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More Common Ground Sought for the 'Future of Suburbia'

A review of the recent "Future of Suburbia" event held at the Center for Advanced Urbanism at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
June 15, 2016, 5am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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"Whether we are aware of it or not, even the most self-consciously curated 'urban' lives are staged and supplied by the jumbled realm of suburbia," begins an in-depth article by Amada Kolson Hurley examining the recent "Future of Suburbia" event held at the Center for Advanced Urbanism (CAU) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Unlike a previous article by Randy Rieland, Kolson Hurley's article offers a more critical reading of the event's proceedings, including the implied criticism of the event's single-minded support of a suburban agenda.

Also present, however, is a sympathetic ear toward the need to have a critical discussion about suburbia, rather than just falling back to the often-elitist biases assumed by self-proclaimed urbanists. "All in all, CAU is making a concerted bid to reposition suburbia as a serious subject of design inquiry," explains Kolson Hurley. "It couldn’t have come soon enough."

Among a detailed account of the event's proceedings, Kolson Hurley also makes a nuanced point about how the event's politics differs from the approache taken by "Reformers," who would retrofit suburbia. Instead, the CAU has created a space for "Validators":

They believe that suburbia is fundamentally OK. They maintain that when people have options, they will usually choose to live in a single-family home in the suburbs, and for intellectuals to resist this is classist and perverse. Validators point out (correctly) that the much-hyped urban revival we keep reading about is mostly limited to affluent white Gen Xers and Millennials. At the conference, economist Jed Kolko analyzed recent census data to show that on the whole, America continues to suburbanize.

To conclude the article, however, Kolson Hurley critiques that framework by noting the neglected subject of environmental impact of suburban land use. That criticism transitions into an appeal for further inquiry and continued effort at finding a common ground for "Reformers," "Validators," and urbanists alike.

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Published on Wednesday, June 15, 2016 in Architect
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