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I've spent about 1/3rd of my life in American suburbs and that photo makes ME cringe. Here in the US there is at least a minimum effort to differentiate the houses, and in many neighborhoods the houses are all distinct. Marketers understand the desire for individuality in the US, so while everyone may be consuming the exact same thing, at least everyone has a slightly different color of paint on the outsides of their houses. If you combine American concepts of automation and mechanization (the ability to throw up an entire neighborhood in short order in this case) with European bureaucracies (I think that complex is government built?), the above photo is a predictable result.

I see them as hell on earth, but apparently the people living there are happy with them.

Ripping on the suburbs is a form of elitism (of which I am also guilty). When looking back to the origin of the suburbs I absolutely cannot blame people for their enthusiasm. Could you honestly tell someone living in cramped, noisy, crime ridden cities like NYC in the early 20th century that they can't have that affordable house in the suburbs due to its poor aesthetics, unsustainable nature, and lack of neighborhood community? If you are for a more egalitarian society, doesn't that have to extend to material concerns as well?

There is no shortage of counterpoints to be made, of course, that can and do fill many books. Once the automation, energy, and materials were available for a mass market, though, they were absolutely going to be used for that purpose. Whether or not it could have been done in a different manner more suitable to human happiness is the only question I am interested in now.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Sat Feb 24th, 2007 at 03:39:30 PM EST
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The point is that there shouldn't be any suburbs !
They exist because the Cities capacity of quick changes started to decline. Most of them started in the 19th century.

We had some speeches in the French Assembly in 1840 that tells of African villages at the doors of Paris (no African people there, mostly from center of France), that it was a shame... That we should build transient cities (Cité de Transit) to teach those people about how to live in the City... On century after we did build them !

Maybe that's why I speak of the "drift" of the City :-)

"What can I do, What can I write, Against the fall of Night". A.E. Housman

by margouillat (hemidactylus(dot)frenatus(at)wanadoo(dot)fr) on Sat Feb 24th, 2007 at 06:38:57 PM EST
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We have sort of American-style suburbs as well, except the plots tend to be smaller because there is just less space available. The photo in Margouillat's diary was taken in Mexico, though, the Dutch "Vinex" locations tend to be a bit more diverse and have a bit bigger houses, but the idea is similar. They're built by private contractors and designed by private architects, but the concept is mandated by the government.

A further difference with many American suburbs is that the houses in Europe tend to be built to last, in America there is often a lot of cheap, throwaway material being used on otherwise quite sizeable houses, which is a strange attitude (I think) to housing. An extreme focus on the exterior, while neglecting the character. This fits in with the fake plastic capitalism of America -- treating houses as perishable commodities with built-in obsolescence.

(this is probably a rather prejudiced sweeping generalisation based upon watching too many librul hollywood movies, but I think part of it sticks)

Your point about elitism is spot-on. Still, as margouillat says, it's undesirable to have people living in suburbia. So you have to think about the institutions and the cultural image that lead to people to live in them.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sun Feb 25th, 2007 at 08:20:28 AM EST
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