Thinking about the future of suburbs in Levittown

At the end of a retrospective article about Levittown, CNN considers the future of the suburbs:

It’s a hot issue in academia to think about what suburbs may become.

An upcoming exhibit at the New York Museum of Modern Art, called Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream, proposes several visions, including one that would integrate nature more sustainably into the suburbs and another that would try to make suburban neighborhoods denser.

Something has to change, said Barry Bergdoll, MoMA’s curator for architecture and design, or we will “roll the suburban carpet across all the open land that is left.”

“It’s just irresponsible to have a model that encourages moving out onto green fields and leaving behind decaying rings of an ever-fattening tree,” he said. “I’m interested in not just letting the path of least resistance exist. It’s cheaper for a developer to build on virgin territory, but it’s not cheaper for people to live on it or get to it.”

This year, another group of designers descended on Levittown to imagine “a future suburbia” in the place where the concept was hatched…

For a day, a designer named Claudia Linders turned Dwyer’s Levitt home into an “Attention Clinic.” Patrons sat in her living room and waited for a chance to receive advice, attention and/or hugs from Dwyer and two actors.

The idea was to make suburbia profitable rather than just a place where people live.

“They kept choosing me (for advice), I guess because I was older and wiser,” Dwyer said, cracking a smile. “Because these actresses, they were beautiful.”

All this attention confused Dwyer, who said she was happy to give out advice to strangers but felt somewhat unqualified to make life decisions for them.

There was a real chance here to share with the public what academics forecast for American suburbs. For my six predictions for American suburbs for 2012, read here. But here is what this article went with:

1. A typical critique that suburbs take up too much open land and by focusing resources on suburbs, other locations are impoverished. These opinions aren’t necessarily wrong (indeed, the densification of the suburbs is a popular topic today) but these ideas have been around for decades.

2. This last bit about the “Attention Clinic” seems more like performance art than a viable option for American suburbs. What exactly is this supposed to illustrate?

This is a puzzling selection of “what the suburbs may become.” While the earlier parts of the article hit some key elements that make Levittown unique including its mass production and its race relations, the last part of the article is a missed opportunity.

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