As America continues its sprawling behavior, will it be possible to attain a sustainable future? Will global warming and the energy crisis result in an unprecedented suburban-to-urban holocaust? Are there any paradigmatic design solutions which could bring hope to the residents of these places? Can some sort of natural order be imposed over areas where intellectual order is causing irreversible damage? Pondering around these questions, from the point of view of sustainable design and with a great deal of curiosity, may result in potential design strategies generating hope for a better future.
In truth, the last 75 years of American city building show a complete abandonment of our urban memories and a disregard for our collective culture; with very few exceptions, every place touched by professional urban designers and city planners has become a dwelling of damnation and a clear expression of their lack of understanding. The city has NOT been understood as the product of democracy but as the result of despotic dictatorships expressing their formal authority through the repression of our human desires. City building has turned into a non-ending battle between rationality and common sense; as a result, it is manifesting as a project for the transformation of society into individual beings with the capacity of executing one AND ONLY ONE single task at a time.
If we could truly understand our current predicament, the reconstitution and retrofit of American suburbia would be one of our most urgent projects.
In America, where property rights are protected by the National Constitution, the idea of retrofitting suburban areas may find splinters upon our legal and economic systems. According to William Whyte (1968), "…our fee simple structure has never been absolute or indivisible, nor have landowners inherited license to do anything they please with the land." Plus, the power of "eminent domain" is a threat in the hands of politicians or designers with rhetorical powers i.e.: Robert Moses in New York or Edmund Bacon in Philadelphia. Therefore, the successful retrofit of the American city depends on our understanding of individual property rights; on the comprehension of our cultural expressions, egotism, and lack of voluntary cooperation; and, on our capacity to work within the rules of constitutional law.
On the verge of despair, five healing design strategies may still allow us to deal with our desires to bring about an awareness of sustainability, ecological growth, and community building. It should be emphasized that the strategies here proposed are not a utopian choice, a dream, or an intellectual exercise but the only way to achieve a better future in suburban America.
The five healing strategies are: the development and densification of no-man’s lands, the redevelopment of under-utilized areas (such as parking areas in malls and strip shopping corridors), the creation of complete interconnected neighborhoods and neighborhood centers in the midst of suburban communities, the permanent and immovable demarcation of urban boundaries, and the reduction of urban areas in accordance with sustainable transportation principles. The projects here presented correspond to five scenarios for paradigmatic areas within suburban America. Hopefully the beauty of their graphics and the accuracy of their intentions will allow the readers to experience a promising future for areas with very little hope of survival.
God may help us all!