Monday, January 12, 2009

The Wasted Land

De-constructing the burbs

"The idea of dismantling elements of human society and reusing and recycling them, while our oil is running out, is making me think that the "Mad Max" and "Road Warrior" movies might have shown us a reality that's a lot closer than we think....”

That’s a comment left on Allison Arieff’s latest By Design blog for the New York Times. Arieff is the former editor of Dwell magazine and currently editor-at-large for Sunset. A woman after my own heart, she also owns an Airstream trailer and has written a book about these land yachts.

In this blog, however, she takes on the notion of recycling the suburbs and exurbs, the McMansions and big box stores, when high oil prices render such auto-dependent developments obsolete.

Actually, oil prices are not the only factor. Like the cars Detroit produced in the fifties and sixties, there is a planned obsolescence built into the suburban structure. The housing stock deteriorates at a faster rate, and architecturally, it’s not worth saving anyway. Even the fanciest of homes is constructed with cheaper materials than used in the simple bungalows built in Portland a century ago. Wal-Mart and other big box retailers routinely abandon their stores for new, larger locations, leaving an empty eyesore for a city to deal with.

Oregon’s land use structure has spared us some of the excesses of development that elsewhere have resulted in subdivision ghost towns, eerie places where a maze of streets leads nowhere, where the houses are all empty shells and there are no lawns to mow. In her blog, Arieff speculates on turning McMansions into condos or retirement centers, but the design aspects are difficult. Read the entire blog here. Don’t skip the comments, which offer a number of unconventional ideas.

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