HGTV cashes in on the popularity of the suburban Brady Bunch home

The iconic home of the Brady family on The Brady Bunch may have a number of confusing features but it is still popular: HGTV is working on a show about the renovation of the home.

The Studio City, Calif., residence was pictured in each episode before the camera took viewers inside the family’s abode. Those scenes, which featured, for example, the kitchen where housekeeper Alice (the late Ann B. Davis) dished out jokes or the girls’ bedroom, where Marcia Brady brushed her hair, were shot on a soundstage.

The house changed hands over the summer, when the network snapped up the property for an unknown price. (Former ‘N Sync member and Brady Bunch die-hard fan Lance Bass narrowly missed out on the place in a bidding war.)

HGTV revealed in August that it had placed the winning bid and would restore the home “to its 1970s glory” as part of a new show.

On Thursday, the network announced that A Very Brady Renovation is set to premiere in September 2019. Home renovation pros from HGTV will “reimagine the popular show’s interior set design, working to ensure that the final renovation results stay true to the spirit of the Brady Bunch family home that everyone loves and remembers,” according to a press release. In other words, the iconic staircase and the retro hues used in the home will remain.

Perhaps this is what nostalgia about postwar suburban life looks like: it is filtered through television. Instead of having a show about updating postwar suburban homes (imagine an HGTV show solely devoted to the iconic Levittown and other mass produced suburbs), a network banks on a fictional suburban home. If this Brady Bunch renovation show works, I imagine more shows featuring famous TV homes could occur.

This whole concept makes some sense. Television emerged at the same time as the suburbs. Certain shows, including the Brady Bunch, became associated with suburban America. Some have argued the depictions of suburbs on television helped encourage suburban development – I’m not sure there is much evidence for that. Still, the suburban TV show following the exploits of a nuclear family and kids developed in this time and is still a genre today.

But, I could also imagine some alternative ways that a home like that of the Brady Bunch could enter the realm of nostalgia:

  1. Becoming a museum. Imagine either someone purchasing the property and turning it into a museum or a local government acquiring the property. Put a little money into the home to set up some displays, charge a manageable entrance fee, and the facility is up and running.
  2. Since the first option might cause some zoning issues, move the whole home to a place – museum, theme park, TV studio – better suited to host visitors to the home. What if there was a theme park built around TV buildings or even just around depicted suburban homes?

 

How much Americans want nostalgic suburban recreations outside of “memory towns”

To help older Americans with dementia and other ailments, “memory towns” bring them back to their younger days:

On August 13, a brand-new town in Southern California welcomed its first residents. They trickled through the doors of a generic beige warehouse on a light-industrial stretch of Main Street in Chula Vista, a San Diego suburb. Then they emerged in Town Square, a 9,000-square-foot working replica of a 1950s downtown, built and operated by the George G. Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Centers. Unlike the businesses around it hawking restaurant supplies and tires, Town Square trades in an intangible good: memories…

Glenner has partnered with the home-health-care giant Senior Helpers, which employs some 25,000 caregivers around the United States, to build Town Squares around the country. Version 2.0 is under construction near Baltimore, in a former Rite Aid in White Marsh, Maryland. Senior Helpers will own and run that facility, which is expected to open in early 2019. But franchise sales are underway, and Peter Ross, the company’s CEO, is bullish…

The onward march of private or semipublic “nostalgiavilles” (retiree-only communities, such as the The Villages in Florida, are similarly engineered to evoke vanished small-town life) raises the question: Do people respond to these places simply because they remind them of their youth, or does their form matter, too? After all, millions of Boomers grew up in postwar sprawl, but Town Square isn’t designed to mimic that.

Instead, as Tarde noted, it “really replicates [a] kind of urban experience. You’re going to a movie theater, going to a library, a department store. Engaging in these activities that may not be accessible to these individuals any longer. But they are in Town Square, and it’s safe.” In other words, the principle behind Town Square is the dense concentration of different services, as in a city (although adapted for a vulnerable population).

Sounds like a promising idea.

I wonder how much of a market there is for recreating idyllic American suburbs in various forms. This could include therapy settings (though the examples discussed above seem to focus more on urban downtowns) and senior living communities. But, it could also include history museums, parks, entertainment venues, and retail settings that want to add a unique element.

One way this could happen is through history museum. Imagine a facility like Naper Settlement in Naperville, Illinois. The facility seems to be well-funded and it helps a wealthy suburb of over 140,000 residents connect to the community’s earlier decades (mid-1800s to early 1900s) as a small farming community. The outdoor portion includes a number of older buildings either moved to the property or recreated that give visitors a glimpse of what life used to be like. Yet, the facility does not do as much with the postwar suburban boom era that might be the true marker of what Naperville is today. Could it move 1950s ranch homes and strip malls and other markers of postwar life that would give visitors a sense of a growing suburban Naperville?

If critics are right about suburbs, perhaps there is little nostalgia worth celebrating. After all, suburbs have been characterized as patriarchal, cookie-cutter, conformist, a waste of resources, and racist. At the same time, millions of Americans grew up in such settings and cultural products (books, films, TV shows) regularly invoke idyllic postwar suburbia (while other products in the same mediums try to show off the darker sides of the same places). These postwar suburbs also came about in an unprecedented era of American prosperity.

At some point, I expect Levittown might become part of a museum or theme park. Given the amount of people who experienced such settings plus the attention (both positive and negative) given to suburbs, isn’t this an opportunity waiting to happen? At the least, many suburbs across the United States will need to find ways to provide compelling and interactive narratives about their own growth that encompasses the era of highways, subdivisions, and sprawl.

Fathers still play catch with their sons? What about football, video games?

I recently saw a review of the new Jackie Robinson bio-pic 42 that suggested American fathers still bond with their sons by playing baseball. My first thought: do fathers still do this on a large scale? Here is why I think this may be an outdated sentiment.

Baseball is no longer the most popular sport in the United States. Even with the large number of kids who play baseball or Little League, baseball’s peak has long passed with the NFL taking over the sports lead. The NFL released its 2013 schedule last week and ESPN was breathless for a while looking at the most tantalizing games that have yet to be played. Baseball is no longer the “all-American sport” and surely this must trickle down to the activities of kids and fathers. While it does have the same nostalgic pitch, what about playing catch with a football in the backyard? (This may be impacted today and in the future because of fears of concussions.) Moving in a different direction, as has the racial composition of baseball players, what about kicking around a soccer ball in the backyard?

Here is another possibility for how fathers and sons might now be interacting in the United States: by playing video games together. The generation who grew up with video games has reached adulthood and these video games habits don’t simply disappear. What if fathers and sons don’t play sports together as much as play Madden? What if they enjoy a good session of Call of Duty? This may not be happening on a large scale yet but I imagine this would grow in the future.

All that said, I want to see some data about how exactly fathers are bonding with their kids in 2013. Appeals to playing catch in the backyard might just be nostalgia for a bygone era.

Argument: current and proposed streetcar projects are a “swindle”

Samuel Schieb argues that the resurgent popularity of the urban streetcar is a swindle that doesn’t live up to its promotion:

There are currently 16 streetcar lines operating as public transit in the United States, but depending on how you count there are as many as 80 cities with streetcars in the planning or development phase. Far from the dominant form of urban transport they once were, streetcars have become prestige projects celebrated for their history, beauty, and alleged ability to promote development.

But the sad secret is that streetcars of all descriptions and vintages are at best modestly successful transportation projects, at worst expensive objets d’art that very few people use. Demand for the vehicles is driven not by the public but by the dreams of land-use planners and downtown boosters who imagine that aesthetically pleasing vehicles lumbering in slow circles through walkable areas will somehow prompt a boom in economic activity. Streetcar booster Gloria Ohland has often written that streetcars should be considered “economic development projects with transportation benefits.”…

The highest and best use for a streetcar system is to connect dense student housing, a university, a functioning downtown, and a regional shopping venue, hospital, or other large attractor in a community of around 100,000 people. Athens, Gainesville, Norman, and Bloomington are ideal for this type of alignment (as is Lansing, which has opted to build a bus rapid transit system). We already have models for how to do this. Three systems in France provide exactly this kind of service: LeMans, Orleans, and Reims carry between 35,000 and 48,000 trips daily on systems that have between 6.9 and 11.2 miles of track. These streetcars—called tramways there—not only serve universities and downtowns but also take advantage of the tram’s small footprint by wending between buildings, using rights of way that are useless to larger mass transit vehicles or automobiles.

Planners in Tampa and other streetcar cities have been betting on modal magnetism, the notion that the inherent attractiveness of rail will get people to use it even if there is not an existing demand for the service. This idea is wrong, and it has not worked. Transit projects should be built not to create demand but to serve the demonstrated needs of the public.

Read the whole thing to get an overview of the streetcar’s history as well as its reintroduction to American cities.

I think Schieb is making a larger point: projects built for nostalgic or historic purposes may not be enough to justify their cost or to expect that they will generate more traffic and revenues by themselves. Such projects still need to be designed well and take advantage of existing patterns, not just hope for new social patterns to emerge. Related to the streetcar, Schieb also discusses the pedestrian mall, a technique tried in a number of communities across the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. (A note: this was tried in Chicago on State Street and proposed in Wheaton for Hale Street but both streets returned to roadways.) While these pedestrian malls might harken back to a day without cars (though urban streets were possibly more chaotic before cars), simply putting one in is not enough in itself to attract people. In conjunction with other helpful factors, streetcars and pedestrian malls can be successful but they are not quick fixes that can simply be plopped into places.

h/t Instapundit

Nostalgia for the early 1990s: McMansions, SUVs, and more

The early 1990s are not that long ago but this comparison of the 2011 Ford Explorer and the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee is wistful for this earlier era:

The early 1990s are starting to seem like a long time ago. McMansions were barely a twinkle in the Toll brothers’ eyes. Apple stock was less than fifteen dollars a share. The Iraq war was going great. A tea party was something for little girls. And Justin Bieber hadn’t even been born.

In the U.S. car market, perhaps the biggest difference between then and now is that the SUV, as an automotive force, was in its infancy. Sure, Wranglers, Blazers, Broncos, Scouts, and the like had been bouncing along on the fringe of the American automotive scene for a while, but their numbers were small.

I am interested in this mention of McMansions, which has several connotations in these opening paragraphs:

1. It is not unusual to lump the McMansion in with other consumer objects. Perhaps its most common pairing is with the SUV, often considered an oversized and ostentatious vehicle.

2. The Toll Brothers, a large American home builder, are often tied to McMansions. This builder preferred to call their larger homes “estate homes” but critics ended up dubbing them McMansions. Read a quick summary of Toll Brothers history here. The term McMansions really started being used in earnest in the late 1990s.

3. There seems to be a growing idea that the McMansion might have been a blip in American history. This review pegs the McMansion as beginning in the 1990s and other recent commentators (see here and here) have suggested McMansions are done and will not return. The jury is still out on this one: the size of the average American home grew steadily from the 1950s until just a few years ago.

(4. An unrelated issue: can we already have nostalgia for a time just 20 years ago? Think of this in terms of “oldies” on the radio: it’s hard to even find 60’s music on the radio and now the 80’s and 90’s are considered old. How far can we compress the past in order to develop a prepackaged nostalgia?)

The importance of perceptions: thinking about the golden age of flying

There seems to be a lot of grousing about air travel these days, particularly with a flood of recent stories about full-body scanners and more aggressive pat-downs. These complaints raise a question: is flying today more troublesome and less glamorous than in the past? Some experts say today is actually the golden age for flying:

Whether it’s fees, crowded planes, no food or surly service, people will complain about the current state of air travel.

They’ll talk wistfully about the good old days of flying, of a bygone era when a glamorous stewardess delivered white-glove service with a smile, they had meals with real silverware and a courtesy cocktail was offered free on such carriers as Pan Am, TWA, Braniff or Eastern.

The so-called golden age of air travel in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s has passed, they’ll say, just as those airlines have.

But has it? No, say some veteran fliers and industry analysts. With historically affordable fares to nearly everywhere, greater options for service if you’re willing to pay, and new information and entertainment technology, there’s never been a better time to fly, they say.

So some experts that suggest by some objective measures, such as price and service level, flying is now better than it was in the past. But the issue really seems to be whether passengers feel that this is the case. And this is what matters for airlines – if potential customers perceive that flying is difficult and then choose other forms of travel, these perceptions are real indeed.

What could be going on here? A few thoughts:

1. Memories and nostalgia are tricky things. People can romanticize the past and forget the troubles they experienced then.

2. Some of the security procedures instituted after 9/11 seem to irritate people. It adds an extra level of hassle and can make people feel like they are not trusted. On the other hand, there has not been a major airline incident in the US since 9/11.

3. Service and entertainment options may have increased but perhaps passengers expect even more. Does having more entertainment options offset sitting in cramped airplane seats?

4. I would be curious to know how many people actually enjoy flying versus feeling that it is the best, or perhaps only, transportation option to get them where they want to go.

h/t The Infrastructurist

Viewing Main Street at Disneyland alongside its inspiration (Marceline, Missouri)

A number of sociologists have in recent years written about spaces where there is an attempt to build in nostalgia, to recreate an atmosphere from the past but with new materials and design. One of the places to see this is in Disneyland’s Main Street, the opening part of the park where Walt Disney attempted to produce a copy (or an improvement?) of the typical small-town downtown.

The Chicago Tribune has a short photo essay where they show pictures from Disney’s Main Street alongside pictures from downtown Marceline, Missouri, the small town that Disney claimed influenced his later Main Street. While this just a limited set of pictures, seeing these images side by side does reveal some things:

1. Main Street in Marceline looks similar to the Main Streets of many small towns: brick buildings, a little bit drab (probably partially due to the fate of small towns since the era when Disney was in Marceline), some “old-time” features (such as the clock on the stand at the corner).

2. In comparison, Disneyland’s version really does seem “hyper-real”: it is much more colorful (or is that just the sun in southern California?), the buildings feature extra features (more architectural touches, more flash than just the plain brick), and there are crowds of people walking through. While the buildings of Marceline are more functional, the buildings at Disneyland are meant to entertain and invoke feelings (such as nostalgia and consumerism). Disneyland’s Main Street looks like a movie set whereas as Marceline looks like dull reality.

3. Perhaps we could make a case that Disney took his pre-teen experiences and translated them into his Disneyland Main Street. Perhaps to a pre-teen, Marceline’s downtown was the height of excitement: different goods being sold, people from around the town (and area) gathering together, new things to look at. A more cynical take would be that the Disney Main Street is a glamorous (or garish) pastiche of real downtowns where people cared less about entertainment and more about maintaining community.