Can Designers Resuscitate the Suburbs?

Justin Davidson reviews a new exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art called “Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream”, that asks architect-led teams to address the myriad problems plaguing the country's suburbs.

Davidson starts by outlining the numerous challenges facing the suburbs today, including acres of abandoned foreclosures, rising transportation costs, social and cultural transformations, and "acres of sparsely used parking lots flanking clogged roads."

The author then recounts the exhibit's "magnificently ambitious" attempts by five teams of architects, economists, engineers, lawyers, landscape designers, and other specialists to develop innovative solutions to such problems in five specific suburban locales, while staying grounded to practical realities.

Despite being prevented by the curators from straying too far into speculation, the results of the exercise revealed ingrained challenges to re-purposing.

According to Davidson, "precisely because the groups tackled their missions from multiple angles, they maximized the number of opponents who could prevent any of these projects from getting built. That's the paradox of trying to transform the suburbs: The only way to get it done is by rewriting laws, rationalizing markets, reforming the construction industry, and changing the culture all at once-which probably can't be done."

Full Story: Can This Suburb Be Saved?

Comments

Comments

Coming at this from an unreal direction

Robert Jacobson, Ph.D., Urban Planning (UCLA)
CEO and Co-Founder, Atelier Tomorrow AB, Malmö, Sweden (in formation)

I heard this exhibition announced on Pasadena, CA NPR station KPCC. The announcer was reading a press release from MOMA that began, something about pioneering design "in the wake of the foreclosure crisis."

We are not in a wake following a concluded foreclosure crisis -- we are in a foreclosure crisis! For MOMA to pass this off as the creative residue of a situation now resolved is not only stupidly Pollyanna, it is disingenuous and spreads false hope that the worst is behind us. No, the worst is ahead of us. More, many more homeowners are underwater or nearly so and as the economy continues basically moribund, the situation will only get worse. That is, if no one does anything dramatic to help homeowners as much as the bankers. Two Administrations of supposedly different ideologies have conspired to let the banks off the hook and throw the deadbeats -- the newly poor -- out of their homes.

MOMA's characterization of the exhibition as post facto is blatantly ignorant of the situation as it is. MOMA should be made to address the realities of home loss, not its own fantasy of what may have occurred.

Suburbs Can Be Fixed - But Not By MOMA

The writer of this article doesn't seem to have the foggiest idea of what is actually being done to fix the suburbs. For a summary of the good work being done, see the book Retrofitting Suburbia by Ellen Dunham-Jones. http://www.amazon.com/Retrofitting-Suburbia-Updated-Solutions-Redesignin...

As I would expect from MOMA, the designers in this exhibit are more interested in attracting attention to themselves by doing something new and different than in doing something that can work: "Michael Bell would herd newcomers to Temple Terrace, Florida, into a pair of high-tech megastructures lifted above vast urban plazas. Zago turns the classic subdivision into a largely car-free cubist collage...."

Obviously, this sort of thing cannot be done. But when the writer concludes that transforming the suburbs "probably can’t be done" at all, he just shows that he has not looked beyond this museum exhibit at what actually is being done in suburbs across America.
Charles Siegel

Suburbs and corporate media.

the designers in this exhibit are more interested in attracting attention to themselves ... when the writer concludes that transforming the suburbs "probably can’t be done"...he just shows that he has not looked beyond this museum exhibit at what actually is being done in suburbs across America.

Of course. This is what we expect - sadly - from our press corps these days: conclusions from false premises and false balance. One cannot rely solely on American media any more to be informed.

Best,

D

Can Designers Resuscitate the Suburbs

WaltSDCA
I believe the real question should be: Can designers wrestled away from Traffic Engineers the design of our cities. Until traffic engineers no longer have the final word, designers, planners, and people are inconsequential.

Designers, planners, and people are inconsequential...

"Until traffic engineers no longer have the final word, designers, planners, and people are inconsequential." - WaltSDCA

Yep!

All this handwringing about saving the surbubs: Tear them down!

Instead of wasting all this time and energy over-analyzing what we can do to "save the suburbs," we should just do the obvious:

Tear them down! Give tax breaks and other subsidies to those construction companies willing to build multi-story residential buildings in the urban cores and move suburban refugees into them. Give cash aid to these people, if necessary. As builders begin to profit and new residents begin to realize the advantages of living in compact, walkable, mass transit-rich urban settings, subsidies can be phased out. Think of the jobs that a nationwide effort like this would create!

Why wait until whole swaths of suburbia are too badly decayed to save, like Detroit has, before tearing them down?

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