Thursday, April 07, 2005

Volume 1, Issue 1

"The cities will be part of the country; I shall live 30 miles from my office in one direction, under a pine tree; my secretary will live 30 miles away from it too, in the other direction, under another pine tree. We shall both have our own car. We shall use up tires, wear out road surfaces and gears, consume oil and gasoline. All of which will necessitate a great deal of work… enough work for all."

-Le Corbusier, The Radiant City (1967)

With these prophetic words, Le Corbusier predicted the coming of our current built environment dominated by modernism. Known as “Sprawl,” “Suburban Sprawl,” or “Junkspace” it is simply what is left over after Modernization has run its course, the built product of modernization. Each individual component of “Suburban Sprawl,” from the neon tube to the air conditioner, from the traffic signal to the escalator, is a brilliant monument to the Modernist Programme of a rationally derived utopia. What went wrong? Mile after mile of neon signs, plastic architecture, pollution clogged streets, and asphalt covered deserts.

The Suburbs

A Brief History of Sprawl
Sprawl really began in the 1950’s shortly after the Second World War. The Federal Housing Commission and the Veterans Administration provided mortgages to millions of returning veterans to build single-family homes. So inexpensive were these mortgages that it quickly became more affordable for veterans to build their own homes than to reoccupy the existing homes already present in the towns. At the same time 41,000 miles of interstate highways and federal and local subsidies for roadwork and the abandonment and sabotage of the mass transit system, made automobile commuting both affordable and convenient for average middle class families for the first time. In this time of new economic freedoms and opportunities, many families made the financial decision to move farther and farther away from historical city centers and into what would become known as the suburbs. (Duany Plater-Zyberk 7-9)

The suburban neighborhoods these families were moving to were being developed by government programs that addressed only housing instead of the pre-war neighborhood-making tradition of providing for the full range of daily activities within walking distance of homes. These subdivisions were nothing but street after street of single-family homes. Originally the stores and workplaces remained in the city centers and people commuted to work, school, or to shop from the suburbs, but it was not long before the stores realized that their customers had moved and followed suit. Since no provision had been made for the location of retail space, such as the traditional corner store, stores required their own separate location, neatly segregated from the residential neighborhoods by the new zoning codes. The new suburbanites already used to commuting found no difficulty in driving one or two miles to the store for something they could have walked to just less than a decade before. Retail was situated between subdivisions and placed along wide collector streets for better ease of access. The new stores reacted by pushing back from the street, putting parking in the front for their customers, and erecting freestanding signage along the street to attract patrons. And just like that the shopping center and the strip mall were born. (Duany Plater-Zyberk 8-9)

The Suburbs

Workplaces such as offices and factories remained in the city centers and the downtown business districts for longer than the retail spaces but it did not take long for them to follow suit. Eventually, by the 1970’s, due to the lower tax burden in the suburbs, the businesses and corporations began to relocate to new office parks nearer the workforce. These office parks were also subdivided into their own zones, cut off from the residences, and accessible only by the automobile. And all the while zoning codes and ordinances were evolving into the complex regulatory system that made it the law that every different aspect of daily life must be segregated from every other. Within the decade these “pro-sprawl zoning codes” had reached a near universal acceptance all over America. (Duany Plater-Zyberk 9-10)


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