Cities in crisis: Rehousing the American Dream

By on Apr 16th

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Anita Hill's reimagining of the American Dream through housing strategies in her book Reimagining Equality. This post furthers that discussion.


Photo courtesy Kevin Bauman.

I live in a Canadian border city. The population is about half a million, but the city is not urban. Rather it is a collection of suburbs with giant malls as the focal-points. Lots and houses are huge with one family per house; public transportation isn't efficient and people drive everywhere; big box chains are nearly the only options for groceries and other necessities. This is a scene that replicates throughout my country and throughout the United States, and one that a group of architects and designers at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC would like to change. Running now until August 13th is the exhibit "Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream."

The exhibit "is an exploration of new architectural possibilities for cities and suburbs in the aftermath of the recent foreclosure crisis" in an effort to "envision new housing and transportation infrastructures that could catalyze urban transformation, particularly in the country's suburbs." The basis of the project is The Buell Hypothesis:

"Change the dream and you change the city. The private house and the city or suburb in which it is situated share a common destiny. Hence, if you change the narratives guiding suburban housing (such as that of the American Dream) and the priorities they imply — including spatial arrangements, ownership patterns, the balance between public and private interests, and the mixtures of activities and services that any town or city entails — then you begin the process of redirecting suburban sprawl."

These projects take hypothetical place in real communities around the United States — communities where houses and factories were hit hard by foreclosures. Born-again factories, gardening and green space, communal housing, and neighbourhood-centric amenities (as opposed to commercial and residential areas being segregated) are all brought to miniature life in the designs of the architects, designers, and social scientists at the exhibit. Rethinking housing by putting emphasis on green space, communal living, and work/living spaces becoming one in the same.

Rethinking suburbs as self-sufficient urbanized areas where work and life coexist in communal and environmentally-sustainable ways are the best use of the masses of land that have become unfeasible to support after the foreclosure crisis. The nuclear family of the bungalow house is no longer the American family, and with the change in American family must come a change in the American dream.

The best way to experience this exhibit (apart from visiting it) is by watching the videos on the MoMA website. Watch the models come to life with explanations from the designers and architects themselves.

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About Caroline Diezyn

Caroline is the Offbeat Copyeditor and Offbeat Home's Assistant Editor. She's an academic and a wannabe artist from Canada. She likes to dress in all black, has a severe case of wanderlust, and loves art and fashion. You can be her friend on twitter.