Why are there so few places like this in the US? Witold Rybczynski tried to explain in his book, City Life: Urban expectations in the new world. It's a very thought provoking book and I won't attempt to paraphrase it here.
I did want to mention that, once hostile natives were not a problem, American cities were laid out upon a much more spacious model than in the old world. In Europe, cities were compact because food production took place outside the city confines. In the new world of the gentleman farmer, even city dwellers grew some of their own food in their home gardens. (Not mentioned in the book is how these kitchen and flower gardens evolved into monocultures of Kentucky bluegrass from coast to coast.)
By the end of the book, I learned that Rybczynski and I both choose to live in former streetcar suburbs outside of major cities. It is a pleasant middle ground that is not readily available to other Americans, both because of their rarity in new metropolitan areas and because they are relatively expensive compared to newer suburbs. After investigation, he found no great conspiracies. People just preferred the independence of driving private automobiles over riding streetcars.
- City Life: Urban expectations in the new world
- The Red Cars of Los Angeles from the USC archives
- The Electric Railway Historical Association of Southern California
- Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles (You can preview portions of the book that deal with streetcars to Redondo Beach and the other Beach Cities.)
- Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn
- Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden And Your Neighborhood into a Community
People say we are lucky to live so close to work and to have such a convenient bus line. (It runs every 20-30 minutes and follows nearly the same route we would take if we drove ourselves.) Actually, luck had nothing to do with it. We made conscious choices with information that is available to everyone.
After earning my PhD, I landed two job offers. One was 30 miles inland from Mark's job. The other was at Mark's workplace. The farther job would have ensured a long commute for at least one of us.
When we bought a house, we checked the bus schedules. They are not classified state secrets, they are published. We took the buses to see if the schedules were fact or fiction--a very real problem in many areas. We checked out bicycle commute routes. I nixed neighborhoods that Mark preferred because I wasn't willing to bike so many hills on the way to work every day. (We also looked at school districts but that's too long of an aside.)
When we found we could not afford a house that we liked in an area that we liked, we looked at townhouses. After bidding on 3, we finally won a bidding war (even though we were not the highest bidder).