The concept of neighborhood barely exists in the USA

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.


After my last blog post about German children having more everyday freedom than their English peers, Andrea – a German-born woman who now lives in the USA – got in touch to leave a comment. She had some revealing things to say about the differences between her home and adopted countries, and has agreed to let me share them more prominently. She paints a depressing picture of car-dependence and isolation: a stark comparison with her experiences in Germany. Here is her story.

I am German, have lived in the US for 18 years and have raised three children here. I very much miss the German way of being able to let my child go outside by himself, or walk anywhere from our home. I find the infrastructure very car oriented. Distances, as well as property sizes are considerably larger, thus there is hardly any bike paths, but 80% large roads. Hey, even a small town has double the width roads that you would find in any German town, so traffic is much more unpleasant. The sight is usually anything but inviting if I compare it to bike paths I know from back home. Same for distances, with everything just soooo stretched out.

I do see very gratefully a movement here in the US by architects, trying to rethink communities and how to build them more “inhabitants friendly.” Car joy is not everything. Community is built by people passing each other in the streets, by NEIGHBORhoods, not “stranger”hoods. I never felt so disconnected from other people as I do here in my life in the US. And I do believe the way communities are built plays a BIG role in this.

Also having more green spaces everywhere, planting trees along roads (the green lung has always been a respected issue in German city planning), reducing distances between people, or at least creating social areas within any of these neighborhoods. Also, how about a playground, WITH nature: shrubs, trees, boulders, tree stumps, etc – not only school playgrounds – incorporated in all those estranged neighborhoods? It would draw people back out and together, and help overcome the hurdle of keeping your children from going by themselves into the “unknown”.

Andrea subsequently emailed me, and added these closing thoughts:

I am very deeply concerned and also convinced about these issues. Living in Alaska for 15 years, and raising 3 girls here, made me very much aware of what difference it makes in children’s lives. Whilst living in Germany and having grown up there, we are so spoilt, we did not even see how one could NOT build like this: the playgrounds, the social interactive life and such.

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