After watching The End of Suburbia, the image that stuck with me was on of America as an Ostrich with its head stuck down in the sand. “Reality is bad for business, what’s good for business is the fantasy.” So how long can America go on living in this fantasy that our oil driven economy is a sustainable one? Maybe if we close our eyes our oil supplies will magically be replenished, and we will be able to continue our addition to oil. Unfortunately engaging in magical thinking is not on the list of solutions to our building environmental problems, in fact it is one of the symptoms of our country’s addiction. A crisis can be defined as “a condition of instability or danger as in social, economic, political, or international affairs leading to a decisive change.” The decisive change the American economy will require to survive will need to be a multi-faceted one indeed, with the most significant and lasting change arising from a fundamental change in mindset. People will only care about the things that directly affect them as individuals (American Individualism). Only by reestablishing a sense of ownership and responsibility to the place we live in will we be able to change our habits. By using the ideas of new urbanism as a tool, my next studio project, based in the Glenwood neighborhood, will be to redesign the master plan in a manner that builds on community based connections at the “cellular’ level (lot to lot relationships), through pocket parks and groups of 8 houses approximately facing inward to each park. Each park having its different function fosters interdependence and small group responsibility/ownership, building up to a tight knit community at large.
The frightening consequence of our current lifestyle could be the end of human existence, but I find the intermediate consequences almost as scary. I recently watched the PBS American Experience production of "Surviving the Dust Bowl". It told about how farmers in the mid-west used mechanized tools and poor land management to destroy the native grasses that had held topsoil in place for thousands of years. High winds carried the topsoil for thousands of miles. Even North Carolina experienced dust storms that came all the way from the plains states. The ensuing food shortage combined with short-sighted economic practices to create the Great Depression. So what have we learned since the thirties? Maybe we are better about crop rotation and soil terracing, but on the big picture land management the most noticeable change has been the efficiency of our Earth destroying tools. Our ability to manage economic issues does not seem to have improved either. The causes of the 2008 market crash had a lot of similarities to the big one in 1929. If, or when, our short-sighted behavior leads to a food shortage and financial crisis like we experienced in the thirties there will be more than three times the number of people to share limited resources. That is scary.Yet - even with all of this evidence of impending crisis in front of me - my only responses are rather minimal. I turn off lights I am not using, car pool when I can, don't eat meat, compost, and grow a few vegetables. I need to do more.
Having been raised in Suburbia, and really enjoying it, the end of suburbia makes me very sad. For almost 20 years now, I’ve called North Carolina home, and I really love it here, mainly because it reminds me of the wide-open spaces of yesteryear growing up on Long Island. I am one of the few that still remembers the American Dream. When veterans migrated out of the city to raise their families. When I was young, before the "powers at be" plowed down all the trees to fit in yet another strip mall into a void along our country roadside, gas was $0.24/gallon. By the time I first started working it was up to $0.55/gallon, but I could still fill up my car for $5.00, and go all week. Suburbia was nice because we all could afford our own cars with the gas to fill it, and it could take us anywhere we desired. We had space, and we used it all up!I use to hate visiting relatives in Manhattan. It was so densely populated and smelly before the clean air and water acts forced it to be cleaned up. I recall seeing the clouds of pollution as we approached the city. I remember my mother telling me horror stories of apartment living in Brooklyn before we bought our house on the island when I was 2, for $13,000. We had everything we needed within our own township of Islip. There was no need to go anywhere else. Growing up in Islip, our community had close connections to the people, their local businesses, and nature. We bought our fresh fruits and vegetables from the farmer’s market, as the locals brought it in from the surrounding farms. I remember seeing my Italian grandmother haggle the price with the produce man. The fishermen sold their catch right at the docks, located right across the street from our schools. It was the American dream, but somewhere along the way our dream was hijacked, and the pieces no longer seem to fit. A generation had changed it all completely, and I feel personally responsible to not be able to pass on that dream to our children. In the film, "The End of Suburbia" chronicles how this way of life, that I feel very privileged to have been a part of, was actually the greatest misallocations of resources for this country. When you start to consider what was done to our local farmlands to support this way of life, and how jaggedly skewed our thinking realigned our priorities from basic instincts of living off the land, into a big box syndrome filled with cheap foreign goods, you start to wonder how did such a beautiful dream go so far off course? It was capitalized. Everyone wanted the American dream, but just wasn't enough of it to go around for us all. We started to mass-produce the American dream into an American nightmare, and this is what we have left. SUV’s going 90 mph on paved over farmlands. We actually drive over our food in worship of the automobile, as we lose our connection to nature. Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong era, because I loved riding my horse so very much. Sure, it’s more comfortable to put on that heater in the car on a cold day than to juggle along the back of a mare, but it’s so much closer to nature, and much more satisfying.
Peak oil vs. suburban life style. Now isn't this an interesting battle. First question is are these two inter-related? Answer: Yes, Second question: Are the dependent or inversely dependent on each other? Answer Yes to both. How do we get these two subjects to be independent of each other? NOW THATS THE RIGHT QUESTION!!!Oil is what allowed humans to push through the ages at lightning speed with no thought of issues or consequence. But we had to know that one day sooner or later that we would run out. Just like a well runs out of water so will the world run out of oil. Yes at one point there was enough oil for everyone. But as population and demand grew, so did the demand on oil. Now we look at the life style that we have created called suburbia and it is evident that oil led the way. But now that we have achieved what some would call a great life style, how to we maintain it. What type of energy resources are out there that would allow us to keep our suburban life style without having the costly economic and environmental issues. The fact that we are relying on a resource that is readily depleting is kind of scary. Its funny how ironic life is. The very thing that brought us to our so called highest has the ability to bring us to our lowest. So whats the answer to out little predicament.....????? Well thats just it there is no answer and no one is trying to find one. We go from Flinstones to the Jetsons just to go right back to pushing cars with our feet again.
This film is narrating how good marketing sold the concept of living in the suburbs. “The dream come true” but, how many other ideas where not expressed in this concept of ideal lifestyle? I think most of the times we are looking at the huge picture and we don’t realize of all the details that are an important components in the scene we live now. The film is showing how dependable we are of electricity and oil to be able to move to places or make life work in this lifestyle. The contrast of local products with big mass produced chains and commercials is growing every day, and it would depend on us to stop for a minute and realize how we want to impact in our neighborhoods, family lifestyle, and world. I think that it is very difficult to change habits that you have had since ever, or things that you always do because, that is the way you know they should be done and that is the only way you were taught to do it. As designers I would say, the challenge is to think out the box we live and start projecting new concepts of living in more eco sustainably environments. Think of an object or a space without having any visual or physical attachment to what we know or use.
This movie mentions to some bullet points that are deep and means more than what they show: “age of pushing buttons, the end of age of oil”. It explains how a wrong decision making can lead to a lot of problems. The urban planning and strategy that known as suburb area after world war II, is taking us to consuming our natural sources an destroying our environment. Dream verses reality, this is the challenging part, decide without thinking about the future and our limited sources. Know that they are warning us about the fact that we are going to run out of oil we don’t want to hear it, because we are addicted to it. American dream 1940 was the reason for making homes in suburb area, in fact suburb would not be existed without cheap oil. Now that we pass the peak of oil we need to find a solution for the problem of suburbia, the movie suggests several solutions: new urbanism, Strong sense of neighborhood and community and sense of local place. But it will take a long time for us to get to these point, before that everybody needs to accept this fact and accept the reality and then feel the necessity for changing their way of life. In my opinion correcting an error is very harder than doing something good in the first place, we made and are making these mistakes and later we have to fix them which is the main issue. For example we made a city like New York and it is difficult for me to imagine it to turn into a sustainable city and community. These facets show that in some point we need to stop making wrong decisions and ruining our sources and find better solutions. We as designers are the one that creating and ding this decision making in the smaller scale, so we should start from ourselves.