Monday, March 9, 2009

Slums of the Future - The Suburb

I was asked this week to do a radio blog show March 12, Thursday at 2PM eastern time (see details below) The only topic I could imagine important enough was radical common sense and creativity. They seem the ultimate human commodity whenever crisis arrives at the door. Take, for example, the creation of future slums.

I've been saying for some years the American suburb - that monotone, energy-sucking, environmental monstrosity so embraced around the world, is becoming the slum of the future.

A few years ago some of my grad students in Sacramento drove to an apparently quiet suburban street and did a video cam drive-by. What they captured in their film was subtle, yet foreboding.

As the scene opens the houses on the street look suburban normal...with a few twists: Multi-family duplexes, cement lots replacing lawns, drapes covering window. What they discovered behind the drapes was another story: Overcrowding, high crime rates and fear off the charts. Gang shootings were not uncommon.

We were miles from downtown. Yet it felt like an urban slum.

This week in The Atlantic Monthly magazine there are series of articles about the economic collapse. There are two you should read: Richard Florida's article How the Crash Will Reshape America (see Florida's article) and Christopher Leinberger's article The Next Slum (see Leinberger's article) .

Florida believes the current crash will not look much like the Great Depression, but he does think it will reshape our urban geography. Some cities will flourish, some will not. The key to success will be the creativity of what he calls our Creative Class.

Leinberger takes the argument beyond. He thinks the crash will hasten the demise of the suburb. Goodbye to McMansion. Hello extinction. He cites data suggesting that 40% of today's large-lot homes will be vacant within 15 years.

This seems like a good time to talk about how we come out of these times. That's what our blog radio show is about.

The blog is moderated by my friend Deborah Osborne - an internationally recognized expert in crime analysis and former analyst with the Buffalo Police. She has been chair of the Police Futurists International and research fellow at the Center for Strategic Intelligence Research.

If there is anyone who thinks strategically and innovatively about the future, it is Deborah.

Join us live Thursday at 2PM eastern time.

Click here for details

2 Replies so far - Add your comment

Clark said...

This idea of urban slums is something that I am particularly concerned about myself! Having grown up in a suburban area that is relatively integrated within the city fabric, I didn't experience an entirely isolated upbringing in terms of feeling disconnected from neighbors and urban services. I did however watch this bizarre phenomenon of identical subdivisions take over the western landscape of the US. The rows and rows of stucco, monster houses with absolutely no character are astonishing. What is the appeal? What is it that they have to offer? I think it is what they are not offering that is now very apparent.
As things are becoming increasingly unstable with collapsing economies and peak oil issues starting to become a visible reality, how do we adapt is my question? What do we do with these urban slums? How do we work with communities who are dealing with crime and mistrust and disconnectedness? How can these areas be inhabitable?
What is the potential for developing city centers within these islands of isolation? Is it possible to turn brown grass into a series of connected, biologically productive community gardens? Is there a way to salvage the structures and re-zone areas for multi-use functions such as creative clusters of business?
One thing is certain, it is going to take a great deal of creative thought to undo the reckless post WW2 planning for the car that got us into this mess!

GSaville said...

Interesting perspective Lindsay. I love your phrasing. Islands of isolation...turning brown grass into connected community gardens...creative business clusters. Sounds like the language of possibility.

So how do we make that possibility real? That's the next step.