Wednesday, July 27, 2005

A Field Guide to Sprawl

This book by Dolores Hayden, with aerial photographs by Jim Wark, is just what I needed to understand what's going on around me in southeastern Michigan. Actually, this kind of development is happening pretty much everywhere in the US. But her handbook gives you the terminology to understand it, with short, witty explanations and amazing photographic illustrations.

I'd heard of McMansions, and seen them increase a hundredfold around Ann Arbor, but Hayden's book describes the origins of the term (aka "tract mansions") and portrays its relatives, the "starter castle" and the "sitcom suburb". But my favorite entry in Hayden's book is called "Putting parsley round the pig" and describes tarting up an eyesore. All those huge subdivision signs I've seen, with their monolithic pillars or stonework, fancy lettering, ridiculous names, gates, and elaborate landscaping: Putting parsley round the pig. How apt and poetic.

Some of the entrances to these neighborhoods that leapfrog out from Ann Arbor to my house in Saline sport gazebos, guardhouses, waterfalls, or bizarre arrangements of hostas, daylilies, Japanese maples, ornamental grasses, petunias and impatiens, along with smaller signs advertising the price range (and implied exclusivity) of their houses. In a related vein, Hayden talks about "Privatopia", "where residents are legally bound to obey the covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) of a homeowner association" (p. 84). This is something that Louv talked about so eloquently in "Last Child in the Woods" (see previous thread).

Wow. You give up a lot of your freedom to live in these "safe" neighborhoods. CC&Rs can specify appropriate paint/brick/siding colors (and curtain treatments visible outside!), types and colors of plants that may be used in your yard, and all kinds of tenant behavior. Welcome to Stepfordville, please leave your tomato plants, clotheslines, and folk art at your previous residence. And don't even think about putting up a basketball hoop or letting your kids draw with chalk on the sidewalk.

Other notable entries include LULUs - Locally Unwanted Land Uses - often the target of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) campaigns; and TOADs (Temporary, Obsolete, Abandoned or Derelict) sites. Tani, you'll be interested to know that their scary photograph of a TOAD is from downtown Youngstown.


Lauren said...

Hey! I just read this book too. (I refound you via Anjali.) I thought it was pretty interesting. She also has a book about how if more women designed houses they'd be different somehow . . . seems like it would be worth reading.

Sandy said...

I saw that in the "other books by Hayden" in the front of the book, too, and thought it looked interesting.

I would have a mudroom, with places for coats, boots, backpacks, etc. And a big downstairs closet made especially for a vacuum.