Sprawl Madness: Two Houses Share Backyard, Separated by 7 Miles of Roads

It would take you more than two hours to walk between these two suburban Orlando houses with adjoining backyards, thanks to the windy, disconnected road system. Image: ##https://maps.google.com/maps?saddr=Anna%20Catherine%20Dr&daddr=Summer%20Rain%20Dr&hl=en&ll=28.532697,-81.161142&spn=0.001133,0.00217&sll=28.53225,-81.161858&sspn=0.002116,0.002599&geocode=FVBgswEd85Ep-w;FfhfswEdiJUp-w&t=h&mra=mift&mrsp=1&sz=19&z=19&utm_source=buffer&buffer_share=c886b##Google Maps##

Just how absurd have American development patterns become over the past few decades?

Behold: Two houses with adjoining backyards in suburban Orlando. If you want to travel the streets from point A on Anna Catherine Drive to point B on Summer Rain Drive, which are only 50 feet apart, you’ll have to go a minimum of seven miles. The trip would take almost twenty minutes in a car, according to Google Maps.

Windy street patterns, full of cul-de-sacs and circles, have become such a ubiquitous feature of the suburbs that they mostly escape remark. But disconnected streets have many insidious consequences for the environment, public health, and social equity.

For one, the lack of a functional street grid funnels traffic onto wide arterial roads — which tend to be the most dangerous places for pedestrians. Furthermore, disconnected streets discourage trips by foot or bike. People who can drive have no incentive to walk or bike anywhere because the trips would be too long and dangerous, while people who can’t drive are effectively trapped in their own homes, or are highly dependent on caretakers.

The Congress for the New Urbanism’s Sustainable Street Network Principles guide outlines seven principles for walkable, safe streets. The number one principle is to “create a street network that supports communities and places.”

A major source of the problem, CNU points out, is that current transportation engineering and funding conventions favor building individual segments of roads, as opposed to a network of streets. In 2009, CNU even had legislation supporting street networks at the federal level inserted into the CLEAN-TEA transportation bill, which died along with the climate bill that year.

In the meantime, CNU has been offering trainings on their Street Network Principles to local communities and transportation professionals. Ultimately, CNU planner Heather Smith says, they are interested in getting the principles adopted into policy at all levels of government.

Someone with influence in suburban Orlando needs to take that course.

  • Jesup Dweller

    I see on this graphic that “Avalon Park” is a part of this mess.  Isn’t Avalon Park a community designed along CNU principals?  I wonder what specifically went wrong through the building process.

  • Anonymous

    Wow. This is simply astonishing. They should get an award for this monstrosity!

  • HOA rules probably prohibit putting a gate in the mandatory fence separating these yards, too. Good luck inviting the neighbors over for a barbecue.

  • @cfa011a435ac431e4d6f21595a8e6877:disqus It’s called zoning . . . 

  • jimmy

    This is on purpose, they are part of two different gated communities. They don’t *want* to walk next door..

  • RR
  • Danny G

    Looks like you just need to buy two houses, tear them down, turn the two lots into a playground and you can connect the neighborhoods.

  • Anonymous

    Join the discussion we’ve been having about this exact subdivision, and others like it, here: http://www.cyburbia.org/forums/showthread.php?t=48395&p=668660#post668660

  • Joe R.

    It’s actually amazing anyone can find their homes in places like this. Every time we’ve gone to relatives in the suburbs I’m amazed how many turns to go that last mile or two. A grid is so much more orderly and easy to navigate. I’m dumbstruck that people actually *want* to live in places like this. Seriously, those streets look the same as similar suburbs in Long Island, New Jersey, Connecticut, or probably any of the other 47 states. Someone on a forum I frequent once remarked that they could drive for three hours in the suburbs, yet feel like they’re still in the same place. That’s exactly it-no sense of place here whatsoever-cul-de-sacs, circles, big box stores in malls, parking lots, industrial parks, more parking lots, endless monotony.

  • Anonymous

    I think that having Google, Garmin, etc., has made it vastly easier for people to navigate all the complex turns and  twists.  It’s instructive to remember that curvilinear street patterns came about as part of the City Beautiful Movement that flourished from 1890 – 1920 and which held that a rectilinear street grid was monotonous and boring.

  • pdq

    Unfortunately wetlands do not develop along your grid. The best solution would be to not build here at all, but try to tell that to the people living there.

  • Joe R.

    @p_chazz:disqus I’m sure it’s way easier to navigate now then years ago. I still remember us driving around for three hours trying to find our way when we went to visit a relative. Of course, being a suburb, there was nobody walking around to ask for directions. And you could have curvilinear streets which are still somewhat connected.
    @098fc2ef106b5b35580e2d1037e80f18:disqus I was thinking the same thing. In fact, any fragile ecosystem should be off limits to development, as should any fertile farmland. 

  • Much of Long Island and New Jersey has a rectiliniar street grid. Basically anywhere within 1-2 miles of a rail line (active or not). There is no comparison between suburbs in NY/NJ and Orlando. Clearly you have not been to Orlando, where the distances are enormous and the streets are wide and fast. Much of Long Island and NJ is old suburbs based on the railroad, but with arterials shoved through towns (NY 24, NY 25, NY 27, NY 110, NJ 17, NJ4, ect.)

  • Reminds me of my old neighborhood. I would walk around the block and take 45 minutes to travel on nine different interconnecting streets as I circled the block.

  • Another thing I noticed is how hundreds of homes could be cut off from the “outside world” due to the tenuous nature of this roadway network.  Close one road and hundreds of home owners could not leave their development (I won’t call this disaster a neighborhood).  There aren’t even any fire lanes that I could see in my quick look at the map. How the hell was this allowed to be built?!?!  Fire lanes do make good defacto bike/ped shortcuts.

    BTW Joe R., development like this is far a few between in New Jersey because most of our suburbs were built prewar and many others before widespread adoption of the cul-de-sac.

  • Joe R.

    @facebook-502866805:disqus @2995d81157fecd50fe4b728419a38787:disqus My comment about the streets all looking the same in every suburb didn’t mean the street layout was the same. I’m aware that Long Island has a grid, more or less. I’ve ridden out to western Long Island numerous times. Rather, I’m saying that these suburbs all pretty much look alike, with strip malls, industrial parks, tract housing, etc., to the point where I can be in upstate NY, NJ, LI, CT, etc. and not really know where I am. This is quite different from urban areas. I’ll quickly be able to tell if I’m in NYC, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, etc. because they all have a different look and feel. The only way I can tell a Florida suburb from a suburb in the Northeast is by the palm trees.

  • Joe R.

    And incidentally, I think suburbs/small towns built in the vicinity of railroad stations aren’t a horrible way to live. You can pretty much walk wherever you need to, and take the train into the city. You also have some vibrancy in the vicinity of the town. It’s the thought of living in the car-oriented suburbs as depicted in the article which frankly makes me nauseous.

  • Charles_Siegel

    “It’s instructive to remember that curvilinear street patterns came about
    as part of the City Beautiful Movement that flourished from 1890 – 1920
    and which held that a rectilinear street grid was monotonous and

    This is a half-truth.  The City Beautiful movement did vary the rectilinear grid by adding some mild curves, but it still created connected street systems – not at all like the unwalkable street systems of post-war suburbia.

    Coral Gables, FL, is an example of a suburb designed according to City Beautiful principles.  Check it out on Google maps, and you will see that its street system looks like it could have been designed by a New Urbanist. 

  • Nate

    Not really. I’d say they don’t change the basic problem at all.

  • As a boy born in Brooklyn (Methodist Hospital), raised in Brooklyn (Midwood), I can tell you that my cousin’s neighborhood in queens likes the same as Midwood, Sheepshead Bay, Flatbush, Marine Park, Mill Basin, Forest Hills, Astoria, Borough Park, Bensonhurst,ect. To that effect, those neighborhoods look like similiar areas in Chicago (west rogers park, ect) or Boston (brookline). The more urban parts of North Jersey look like South Brookyn even-try walking around Cliffside Park, Palisades Park, Ridgefield or Fort Lee. 

    In my experience, all areas are homogeneous…the old one look like other old ones, the new ones look like other new ones. 

  • Joe R.

    I think the difference here isn’t that blocks of residential areas may look similar, but the fact that you pass through neighborhoods, each with their distinct character. Try riding the #7 train, for example, and you’ll see what I mean as you go from Flushing Main street through Corona, Jackson Heights, Long Island City. You also know when you’re getting closer to denser areas by the larger buildings looming in the background. You have a sense of going from some place to some place else. Suburbs don’t seem to have this distinct character. They all look the same. You can drive for an hour without feeling you’ve gone anywhere. The older suburban developments based on railroads also have a more distinct feel similar to urban areas. You would know you’re in this town, then the outskirts, the farmland between towns, and finally the outskirts of the next town. The postwar suburbs are homogeneous developments with little to distinguish one from the next, and really no demarcation from one development to another. They’re called sprawl for a reason.

  • Yes, they are called sprawl (and yes, both LI and NJ have sprawl) but at least half of LI, NJ and Westchester are older streetcar suburbs not autocentric sprawl. 

    In that regard, the Town of Flatbush was the Streetcar Sprawl of the City of Brooklyn.
    Same with the Town of Utrect.

    Sprawl isn’t nessecarily bad – but preserving the Town of Hemstead in amber (Long Island’s Largest Municipality) is preventing the natural organic growth of western LI into a more urban form.

    That tampering does exist, I give you that. 

    And yes, taking the Q train, the scenery changes drastically when travelling North, but how about taking the B6 bus from East New York to Bensonhurst? I used to take it to Elementary school from Midwood to Bensonhurst everyday as a child, and trust me, the area around 86th street looks alot like Midwood, which looks like East Flatbush, which looks just like Flatlands, which looks much like Canarsie. Only East New York is a little different, because of the former factories and the factory worker housing.

  • davistrain

    Not sure whether this is a real reason behind the “rat maze” aspect of some suburban developments, but there could be an element of making it harder for burglars and other types of criminals to gain access to one’s home.  If even visiting relatives have trouble finding your place in broad daylight, presumably it would be even harder for the hoodlums to do it under cover of darkness.

  • Joe R.

    @davistrain:disqus It’s funny you mentioned that because one of our relatives in NJ said their neighborhood didn’t get much crime because nobody could find it!

    @facebook-502866805:disqus Yeah, some parts of Brooklyn (and Eastern Queens where I live) are pretty homogeneous, particularly the parts with single family homes. It’s generally the denser areas which seem to each have a more distinct character. Downtown Flushing for example pretty much can’t be mistaken for anywhere else.

  • In suburban North London (North Finchley), I was surprised to see a lot of disconnected streets. This was a plus when combined with footpath connections to adjoining neighborhoods and rail stations. Only cars were forced to take big detours, bike/ped connections were solid.

  • So what I see from the comments is that the purpose of this sprawl is to reduce the accessibility of outsiders, with the goals of imposing exclusivity and reducing crime. While I support efforts to make living areas safer, there are so many other ways to achieve that goal that make me feel exclusivity is the main point. People pay for these large suburban houses in the middle of nowhere because they have the means and power to, and want others to know it. 

  • I agree in part but often such neighborhoods do not have grocery stores and other necessities within walking distance anyway so the winding streets provide pleasant walking areas and calmer traffic.

  • Let’s hope no house fire ever spreads from one of those to the other since the fire trucks wouldn’t be able to respond effectively.

    Zoom out a bit and you see that to the east are an elementary school and high school on either side of Avalon Park Blvd. I’d dearly love to know the rates of walking and biking to school for those two schools.

  • redditor

    Stolen from reddit.  Bad Angie.

  • Jesshanff

    Since many of us can’t follow the pace or format of reddit, we are grateful for others to distill and digest the info.

  • Anonymous

    I really don’t see the big deal with this desing. In many European cities, newer (and sometimes old) areas have streets that are highly disconnected for car traffic, yet they allow pedestrians to take official shortcuts through foot paths. 

    This is actually a known design tool to reduce through-traffic, joyriding and cross-traffic on quieter areas. 

  • Hillshaw

    What about formerly road-connected communities that have been deliberately severed. An infamous example of this is the Cutteslowe Wall, Oxford, UK (Google it). I’ve also seen streets in N E of Nantes France, with a  chain link fence between them, not even pedestrian connection, and a long way round any other way (I climbed over, as one side was just a single storey building) – unfortunately can’t remember the exact location).

  • Anonymous

    @dd38dac3154faed10ae47d90d177ea08:disqus Rail tracks sometime have the same effect. People should get over it: not all physically close (as the crow flies) properties have a direct easy access between them. 

  • And it was a tool introduced stateside with Radburn and Greenbelt — except in American suburbs, there are NO foot paths. Not even sidewalks, for that matter.

  • Joe R.

    @andrelot:disqus The railroads were typically there before heavy development took place. Also, it’s rare to need to go more than a few blocks along a railroad in any heavily developed area before finding an overpass or underpass. It’s also fairly inexpensive to provide new pedestrian/cyclist crossings via culverts in places where they might be needed. I think most readers here realize the grid will by necessity not be continuous everywhere. That’s quite different from the situation we see in many suburbs where no attempt was even made to provide reasonable connectivity, despite the lack of natural or manmade obstacles to doing so.

  • John

    This would be funny if it weren’t so terrible.

  • Rob

    It says Avalon Park Road, it’s not necessarily part of Avalon Park. Even so, Avalon Park is at best a hybrid that is not designed strictly to CNU principles. There are a few parts, like the town center, that have higher density and walkability. What went wrong is that this project went through the meat grinder of the 1990s large-scale master-planned development process.

  • I don’t know.  There are very few gridded towns in England and they were designed around people walking.  one thing they often have is foot paths that cut across roads, fields, between homes, etc.

  • Curvilinear streets aren’t in and of themselves
    bad, nor are straight streets necessarily good either.  The key is the connectivity as mentioned by
    other posters.  A well-connected network
    of straight streets is a grid, which is easy to navigate and simplifies the
    shapes of parcels for easy surveying and building.  Look at any US downtown area and you’ll see
    this.  You can still have a disconnected
    grid of sorts, such as this neighborhood in Cincinnati where a bunch of
    straight but dead-end streets all funnel into one main road http://goo.gl/maps/jRTo5


    The curvilinear streets of the City Beautiful
    movement are different from the “dead worm” cul-de-sac developments of today
    because they’re still highly connected.  Glendale,
    Ohio http://goo.gl/maps/IeuYY and Riverside,
    Illinois http://goo.gl/maps/fiu3c are
    perfect examples.  Yes the layout is
    still confusing, but you don’t ever end up in a dead end.  These are highly desirable neighborhoods, yet
    I suspect part of the reason we see cul-de-sacs today instead of these sorts of
    layouts is because connectivity is also redundancy, which is more expensive to


    The pre-industrial cities of pretty much
    everywhere except North America are something of a hybrid.  They’re not strictly gridded, nor are they
    curvilinear.  They’re generally made up
    of irregular blocks with short kinks and long tangents to minimize the amount
    of curvature.  They’re not gridded per
    se, but they’re still highly connected. 
    Take Bruges, Belgium http://goo.gl/maps/eXjoU
    or Prague http://goo.gl/maps/YtTpw  The streets are relatively straight, but they
    intersect and bend around in ways that make them very irregular on the whole.    


    Another thing we see in the absurdity of today’s
    suburban and exurban development is just how much more inwardly-focused the
    developments have become.  With so much
    traffic funneling onto the arterials and collector streets, housing
    developments started to turn their backs to them in the 1970s and 80s,
    presenting back yards, berms, or walls to the through streets and having only
    one or two points of entry that could be gussied up with gates and ponds and
    such.  This further hurts connectivity
    and it requires ever more infrastructure to be built since the main roads don’t
    serve any houses directly.

  • I get the point of the article about streets serving the people, but give me a break.

    If the two neighbors want to visit each other they can get together with their kids on a Saturday morning, built a gate in the back fence, share a picnic for lunch and call it good. Every kid with any amount of gumption has learned how to jump a series of backyard fences and make a bee line to school or his girl friends house, faster than any adult can turn around to notice ‘who was that?.’

    Any kid growing up in this neighborhood has the opportunity to develop physical stamina, athletic skills, a strong sense of spacial awareness and neighborly relations that will serve them well through out their life.


  • LarryB

    Radburn has an excellent series of pedestrian paths and the homes are within an easy walking distance of the Fair Lawn train station. I know this first-hand because I have friends who live there. 

    In Radburn, the road system is not a blocker to having a vibrant community and for what it’s worth Fair Lawn itself offers lots of alternate routes to avoid the main streets.

  • MattC

    To bad it’s the suburbs. Not everyone wants to live in the city because it has character.

  • Brian S.

    That may be fine for the two families with two physically adjacent lots, but what about the folks across each street from adjoining lots?  They’re screwed, even if they know each other well.

    Regarding the kids, keep that due to this poor design, the land on either side of the fence is probably (hopefully) in different school districts, so kids on either side aren’t likely to become friends anyways.  But even if not, keep in mind that not all young children can do what you describe   Are we going to screw over kids who DON’T have the abilities to both make a bee line to the fence and hop it?  There’s probably more than you think.

    I haven’t said anything yet about obnoxious waste of fossil fuels, and yet I’ve already explained quite well why post-WWII suburbia blows chunks.

  • Andrey

    Having read this post: http://blog.chicagodetours.com/2013/02/riversides-story-as-the-first-planned-suburb/, I think this 7 mile ridiculousness would have killed Olmsted… given he wasn’t dead already. 

  • Sean Horan

    42418 N Bradon Ct, Phoenix, AZ and 42614 N 11th Ave are about 50′ apart as the crow flies but 17 – 18 miles by car. Beats this by more than double =)

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  • Poodz

    That’s insane.

  • To be fair, if you want to (or are allowed to) walk through gates communities and want to brave some overland in the desert, it’s only 7.5 miles. https://goo.gl/maps/3goDXqzEGoM2

  • Dave Eckblad

    You’re missing the point that this effects more than just those two families. If you owned one of those two houses, you wouldn’t want everyone in your neighborhood cutting through your back yard. Save your romanticism for art reviews.