The New Suburbanism

Lost in the illusion of small-town America

By Sudip Bose

In a mild winter afternoon nearly three years ago, I got home from work earlier than usual and, with the day clinging to the last glimmer of pale sunlight, decided to go for a run. Having lived for only a month in the Kentlands—a suburban Maryland community some 20 miles northwest of Washington, D.C.—I did not know the neighborhood very well. My intent was to explore it during a 30-minute jog before returning home for dinner.

I set off slowly, crossed the busy boulevard that bisects the development, and made my way to a network of residential streets. The Kentlands is considered one of the great successes of the New Urbanist movement, which has seen the rise of planned communities built according to traditional neighborhood design principles, and the houses I passed were the revivals typical of such developments—brick Georgians and wood colonials, Federal row houses and ornate Victorians—with lampposts, front porches, and pristine picket fences. If I hadn't known that most of those houses had been built in the 1990s, I would have thought I had stumbled upon some idyllic New England village.

The run was invigorating. I turned left down one street, then right on another, took a few more lefts and a few more rights, running faster as evening turned to chilly night. I found myself staring into the houses, spying the silhouettes of families in their illuminated living rooms as if I were some fleet-footed flâneur, but I started to tire, my rhythm slowed, and I decided to turn back. Only then, with a slight burn in the backs of my legs, taking in the cold air in short, hard breaths, did I realize that I was lost.

For the remainder of this article, e-mail us to purchase a back issue. Or read more excerpts from this issue.