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Once a prairie, the landscape surrounding _________, USA, is now subdivided into standardized formations of standardized houses for standardized humans. Troops of satellite receivers stare wide-eyed at the southern sky. A drive, court, or way negotiates a serpentine path under the rubber soles of Fords, Toyotas, and Volkswagens , aimlessly twisting through the fertilized neon green of cookie-cutter plots only to end up exactly where it started—trapped in a temporal loop where every departure is a return to the beginning, each day a photocopy of the last. This is the American suburb—described as a “formless human community . . . a richness of social surfaces and a monotonous poverty of social substance” by anthropologist Clifford Geertz in 1963.1 Geertz is known for his concept of “involution,” which he identified as “cultural patterns which, after having reached what would seem to be a definitive form, nonetheless fail either to stabilize or transform themselves into a 12. The Architecture of Community We turn to science to free ourselves from fallible judgments of human experts, and we find that the scientific tests themselves require human interpretation . –Edward Dolnick, The Forger’s Spell  new pattern but rather continue to develop by becoming internally more complicated.” Geertz was describing Dutch colonies but he could just as well have been discussing a form of colonialism right here in America: suburbanization. Muddied tracks of a drunken giant, winding blacktop patterns stamp onto farmlands, forests, and prairies surrounding urban America in a reconstituted and revitalized manifest destiny . We’ve all witnessed the carnage—long suburban drags of low-slung strip malls separated by asphalt sheets of parking that light up at night as if being prepped for surgery—hardly an inviting place to walk even in the rare case that there are sidewalks . Residents must negotiate their days by car, every interaction and every task mediated by a fuel pump. The modern energy system enables suburban expansion while it encourages demand for even more energy, which in turn breeds our most troublesome environmental problems. But beyond energy impacts , critics maintain that the proverbial sewage stemming directly or indirectly from suburban sprawl also pollutes family relations, communities, schools, and other social systems necessary for human welfare.2 It’s no shock that America’s energyintensive lifestyles, enculturations, designs, and technologies form through or in tandem with the suburban experience. What’s shocking is the utter failure of the mainstream environmental movement to imagine a more alluring alternative. To an arguable degree, the mainstream environmental response to suburbanization has been to (1) romanticize rural life while (2) hyping technological fixes. Their resulting models for sustainable living are unrealistic for the vast majority of people— even if droves of Americans moved into rural straw-bale homes powered by costly solar cells, the result might be a larger environmental catastrophe than today’s suburbs. Spreading people in a thin layer across the countryside might seem sustainable, but it more frequently intensifies environmental harms and leaves the resulting impacts less visible and more difficult to address.3 The Future of Environmentalism  In any case, if being an environmentalist means living off the grid in the middle of nowhere, not very many people are going to sign up. Worse yet, these rural imaginations—as charming as they may seem—often come at the expense of reimagining and improving the communities where we actually do live. How We Got Here America’s city streetscapes of the 1800s looked much different than those of today; streets were engaging public spaces, offering room for playing children, business dealings, markets, chatting neighbors, and flirting teens. In fact, from the birth of the city until the end of the nineteenth century, walkways claimed the largest share of the public space between buildings (the sidewalk is a modern contrivance). City dwellers liked it that way. New Yorkers resisted steam-powered trolleys in 1839. Philadelphia ’s residents followed suit in 1840. And in 1843 the Supreme Court of New York officially declared steam engines a public nuisance, in effect restricting rail systems to horse-drawn coaches. For the next two generations, citizens protected public walkways and gathering spaces from motorized trespasses.4 Then came the horseless carriage. The automobile shifted America’s conceptions about the spaces between buildings. What they once understood as a place of play and commerce, they would eventually see as a place to drive. The first open-air horseless carriages, chauffeured by the wealthy, rumbled through city streets in the late 1800s. They were a curiosity...


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MARC Record
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