Up Sucker Creek

Up Sucker Creek
Photo Courtesy of the Lake Oswego Library

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The "experts" get a wake-up call

Perhaps the suburb-haters are growing up.  Or the elitists are tired of swimming against the tide.  It appears that the anti-suburb types are realizing that not everybody is buying their urban utopia - that not only do the suburbs have staying power in America, but that the suburban form is highly desirable globally.   A detached house, a garden, a piece of land one can call their own...  Living the dream!

The descriptions of suburbs below have to be some of the most vivid and negative I have read.  While the automobile defined the shape of neighborhoods in the post-war era, the sheer number of people needing housing contributed to the quick expansion into the suburban areas around existing cities.  This was not just an American phenomenon, and despite the popular habit of dissing the suburbs, more people choose to live there than in cities.

Warning:  When you read that suburbs contribute to obesity or social isolation, or marginalize them with terms like dull and monotonous, you know the writer is repeating propaganda.  When choosing where and how to live, personal choice should prevail - the "experts" need to learn to respect those choices.

Did Suburbia Fail?
Failed Architecture,  10/05/2015

The contemporary conception of suburbia could be said to have started before World War II as an American ‘way-of-living’ and has since become a global phenomenon. Initially it was a government-directed, car-based project, catering for white middle-class families. It has been argued that ‘from the beginning, suburbia was more a state of mind than geographical location’ offering ‘a place of refuge for the problems of race, crime and poverty.’ It provided advantages over the existing city: space, convenience, closeness to nature, (architectural) freedom, and a sense of belonging with like-minded people. It became the ideal home for many and a popular setting for movies and tv series.
However, slowly the dream of suburban life started to crumble. From a Never-Never Land for grown-ups, it became a zone of ‘noir ruination’, criticised and ridiculed by experts (sociologists, financial analysts, designers, environmentalists, planners, etc.) and popular media. The monotonous, dull, almost sadomasochistic environments have become a twilight zone or even more perversely, as J.G. Ballard wrote, the nightmares that wake [their inhabitants] into a more passionate world.’ The lion’s share of suburbia is detached from urban life, enforcing isolation, segregation and obesity. Suburbia is increasingly regarded as an environmental disaster and the physical expression of rotten financial products.

Perhaps the suburbs are the only thing left that we can despise’ in terms of architectural taste and lifestyle. But ‘those who argue that suburbia is dying are wrong on the facts.’ Despite a growing critique of suburban culture and a renewed interest in the traditional city at the same time, the suburb is still by far the most desired typology across Europe and the US. And beyond these parts of the world, it is a novelty that is mushrooming and economically thriving everywhere. From China and India to Kenya and Brazil, to live in an American-style detached home with a garden is an appealing – and increasingly attainable – goal for the upwardly mobile. At the same time, there is a remarkable (re)appreciation of existing/older suburbs and suburban new towns. After Brownstones and Brutalism, suburbia is being rediscovered, from Palm Springs to Milton Keynes.

According to Patricia Cober, the 1950s view of suburbs as faceless, homogenous bedroom communities has been replaced with an image of highly differentiated suburban places. ‘They are no longer merely “sub” urbs,’ she argues.

We are all suburbanites’ says Yannis Tzaninis. Suburbia is all around us, there is no escape from it. It has become the norm, with an increasing number of people around the world living sub-urban. Despising the suburb was easy, but now it’s time to take it for what it is: the place many of us call home.

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