Metroburbia, USA

Metroburbia, USA

Metroburbia, USA

Metroburbia, USA

Synopsis

Decades of economic prosperity in the United States have redefined the American dream. Paul Knox explores how extreme versions of this dream have changed the American landscape. Increased wealth has led America's metropolitan areas to develop into vast sprawling regions of "metroburbia"- fragmented mixtures of employment and residential settings, combining urban and suburban characteristics.

Upper-middle-class Americans are moving into larger homes in greater numbers, which leads Knox to explore the relationship between built form and material culture in contemporary society. He covers changes in home design, real estate, the work of developers, and the changing wishes of consumers. Knox shows that contemporary suburban landscapes are a product of consumer demand, combined with the logic of real estate development, mediated by design and policy professionals and institutions of governance. Suburban landscapes not only echo the fortunes of successive generations of inhabitants, Knox argues, they also reflect the country's changing core values.

Knox addresses key areas of concern and importance to today's urban planners and suburban residents including McMansions, traffic disasters, house design, homeowner's associations, exclusionary politics, and big box stores. Through the inclusion of examples and photos, Metroburbia, USA creates an accessible portrait of today's suburbs supported by data, anecdotes, and social theory. It is a broad interpretation of the American metropolitan form that looks carefully at the different influences that contribute to where and how we live today.

Excerpt

This book is the immediate outcome of essays that I wrote for Opolis (“Vulgaria: the Re-Enchantment of Suburbia,” 2005) and The American Interest (“Schlock and Awe,” Spring 2007). But in broader terms it is the outcome of a combination of academic interest and personal experience. Having long pursued an interest in urban social geography and in the built environment from a social science perspective, I found myself in the privileged position of Dean of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies at Virginia Tech for almost nine years (1997–2006). During that time my involvement with design professionals and access to planners, builders, developers, and community groups gave me additional insight and somewhat different perspectives on the production and meaning of the built environment. Office visits, site visits, and informal conversations gave depth and texture to issues that had hitherto been, for me, mainly empirical or theoretical in tenor. They also taught me that a summative view is neither possible nor desirable and that a purity of critique is illusory.

This book seeks to bring these perspectives together, weaving data, anecdote, and analysis within an overall framework that is informed by social theory. It offers a reinterpretation of the history of metropolitan form, explores the interdependence of demand- and supply-side factors in the production of the contemporary residential fabric of metropolitan America, and points to the social and cultural significance of the outcome as moral landscapes.

I have been encouraged and assisted by Robert Lang and by other colleagues at Virginia Tech: Katrin Anaker, Kelly Beavers, Elisabeth Chavez, Dawn Dhavale, Karen Danielsen, Jennifer LeFurgy, Asli Ceylan Oner, and Lisa Schweitzer. I would also like to thank and acknowledge the following for permission to use or adapt graphic material: Corbis (Figure 2.1); Robert Lang, Virginia Tech (Figures 3.1, 3.3, 3.10, 3.11, and 8.3); Heike Mayer, Virginia Tech (Figures 3.2 and 3.4); David Theobald, Colorado State University (Figure 3.5); the Brookings Institution (Figures 3.6, 3.7, and 3.8); Robert Lang and Arthur C. Nelson, Virginia Tech (Figure 3.9); Anne-Lise Knox (Figures 4.1, 4.2, and 5.1); Toll Brothers (Figures 4.4 and 8.4); SRI-BC (Figure 7.1); the editors of Opolis magazine (Figures 7.2, 7.3, and 7.4); Claritas, a service of the Nielsen Company (Figure 7.5); and the Mall at Millenia (Figure 8.5).

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