Making art out of sprawl

The Infrastructurist comments on a story about an artist who uses sprawl and suburbia as his subject. The Infrastructurist and the story commentator suggest these images are alienating and ultimately, tragic:

The suburbs are totally self-contained, labyrinthine, and generally terrifying. The Times describes them as “static, crystalline and inorganic. Indeed, some of these streets frame retirement communities: places to move to once you’ve already been what you’ve set out to be.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

I don’t think one has to see these images as tragic. A couple of possible defenses of such images (and the one The Infrastructurist has on the story is a good one):

1. These can be seen as very ordered places. Not ordered in the sense of traditional city grid ordered but they still have a logic. The streets may be more winding but these communities seem to be centered around retail centers or parks. They may even have their own kind of beauty.

2. If one already thinks sprawl is bad, then viewing these overhead shots may just be throwing fuel on the fire. However, these images can be read as the American manifestation of particular social and cultural values: individualism and privacy as built in single-family homes and suburban streets for our cars. In America, the particular expression of these values may be best exhibited in suburbs. There are other ways suburbs/sprawl could be structured to still support those values – or perhaps these commentators would suggest these values themselves should just be done away with. But that is not a problem with these images; it is an underlying issue with sprawl and suburbs.

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