile.”
That formally changed in the 1990s, when the city adopted new street standards designed to bring homeowners closer together. Those changes had to do with making better connections. The current planning guidelines for suburban neighborhoods are all about giving drivers and pedestrians options. Do you want to head northeast? There’s a route for that. Do you want to get out of the neighborhood and head south? Thanks to current planning standards, you won’t have to travel very far to find a good exit strategy.
“In other words, you don’t have to drive or walk out of your way very far in order to go the direction you want,” Sayre said.
But the changes to the city’s street standards were about more than simple access. Suburban developments in the area’s newer neighborhoods mirror a national trend in urban planning that is just as much about sociology as it is about convenience. In neighborhoods in the southeast parts of Aurora and in nearby communities like Stapleton and Lowry, the kind of broad and curving streets that were popular in the ’70s and ’80s have disappeared.
“It’s about social connections. It’s about safety. It’s about having kids play in the street again,” said Jeremy Nemeth, an assistant professor and chair of the Planning Department at University of Colorado Denver. “It’s a major movement in city building all over the world, having people reconnect … A place like Aurora is an amazing case study nationally.”
That has a lot to do with the sheer size of the city, Nemeth added. Aurora, a burg with more than 300,000 people, offers case studies in a whole range of suburban neighborhoods. There are the geometric, gridded street designs that mark north Aurora neighborhoods built in the ’50s and ’60s. There are the isolationist neighborhoods of the Carter and Reagan administrations, as well as developments that typify the new school of suburban design.
Narrow streets that encourage slow speeds and human interaction are again the norm. More street connections give plenty of options to pedestrians and drivers alike. Streets are no longer broad and anonymous.
“People are living differently. It’s not about having three cars and a three-car garage,” Nemeth said. “As the suburbs change demographically and socio-economically, we’re looking at how the physical fabric should change.”
Invite your neighbor for that “Game of Thrones” season premiere. Get a local crowd together to spin the 30th anniversary edition of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumors.” Take a walk to the park with some friends. The streets are no longer standing in your way.