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NYTimes Magazine: "Our Sprawling, Supersize Utopia"

Wannaplan?

Bounty Hunter
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3,212
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29
Our Sprawling, Supersize Utopia

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By David Brooks



We're living in the age of the great dispersal. Americans continue to move from the Northeast and Midwest to the South and West. But the truly historic migration is from the inner suburbs to the outer suburbs, to the suburbs of suburbia. From New Hampshire down to Georgia, across Texas to Arizona and up through California, you now have the booming exurban sprawls that have broken free of the gravitational pull of the cities and now float in a new space far beyond them. For example, the population of metropolitan Pittsburgh has declined by 8 percent since 1980, but as people spread out, the amount of developed land in the Pittsburgh area increased by nearly 43 percent. The population of Atlanta increased by 22,000 during the 90's, but the expanding suburbs grew by 2.1 million.

...

Exurban places have one ideal that soars above all others: ample parking.

...

Disneyfied Americans, in this view, have become too concerned with small and vulgar pleasures, pointless one-upmanship. Their lives are distracted by a buzz of trivial images, by relentless hurry instead of contemplation, information rather than wisdom and a profusion of unsatisfying lifestyle choices. Modern suburban Americans, it is argued, rarely sink to the level of depravity -- they are too tepid for that -- but they don't achieve the highest virtues or the most demanding excellences.

These criticisms don't get suburbia right. They don't get America right. The criticisms tend to come enshrouded in predictions of decline or cultural catastrophe. Yet somehow imperial decline never comes, and the social catastrophe never materializes. American standards of living surpassed those in Europe around 1740. For more than 260 years, in other words, Americans have been rich, money-mad, vulgar, materialistic and complacent people. And yet somehow America became and continues to be the most powerful nation on earth and the most productive. Religion flourishes. Universities flourish. Crime rates drop, teen pregnancy declines, teen-suicide rates fall, along with divorce rates. Despite all the problems that plague this country, social healing takes place. If we're so great, can we really be that shallow?
 

BKM

Cyburbian
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6,463
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29
I was going to post this article on The American Dream thread.

Yep. This sums it up pretty good.
 

boilerplater

Cyburbian
Messages
916
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21
Lost in this nation

Great article, though it makes me feel less and less like I'll ever find my place in this culture! I'm too grown-up to dream.
 

jresta

Cyburbian
Messages
1,474
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23
I don't think suburbia causes our problems, i think it's a symptom . . .

but the crux of the argument in the last paragraph is a very weak leg to stand on.
 

pete-rock

Cyburbian
Messages
1,550
Points
24
I read the article, and I think it very well sums up the American psyche. Our whole culture is built on an optimism that, with one more move, innovation, decisive action or happy accident, we Americans reach our personal potential and the world will be better for it.

What I can't figure out is if this article is a celebration of our collective psyche, or a condemnation of it. I'm familiar with David Brooks' political views in the Times, which would lead me to think that this is more celebration than condemnation. But even this author must recognize that there are limits to blind optimism; he says as much when he states that many suburbanites have a looser grasp on reality than they think.

Maybe the point is, when and if Americans come from under what he calls the Paradise Spell, what makes us unique in the world is lost.
 

pete-rock

Cyburbian
Messages
1,550
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24
BTW, I think this "Paradise Spell" remains dominant in America until there is simply no more physical space for people to retreat to, the economic advantage we enjoy over other nations is narrowed, and decisive action by the wealthy and the connected is not so richly rewarded.

That has the makings of a new cultural war in the nation.
 

BKM

Cyburbian
Messages
6,463
Points
29
I think you are right, but Brooks is also a New Yorker, with a New Yorker's traditional skepticism of the suburbs. Brooks is a very slippery fish prone to broad cultural generalizations often not even backed up by the "facts" used to illustrate them (something we (I) are (am) all prone to, but I am not given a prominent spot on the NYT Editorial Page :)
 

ChevyChaseDC

Cyburbian
Messages
190
Points
7
Brooks is Running out of Gas

I read this yesterday in the magazine and wrote them a letter. The gist is that David Brooks acknowledges the criticisms of suburbia but deems them as inconsequential, as mere whining of the liberal elite. While many of us here do whine about the suburbs as vacuous cultural wastelands, we also understand that the sustainability issues are very real and are working hard (er...some of us anyway) to change things. Brooks views exurban patterns of development as an inevitable manifestation of The American Dream, not taking into account the tremendous number of government policies that have made things just so. While critics of Smart Growth and New Urbanism complain of social engineering, it is they who advocate limiting the very "choice" they claim to promote .
 

Wulf9

Member
Messages
923
Points
22
I think there is an American dream of owning land, but not just any land.

A key element is the prospect of unearned income. If you own the right piece of land, you will get a tax refund check every year, a government agency will assure that you get below market interest rates (considering the real risk), you will be able to sell at a considerable (unearned) profit, and you won't have to pay income taxes on that profit.

The type of development most assured this unearned income is the suburban or exurban house. Government policies have eliminated almost all the downside risks of property and house ownership for suburban houses.

The government does not have the same level of risk guarantee for non-suburban housing.

I know, that's a shallow analysis based on broad generalizations. But there is a lot of truth in it. One of the main reasons it is hard to get taxes for a city is that property owners expect to move frequently. Why invest in municipal improvements in a city, when you expect to move further out in a few years.
 

H

Cyburbian
Messages
2,850
Points
24
Pictures like that make me sing the Rush song, Subdivisions :)
 

DA Monkey

Cyburbian
Messages
84
Points
4
Strange picture - is it a real community or just a "display" village or "company" town. The part that confuses and intrests me the most is "why are all the buildings the same colour - white?"
 

BKM

Cyburbian
Messages
6,463
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29
DA Monkey said:
"why are all the buildings the same colour - white?"
Its symbolic, being that the houses are in Idaho :)

(Notorious, unfairly in some ways, for being a white flight state. Home of Aryan Nations and other nutcase groups-although Boise is a bigger city, so not true there)

(Sorry, Richmond Jake. I know that there are more racist nutcases in California. I just couldn't resist)
 

jresta

Cyburbian
Messages
1,474
Points
23
the northern tier of PA is very much one of these "white flight" areas with a lot of wackjobs. In fact, with the exception of harrisburg, there aren't many "others" between Philly and Pittsburgh.

When we run out of places to run and hide we'll either have to stop being so anti-social or we'll do what history tells us and bust out the guns.

I'm actually very concerned about the latter.
 
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