Architecture Program


Date of this Version

Spring 5-4-2012


American, post--World War II suburbia exists in a unique form different from previous development in the U.S. and the rest of the world. While suburbs in European countries are typically defined as outlying areas within a city’s limits, American suburbs have no legal definition, and are frequently within a metropolitan area, but outside of the main city’s limits. Suburbs are independent in land-use, taxing and regulatory powers, and therefore may have separate governing bodies and interests than the city they have proximity to. With post-war wealth, credit, and mass production of the automobile, Americans in the 50s were able to pursue a lifestyle that did not consider the finite nature of resources or the potential of future poverty. In addition, the relatively massive ratio of land to people in the country has allowed for development to go unchecked by any sort of natural barrier. More than half a century later, the reality of non-renewable energy sources is more evident with the rising cost of fuel. Should the automobile cease to be an option for daily travel, for an individual or the entire country, many would be stranded within a sea of single family homes.

The autocentric mindset of the America can be seen in pop culture beginning in the 1950s where television comedies were set in a West Coast, suburban, American dreamland where everything was always sunny, perfect, and easy. Was suburbia sold to the American public through media such as the 1956 Chevrolet commercial which portrayed a barbecue in a suburban yard with the carport in the background and claimed “Going our separate ways we’ve never been so close! The family with two cars gets twice as many chores completed, so there’s more leisure time to enjoy together,” or did media and advertising simply pick up and capitalize on the desire for the new middle class to live in leisure.

Today, the average American household takes 13 car trips per day, American families spend four times more than European families on transportation, and suburbanites are more likely than city dwellers to be killed or injured by traffic accidents or crime. With the most recent nation-wide recession, over 1.2 million homes were foreclosed on. Suburbia is expensive, a waste of resources, and a poor environment for social interaction.

Studies throughout the nation are consistent in showing that the American suburbanite knows there are better options for living than suburbia. These studies indicate that the majority of Americans believe that people should move back to denser, less autocentric communities, and that more options should be available for public transportation. However, those same reports also show that many of those who were in favor of more urban development and smaller lot sizes were unwilling to change their own lifestyles.

The American city is vulnerable to crisis due to its primary dependency on automobiles for individual and commercial life. The goal of this project is to explore what is necessary for the typical city to be resilient to a collapse of the system at either the individual, community, national or global scale.

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