Narratives of Urban Dispersion

Please post your comments for the readings of the 4th session here.
I have added two texts – both to our db and on Mycourses – which I will also be discussing: Fishman’s Megalopolis Unbound for an overview of suburban development and an article by Aron Chang on the development of the suburban and foreclosure crisis.

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5 Responses to Narratives of Urban Dispersion

  1. cambedard says:

    “Change the dream and you change the city”: such was the seemingly simple but complex conclusion of the Buell Hypothesis, at the core of MoMA’s 2012 exhibition ‘Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream’ ( A year later, no longer intern in New York but student in Montreal, the problem of suburbia persist. In the same vein as Foreclosed, Aaron Chang’s article sheds light on the challenge of rethinking suburbia. The American Dream of home ownership proved to be unsustainable, egocentric, damageable for social relations and public health: but how to reverse the decline of suburbia and imagine a new suburban lifestyle? There are many issues at stake, and architects alone cannot achieve such pivotal shift: interdisciplinarity needs to be a priority in the design of tomorrow’s suburbs.

    For Chang, this is not only a question of opportunity in design but an obligation: if serious architects continue to frown upon the design of suburbia, the building industry will continue with its fast-food design and the problem will worsen. The post-war American Dream, with the single-family house has the embodiment of national ideas and values, was certainly a feasible dream 50 years ago. But now, with growing ecological and economic problems on a global scale, there is an urgent need to rethink the suburbs intelligently. But as Chang argues, the difficulty lies in the irreducible unit of the single-family house. How to make a collective lifestyle appealing, to millions of families who have been working hard and dreaming to have their own little house, with their swimming pool and perfectly trimmed lawn? With creative design, I think it is possible: my favorite of the five Foreclosed projects was Nature City, by WORKac. I confess, it does seem utopian, even improbable, but it is certainly a dream that is worth believing in.

  2. elisabethbouchard says:

    Dan Graham has just offered me a relevant angle to approach the piece I have chosen at the CCA : Planesspotters. The relation between art and its surrounding, art and the museum or the gallery is a complex one. It needs to be mentioned that the relation goes both ways. Artist are interested and often invited to invest a specific space. On the other way, architects are constantly questioning the presence of their voice in museum design. One only has to think about the Bilbao Museum loud and obvious voice but I am mainly thinking about New York MOMA extension by Taniguchi where the architect was obsessed with the diminution of his voice and style to leave most of the room to the artists.
    Reading Fishman, we leave the centrifugal way of understanding the city. This idea of growing urbanization linking 2 or 3 different cities seems to have started hundreds of years ago. Isn’t Paris the way we know it today the result of the links between different villages? Same in Montreal: the system of parishes has slowly been swallowed by the growth between them. Having travelled by in United States from East to West and North to South a few times, I sometimes thought of this country as one big agglomeration, of course with very different neighborhoods, and punctuated by protected national parks.

  3. tsouthcott says:

    For Fishman and Wall the evolution of the city is a question of transportation, of negotiation between static buildings or structures, and the dynamic flow of people, vehicles and materials between them.

    In “The Car and the City”, Wall tracks the evolution of shopping centre design through the work of Victor Gruen in the United States following WWII. Built to the scale of the region, these developments sought to balance successful pedestrian spaces with efficient transportation networks, and as such became models or metaphors for new towns. As focus shifted from the central business district of the traditional city to the periphery of the suburbs, Gruen’s work offered in “the popular energy and collective dimension of the shopping centre” to city planners as a tool for downtown revival.

    In “Megalopolis Unbound”, Fishman also explores the ‘new city’ that has developed at the suburban peripheries, that differs drastically from the traditional city in several ways. The new city lacks a dominant single core and definable boundaries and bears no distinct residential, commercial or industrial zones. Its scale surpasses that of the traditional city as does its momentum of growth. Fast and efficient transportation has so transformed the idea of the city that it is no longer based on space, but time.

    The relationship between the pedestrian and the vehicle and the question of transportation continues to be a central concern in city planning, but the perspective seems to be shifting. While private vehicles have come to dominate movement in and around cities, new alternatives emerge to mediate the congestion this causes – car cooperatives, bicycle sharing, improved public transit. It is not the number of vehicles owned, but the number of trips made daily that creates this problem. Increasingly cities are working to challenge the ease with which multiple trips are made – through tariffs, tolls and minimal available parking – and to provide more attractive options than the private vehicle. Fishman’s ‘city-a-la-carte’ is challenged as a model for sustainable living, perhaps ‘city-potluck’ is a more apt analogy.

  4. ashleighhuza says:

    Fishman’s key element in his structural framework of the suburb is that there is no single center. The ‘new city’ can be composed of three overlapping networks which represent the three basic destinations involved in every person’s city. There is the household network, the network of consumption and the network of production. Fishman notes that, “the pattern formed by these destinations represents ‘the city’ for that particular family or individual”. Fishman believes that each network possesses its own spatial logic; where primary schools (production) are based on a local distribution of a school age population and shopping malls (consumption) involves the assessment of road access, population density and income. His view differs considerably from the idea of Southdale, where the anchor store in a central location mimics the feeling of a metropolitan downtown. The ‘suburban settlement’ comprises the shopping center which is surrounded by the residential area, school parks, playgrounds, medical center, offices, restaurants, auditorium and service facilities.

    Having grown up in the suburbs of Montreal you would think that I could indentify to the opinions and views regarding “sprawl” and “edge cities” described in the readings, however this wasn’t necessarily the case. The “sprawl” seen in Montreal isn’t nearly as extreme as other Canadian cities, such as Toronto and it’s continuous GTA. I believe this is due to the fact that our city is an island. The “sprawl” condition has not been as intense because the propagation of development in Montreal has always been bounded by the confines of the island. Evidently, ‘sprawl’ has occurred but because there has been a defined limit of the ‘edge’, its dispersion has not been as substantial.

  5. yfaras says:

    Half a century after their cataclysmic expansion into the landscapes of the American countryside, the existence and sustainably of the American suburbs is once again put into question; and their demise may/will for a second time alter the fabric of the American urban landscape; the first time being the destructive effect of the urban renewal movement, which had as one of its main roots, the suburbanization of America.

    As noted by Gwendolyn Wright in her book USA, from a total of 13 million dwelling units that went up between 1950 and 1960, 11 million of them were in the suburbs, which grew six time faster than cities; This massive suburbanization had an irreparable short term effect on the fabric of the inner cities.

    As noted by Harvey:

    “The deterioration of the inner cities consequent upon the flight outwards of
    both jobs and people then provoked a powerful and again government-subsidized strategy of urban renewal through massive clearance and reconstruction of older city centers. It was in this context that someone like Robert Moses was able to insert himself in between the sources of public funds and the requirements of the private developers to such powerful effect, and to reshape the whole of the New York metropolitan region through highway construction, bridge building, park provision and urban renewal.

    It’s indeed therefore quite ironic (although not at all incongruent with capitalistic thoughts or processes) that Gruen uses the model of the suburban shopping center as “a basis for reviving retail centers in the hearts of the cities” (Walls); The same suburbs who were the cause of the deterioration in the first place.

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