Whether it's a strip mall 15 miles from downtown Paris or ranch-style houses creeping down the freeway south of Manila, the suburb has become the dominant form of urban growth around the world.
The Center for Sustainable Suburban Development at the University of California Riverside was established in 2003 to provide research and analysis with a policy focus on the wide range of issues the suburbs confront.
The Center is rooted in its locale, for Riverside and San Bernardino counties offer an unrivaled laboratory for studying the issues related to suburban growth. Inland Southern California is the great release valve for the expanding economies of Los Angeles and Orange counties. It is projected to absorb an additional 3.7 million people by 2030, more than a 110% increase. If it is not planned well, it could easily be a mess.
The challenge is not merely population growth, but how the region provides quality jobs, develops the infrastructure to get these people to work in a timely manner, give them the opportunity to live with clean air and water, quality schools, adequate parks and all the other factors housed under the label, "quality of life."
Equally challenging is that all this growth will take place in one of the most biologically diverse regions in the United States, in an area already lapping at the limits of its water resources, with remarkable ethnic and racial diversity and significant differences in economic status and education levels.
These concerns are not merely those of two counties in Southern California. The Center will study its backyard not merely for its own sake, but because the lessons learned here can be exported. And, because the Center will draw on suburban experts elsewhere, it will recognize that there are lessons to be learned elsewhere and imported.
Of necessity, the Center's work will be multi-disciplinary. The suburbs, as human artifacts, touch on all aspects of human experience - from interactions with species, through the planning of communities that meet all human needs, to the questions of how to govern and finance those communities.
The Center's name was carefully chosen; the burgeoning suburbs must be sustainable. There is no point in creating communities which will die on the vine. They must be sustainable not only in making sensible use of resources, but because they must continue to meet human needs for housing, jobs, shopping and recreational activities.
But sustainability is not a code word for stopping growth. Whether in the Center's neighboring communities, or on the fringes of cities around the world, it is clear that suburban development will take place. The challenge is to plan and direct that development to make the communities it creates livable now and sustainable for the future.