From the Publisher. Christoph Gielen’s aerial views offer a look at America’s most aberrant and unusual sprawl forms in ways we usually don’t get to see them: from far above the ground—a vantage point that reveals both the intricate geometry as well as the idiosyncratic allure of these developments. Here, encountering sprawl becomes an aesthetic experience that at the same time leaves us with a sense of foreboding, of seeing the “writing on the wall”. At once fascinating and profoundly unsettling, these photographs detail the potential ramifications of unchecked urbanization. When these settlements were developed, neither distance from work place nor gasoline prices much mattered in determining the locations of new constructions. These places are relics from an era that was entirely defined by a belief in unlimited growth, of bigger is better. The startling extent of those practices, and their inherent wastefulness, come to light in Gielen’s pictures—as if looking at a microcosm of non-sustainability through a giant magnifier.
Contributing essays by Johann Frederik Hartle, Galina Tachieva, Srdjan Jovanic Weiss, Susannah Sayler and Edward Morris contextualize Gielen’s work by focusing on a range of aspects, from aesthetics to climate change and futurology. They also examine why taking a closer look at these places is particularly crucial at this juncture, when we are faced with a new wave of building booms in developing nations such as in China.
In this TED talk, architect and urbanist Teddy Cruz urges us to rethink urban growth. Sharing lessons from the slums of Tijuana, Cruz denounces the “stupid” and consumption-driven ways in which our cities have been expanding and declares that the future depends on the reorganization of social economic relations.
Suburbia has a problem. We’ve known it for a while. We’ve chosen to ignore it.
Why? Because the suburbs are difficult. And just… not sexy. We have become so enamored with our cities, with their various complexities and potential for sustainability, that the suburbs, with their single-family home and deep carbon footprint, seem a backwards architectural wasteland.
But letting the suburbs die would be a tragic, missed opportunity. As I noted in “Bursting the Bubble,” Suburbia is not just the Myth it propagates (wealthy commuters and Soccer Moms in SUVs, carelessly polluting the environment and resistant to change), but a large, growing “other”: the suburban poor, stranded and imprisoned by sprawl.
To reverse Suburbia’s built hostility to its “other” and the very Earth itself, we must re-imagine the ‘burbs as nodes of density within a well-connected network. But to make this reality, we must get the Myth’s “chosen ones” on our side, which means versing ourselves in a tricky (and political) discourse.
We cannot just be Architects; we have to be part of a community-driven movement.
Poverty and violence, boarded windows and weedy lawns, immigrants jammed “by the dozen into houses conceived for the Cleavers.” In “Can this Suburb be Saved?,” New York Magazine critic, Justin Davidson, begins by painting a bleak but realistic picture of suburbia today. It’s these conditions that are making thousands flee to cities everyday, making headlines predict the “death of sprawl.” 
Davidson makes the case, and I agree, that the suburbs and architects need each other – now, more than ever. But Davidson ends with a defeatist conclusion. He seems to say, it’s just too difficult, that, ultimately: “suburbanites like the suburbs.” There are suburbanites like these, who believe nothing’s wrong, who shudder at the word “density.” But who are they? The ones jammed “by the dozens” into single-family homes? The ones scraping to make ends meet?
Herein lies the great complication of suburbia. Its myth – of wealth, whiteness, a steady-job in the big city, and a space to call your own – keeps getting in the way of the big-picture: the thousands in need of change. If architects are to “save” the suburbs, and redesign them based on their multiple realities, they’ll have to start by separating themselves from the myth. By bursting the ‘burbs’s bubble.
Read about the Myths and Truths of Suburbia, after the break…