Much has been made of suburban change in light of the subprime mortgage crisis. Articles such as What Will Save the Suburbs? and The Next Slum? offer new ways of looking at suburbs, with important implications for cities. A post at Design Observer by Andrew Blauvelt (co-curator of the Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes exhibition currently on view at the Yale School of Architecture) offers an interesting perspective on these issues.
Blauvelt finds that suburbs are taking on qualities commonly associated with cities, and vice versa. For example, suburbs see increasing diversity, congestion, and poverty as cities experience gentrification, detached housing, and chain stores. Blauvelt considers cities and suburbs mutually dependent, both from physical and psychological perspectives. He explains that "[c]ity dwellers and suburbanites need each other to reinforce their own sense of place and identity despite ample evidence that what we once thought were different places and lifestyles are increasingly intertwined and much less distinct."
While ideas about cities and suburbs take many evolving forms, their spatial relationship is fairly constant. At a basic level, suburbs are defined by their location on the outskirts of cities. They could be thought of as a gradient between areas of more and less human density. Modern transportation spreads this gradient, like spray-painting a dot on the wall from a distance. What if the density equation were inverted to resemble a spray-painted ring? Or if we were dispersed like stars across the sky? What cultural and ecological changes might take place in the absence of dense urban centers?
(Photo credit: East Hampton Historical Society)