The Written Suburb: An American Site, an Ethnographic Dilemma

The Written Suburb: An American Site, an Ethnographic Dilemma

The Written Suburb: An American Site, an Ethnographic Dilemma

The Written Suburb: An American Site, an Ethnographic Dilemma

Synopsis

Chadds Ford, an upscale suburb in southeastern Pennsylvania, devotes a lot of energy to creating a historical identity. Numerous institutions participate in this task, including museums, a land conservancy dedicated to the preservation of its historical landscape, and the Historical Society, which is responsible for an annual community celebration. Larger institutions related to regional tourism and suburban development generate a steady flow of texts about Chadds Ford in the form of glossy travel magazines, pamphlets, brochures, and gallery displays.

Excerpt

The scene is the rolling, wooded landscape along the back roads of the middle Brandywine River Valley in southeastern Pennsylvania. a car is parked at the entrance of the lane leading into Spring Meadows, one of the fancier housing developments in a region generally known as Chadds Ford. Spring Meadows is designed according to the deep-suburban principle of "cluster housing," with expensive spec and custom homes in various traditional/rustic styles gathered on one part of the development property, the rest left as open space to be shared by all the residents. the car's owner is there by the road. He aims a camera, photographing across the open space, across the pond and its surrounding marshy ground, toward the grassy hillside and the houses farther up.

He is, it turns out, Bob S ------, president of the Spring Meadows community association, which among other things determines how the open space will be managed and what look will be cultivated there. He is interested in local history and has even informed himself about the farm from which Spring Meadows was carved (the original farmhouse and barn have been preserved). As far as he is concerned, Spring Meadows realizes a suburban ideal. It embodies the essence of the Chadds Ford look, "open, rolling, and green," and the spirit of rural community, typified by a general sociability among development residents and contrasting to the "cliqueishness" of some of the older developments in the area. He has driven out along the entrance road on his day off to photograph his own house, a "New England colonial with saltbox roofline." His snapshots will reproduce . . .

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