Meet St Barbara. Until Rome demoted her a few years ago she was the patron saint of architecture …and also those who work with explosives. Kind of an exciting job description. We hope she’s looking out for us in these precarious times. Given the built environment and economic uncertainty many are stuck with we are gonna need all the wisdom with architecture and explosives we can get our hands on.
Who doesn’t idealize the artist, the architect, the engineer, the designer their ability to go from nothing to something, that is to create, to bring a thing into existence? It makes sense then that in attempting to comprehened suburbia we turn to the creative class? Almost since they were invented suburbia has provoked a diversity of critique and brought forth those with a desire in their hearts for something better. Is it possible that even the growing social difficulty facing suburbia is a design problem?
Allison Arieff thinks so. She has been professionally involved in design and architecture in America and last year gathered some of her thoughts in the opinion piece linked in this posting, making it dynamite to read. Ms. Arieff sees people with very low expectations of houses. People willing to accept boring, unimaginative, sometimes downright shoddy, drywall boxes cranked out and marketed by an innovation-resisting industry that produces something like half of all solid waste in the country. Acording to Ms. Arieff the commercial building industry is capable of producing a better product than the residential construction industry. This all seems like a disservice to American consumers and their communities.
Unfortunately the American suburban paradigm is not going to be changed any time soon because it will be too busy being dead. A couple of postings back we learned that the number of unwanted monster homes in America is in the tens of millions. Kinda tough to think the industry that produced that is going to set aside its hucksterism and conservatism for a design-ey new approach to everything. Still, just as the dinosaurs were replaced so too will the homebuilders of America be replaced. Ms Arieff provides a survey of several builders going in the right direction in terms of energy efficiency, construction methods and cultural value in homes. Hers is a call for change and action, that of a new Saint Barbara?
Shifting the Suburban Paradigm NYT Opinionator
This article has nearly 170 comments at the time of this posting, including some very thoughtful ones.
It almost seems too easy to pick on the McMansion or Monster Home these days. The bloated starter castles of credit- and bubble-driven pseudo prosperity indeed symbolize failure of the most brutal kind. A recent study suggests that America has some forty million more of these homes than it actually needs. Hard to imagine forty million of anything, let alone houses. All that drywall, copper wire, wood, metal, plastic – the furnishings needed for them, the labour and energy put into them. Talk about overshoot.
Big giant houses, no money down, to go with big giant SUVs and big giant plastic cups of endlessly refillable corn sugared soft drinks. Did a bunch of seven-year-old boys design such a society?
Today’s monster home is likely to be tomorrow’s slum rental.
U.S. overbuilt in big houses, planners find: 40 million houses too many – one explanation for falling prices U-T San Diego
Photo: Merfam via Wikimedia Commons
The pair of commentators making up the Freakonomics franchise have enjoyed quite a bit of success and a high profile for a while now. They made people a little uneasy with the assertion in their last book that prostitution is a clever career choice for women as long as they remember to go about it in some kind of nice middle-class kind of way. Yeah, whatever. Suburban-poverty.com thought they’d have made more effort to apply their quirky perspectives to the matter at hand. This item from last fall citing Brookings Institution work seems to be about it, at least since the 2007-2008 crash. You can confirm suburban poverty in the United States by looking at where housing vouchers are being spent.
The suburb as the slum: housing voucher shifts in America
Since suburban-poverty.com takes a global view of its namesake issue it is a little surprising we have not mentioned H.U.D. Apparently the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development has had, shall we say, its ups and downs over the years. Either way they have made themselves felt and been a factor shaping urban and suburban life in America for some time now. In the winter of 2012 their Policy Development & Research people produced this item called Meeting the Challenges of Suburban Poverty.
HUD [Evidence Matters]
Yesterday’s Toronto Star had an item about newcomers to Canada. A study indicates many new immigrants land directly in suburban poverty. They’ve been doing so for decades, truth be told.
New immigrants are the “hidden homeless”
One of suburban-poverty’s interns came to the office looking rather the worse for the wear today. Apparently they could not sleep because of a night terror. She was being driven across the suburbs by an octogenarian relative with very poor eyesight in a twenty-year-old old Nissan Pathfinder with a rusted out frame. The driver couldn’t remember where anything was, and began mashing the gas and brakes on his V-6 engined nag in equal parts frustration with himself and rage at the price of gas. Pothole after pothole battered our poor intern into a queasy terror as the Pathfinder caromed off rotting curbs, felled a rusty lamp post and mangled a disused mailbox before arriving at the half dead mall beside the tent city.
What are we all to do when this nightmare becames reality? Getting around is among the top one or two issues for suburbanites. How old age improves on that issue we don’t know. Readers may share our intern’s concern about the future of motorized suburban living. Indeed, right now, a threat to the ability to drive about at whim would undermine the entire quality of life of possibly tens of millions of North Americans. Particularly for the elderly, we worry about the future of car-dependent living arrangements.
On top of the weird economics of suburbia and the shortage of public transit out there in Toofartowalkland comes the aging of physical infrastructure interacting with the aging human bodily infrastructure of suburbia. …assume the crash position, people!
Aging in the American suburbs: a changing population Aging Well Magazine
photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
We aren’t saying that older, centralized urban hubs should be ossified on behalf of the poor. But these ideas to manipulate and reposition socio-economic groups are no better than deliberate neighbourhood busting via highway projects or gentrification, are they? Where’s the balance? Linked here is an item from the Guardian for just such a scheme that would see people incentivized from London to the much smaller community of Hull on the North Sea.
photo credit: MichaelMaggs via Wikimedia Commons
We used to think the future would be more about flying space cars than about living in cars …but that’s how it goes, apparently. If you find your own self unable to pay off student loans or cover rent and end up living in what used to be a symbol of middle class aspiration, the item linked below is for you. It’s a depressingly long wiki article with a dozen-and-a-half citations and over 40 contributors. Gosh, but there’s a lot of little details to get down pat when it comes to living in a metal box! Our favourite pointer is the advice never to sleep in the driver’s seat of your castle. Apparently if you do your body and brain may too closely associate that location with sleep and cause you to have a collision, …assuming you actually have somewhere to drive to.
How to live in your car
Recent policy changes in and around London, England are seen by some to represent the system ‘taking the gloves off’, so to speak, in regard to who gets what and lives where. To some extent these policy changes probably just formally represent changes and desires that have been on the books and in the hearts of decision makers for some time. If you are on the receiving end it may mot much matter from whence it all comes, this latest effort at reordering the UK’s capital, long the seat of extreme differences in income and standard of living. These items linked below would appear to describe a bold-faced, formal, legalistic and economic effort to move the lower orders away from central/high prestige areas.
Council cuts: the Manhattanisation of central London Guardian
Housing benefit cuts: Tory flagship prepares to give 5,000 households their marching orders Guardian
When Arianna Huffington sold her news aggregation site to Yahoo! we were concerned about what looked like another sell out of a smaller, interesting, independent entity to a mass media conglomerate. The jury is still out on that one but we think we all agree that socially conscious reportage certainly doesn’t hurt anybody’s image. Mind the Gap is a new ongoing feature on HuffPost’s Canada page. Among other poverty-enhancing things, it turns out that the increase in income inequality has jacked up the cost of housing for all income groups.
Mind the Gap Huffington Post