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Robert A. M. Stern Advocates the Return of the Garden Suburb

The modern suburb has become an unruly sprawl, homogenous in style and over-dependent on the automobile. However, according to Robert A. M. Stern's new manifesto “Paradise Planned: The Garden Suburb and the Modern City,” there is a superior alternative for suburban development that could attract millennials and preserve quality of life in terms of health, economic savings, and physical safety: the centrally planned, pedestrian-friendly garden suburb. You can learn more about Stern’s 1,072 page manifesto on the garden suburb in this article by the New York Times.

Christoph Gielen's "Ciphers": Aerial Views of American Sprawl

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.

The Dream / Brad Ascalon

“Within the boundaries of a society largely living above its own means, an unregulated banking system that plays by its own rules, and a government that idly stands by as millions of homes are being foreclosed upon, there lies an absolute truth: the direction we’re moving as a society has become unsustainable and toxic. This is the new promise of the American dream.” - Brad Ascalon When you think of Suburbia, you inevitably think of the white picket fence. But the picturesque Suburbia you envision, never truly existed, and now, with an economy plunging, poverty rising, and people hurting, the truth has become too hard to ignore. In this piece for the “Love It or Leave It” exhibition at New York’s Gallery R’Pure, going on now until June 1st, Brad Ascalon has inverted this typical Suburban symbol in order to comment upon the state of the American Dream – today, “nearly impossible for most Americans to realize.” More Photos of Brad Ascalon’s “The Dream” after the break… For more on Suburbia, check out our Burbs Going Bust Infographic and our popular Saving Suburbia series – Part I: “Bursting the Bubble,” on the damaging Suburban Myth. 

Video: TRAFFIC / ITDP Mexico

The video above, produced by ITDP Mexico is a surprisingly fun look at the dire traffic situation in Mexico City. With the help of two Barbie Ken dolls (who else?), the video describes two types of drivers: the Everyday Driver, who drives everywhere no matter what, and the Shadow Driver, who drives only when it’s most convenient.

Saving Suburbia Part II: Getting the Soccer Moms On Your Side

The Living Market, a plan to redevelop vacant land to create a Marketplace of community space, shops, and affordable housing. Image courtesy of Emily Talen, Sungduck Lee, and the Long Island Index.
The Living Market, a plan to redevelop vacant land to create a Marketplace of community space, shops, and affordable housing. Image courtesy of Emily Talen, Sungduck Lee, and the Long Island Index.

This Article is the second of a two-part series, “Saving Suburbia.” If you missed Part I, “Bursting the Bubble”, you can find it here. 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.

Saving Suburbia Part I: Bursting the Bubble

© Flickr User CC tango_28
© Flickr User CC tango_28

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.” [1] 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…

Phantom Developments of the Southwest

© Wikimedia.org / Gobeirne
© Wikimedia.org / Gobeirne

During the housing boom in Phoenix and the surrounding suburbs, enormous swaths of land were graded and prepared for endless subdivisions as far as the eye could see. Following the burst of the housing market and prolonged recession, these unfinished construction sites have sat vacant – remnants of unbridled optimism in the Valley of the Sun. A recent article on NPR.org discusses some of the alternative visions for re-appropriating these phantom lots that propagate the greater Phoenix area. Various methods of breathing new life into these chasms left behind include rezoning the numerous residential lots for mixed-use, or tearing up the infrastructure and letting nature take back control. For those unfamiliar with the rapid pace of development that was taking place prior to the recession, Maricopa, a small town just south of Phoenix was approving over 600 residential home permits per month. With an inventory of over 16,000 dedicated to residential homes, the measures that are required to remediate the impact of such an ambitious plan need to be ingenious. While the Southwest has suffered from the housing bust significantly more than many other states, it will undoubtedly always remain a destination for its unequaled sunny days, warm weather and amazing desert landscape. See this article on similar circumstances in the Rust Belt region. Photographs: Wikimedia.org User: Gobeirne References: www.NPR.org, www.philly.com