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Friday, 30 March 2012



File:Markham-suburbs aerial-edit2.jpg

Aerial view of housing developments near Markham, Ontario
: photo by IDuke, November 2005

To want to be
like everybody else
in the tract

prevents development
of distinguishing
signs. A hair

out of place, a tooth
missing? -- no.
An infinite multiplication

of identical
units. But isn't the same
never any

more than
the same? An
infallible paradigm.

It's not so much
the dismalness
of the burbs

as the abstract
imposition of a plan
upon the natural dis

order of the world.
An infinite multiplication
of identical



Levittown, Pennsylvania, aerial view: photographer unknown, 1959 (National Archives and Records Administration)

Levittown, Long Island, aerial view: photo by Tony Linck, Life, June 1948
Levittown, Long Island, aerial view: photo by Tony Linck, Life, June 1948
File:Dallas skyline and suburbs.jpg

Dallas skyline and suburbs
: photo by Andreas Praefcke, October 2009

File:South San Jose (crop).jpg

Housing development, San Jose, California
: photo by Sean O'Flaherty, 24 May 2006 

Tract housing near Union, Kentucky
: photo by Derek Jensen, 20 June 2005

File:Suburbia by David Shankbone.jpg

Suburban development in Colorado Springs, Colorado: photo by David Shankbone, March 2008

File:RENO SUBURB - NARA - 553129.tif

Reno, Nevada suburb: photo by Jonas Dovydenas for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, June 1973 (National Archives and Records Administration)


Untitled 2524 (Daly City, California): photo by Todd Hido, 1999 (Kaune, Sudendorf Gallery for Contemporary Photography, Cologne)

File:International Avenue, Calgary-aerial.JPG

Aerial view of International Avenue, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, with the neighbourhoods of Albert Park, Forest Lawn, Penbrooke Meadows at the left and Dover Glen, Dover and Elliston Park at the right, Chestermere in the distance
: photo by Qyd, 12 December 2006

Suburbs #2, North Las Vegas, Nevada: photo by Edward Burtynsky, 2007 (Edward Burtynsky Photographic Works)

Suburbs #3, with quarry, North Las Vegas, Nevada: photo by Edward Burtynsky, 2007 (Edward Burtynsky Photographic Works)

Suburbs #1, North Las Vegas, Nevada: photo by Edward Burtynsky, 2007 (Edward Burtynsky Photographic Works)


Nin Andrews said...

Argh! Reminds me of that movie, Edward Scissor Hands.
And how we really are herd animals. So easily manipulated.
Just went to a fracking meeting last night in which it was explained to us that a lot of tract housing plots do not own the mineral rights underneath . . . and they have no say (not that they have much anyhow) about where and when the drilling occurs . . . underneath them. It's a real nightmare. After a week of doing climate change comics, maybe I will do a week of fracking comics. Something to cheer everyone up with . . .

TC said...

Nin, about the vanished mineral rights and the horror of fracking going on beneath the crust despite the evidences of complex life on the surface -- I've pretty much come to assume that in this society absolutely anything and everything can be done to or taken from anyone at any time, and that there is nothing one can do to defend oneself against this, save be very wealthy -- in which case nothing like that will ever happen.

Robert Levitt had a democratization concept in mind when he hatched this social engineering model, which then spread like a skin disease over the planet.

(By the by, the Levittowns I have shown are only two of the four Levittowns that occurred. Of course, from the aerial view it's very hard to tell the difference. And then all those later tracts and burbs of the ensuing seventy years followed the same pattern more or less exactly. One is reminded of cloning.)

Democracy has provided the pretext for so much dehumanization, really.

departuredelayed said...


The post & your response to Nin ring all to true to my ears. I spent some time this week reflecting on my irregular returns "home" (not sure it qualifies, but for simplicity's sake I stick to it), and found myself stewing upon & muttering very similar thoughts. What I came up with:

"With each return he discovered something new lost. At first it was just simple recognition: what was once the fecund emptiness of a field had become the prolific squalor of a parking lot; subdivisions divided even and ever more; white flight neighborhoods now underfunded and Section 8; the metastasizing of a city into a metropolitan area Then, memory: whether it was a right or left off the highway exit, which highway exit it was, or when his tax dollars at work had moved the exit to the other side of the highway. Then, emotional attachment: from hatred of things no more or still the same, to resignation that some things change and others never at all, to apathy that they ever were at all. Then, awareness: pickle preserved and fed to the earth, sustenance for those before and after, but now not for now, he became not unlike his old Kentucky home, a corpse, welcomed and observed, forgotten, and all the while unknowing."

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

"I've pretty much come to assume that in this society absolutely anything and everything can be done to or taken from anyone at any time, and that there is nothing one can do to defend oneself against this, save be very wealthy."

I believe exactly the same thing - like the two goons who show up at "K's" door in The Trial, not even a reason need be supplied.

Perversely, I see these cloned communities and think about all the individualistic mania going on between the walls of each and every house.

Maybe that's the same, too, only the details have been 'changed' to protect the 'innocent'.




"An infinite multiplication// of identical/ units."

At least when viewed from the air -- but just imagine what goes on behind those closed doors, in San Jose, Daly City, Las Vegas (not to mention what was taking place back there back then in Levittown).


light coming into fog against invisible
top of ridge, sparrow calling on branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

velocity of light, which is
therefore parallel to

this point, physical, place
in view of it follows

grey white of sky to the left of point,
shadowed slope of ridge across from it

gamefaced said...

for me, it is only disturbing to see cookie cutter projects in the ghetto, they mirror jail cells. but suburbia is different. it's sought after, like highschool kids seek out the army for college money. i have never been able to understand the draw, but good gawd how many americans willingly walk that plank. dead open sea in plain view. ahem american dreams.

and edward scissorhands is one of my all time favorite movies ever. one of the interesting things about that movie is how tim burton uses the matching houses, landscaping, hairstyles. men's matching commutes/lawn mowing even - to illustrate the lack of free thinking and highlight edward's misplacement. this all builds and climaxes at the end, the town acts as one in all their emotions and actions toward edward. man, just thinking about it i want to watch it right now. time to break out the vhs :) love the soundtrack too. danny elfman is genius beauty.

-K- said...

I wonder to what extent I was influenced by the "Ticky Tack" song of the Sixties. Its hard to believe now but the nuns played the Buffy St. Marie version for us as a sort of cautionary tale against, I guess, conformism.

-K- said...

Forgot to add two things...

How much I admire this:

"...the abstract
imposition of a plan
upon the natural dis

order of the world."

And that I see that your poem and my photograph are both in the current issue of Salamander Cove.


TC said...

Many thanks folks. I guess we're all in this (the big box made of the many little boxes) together... and, or course, apart.

(Isn't Together While Apart the name of the Little Box game?)

Edward Scissorhands gets his first glimpse of suburbia

Little Boxes (Weeds)

Susan Kay Anderson said...

I feel the urge to inventory, map, and calculate.


LV, my hometown

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

Arghh! These boxes illustrating so well the concept of "in the box" thinking were the first thing my wife glimpsed of America in 1996, as we were flying low over Long Island on her one and only trip to the SAME NEW WORLD! She still can't forget it (not the trip, seeing the boxes).

TC said...

Vincent and Susan,

Welcome to our Little Box Reunion.


Who could blame your wife for looking back on that flight as an escape just in the nick of time?

A couple of corrections to this post are in order, one small, one not so little.

I have called William Levitt, the Father of American Suburbia, "Robert".

William Levitt, Time Cover Boy, 3 July 1950

No disrespect intended. But then again... perhaps a tiny bit. Considering the other correction.

Which is really not so much a correction as a pointing out of a significant omission in the post, that is, the failure to indicate that the Levittowns were (surprise!) a citadel and bastion of American institutionalized racism.

It does stick in the craw that Bill Levitt, visionary social engineer, meant his little instant cookie-cutter boxes for Whites Only. And kept things that way for as long as possible, by means of restrictive covenants. Not even the Supreme Court was able to reverse this policy, over the years.

Levittown's Palimpsest: Colored Skin (P.B. Hales)

The firm Levitt & Sons was founded by William's father Abraham. His brother, Alfred, was the firm's architect.

In this period clip Alfred Levitt talks about The Building of Little Boxes.


And for those who might have the stomach for following history into the snake-basket of the Levittownoid consciousness, here's a two-part doc on what happened in 1957 when a black family attempted to penetrate the Bucks County, Pa. little-box set by moving in at the corner of Daffodil and Deep Green Lanes ("The old tribal myths are invoked..." "The whole trouble with this integration is that it will end up with mixing socially..."):

Crisis in Levittown, Pa. (Part 1)

Crisis in Levittown, Pa. (Part 2)

ACravan said...

Although this is excellent -- it really is -- it's curious how something so depressing can be such a popular (in terms of commentary) BTP item. I do think you've covered everything there might be to say about tract housing and Levittowns, though my own favorite movie showing "developments" (on very slightly larger plots of land) is Poltergeist. The Todd Hido photo is just wonderful to see.
"Democracy has provided the pretext for so much dehumanization, really." I suppose so, but as opposed to what other (preferable?) political system? Curtis

awyn said...

Billboard ad:
"You could be living here now!"


Show your I.D. please.

Curtis Faville said...

I remember growing up in the 1950's, in a suburban neighborhood which had grown up piecemeal from GI BIll loans. The lots were mostly the same size, but every house was different. Our neighbors across the street were social climbers, and they couldn't wait to move across town to one of the new "tract" developments, where each garage door had a little red rooster nailed on it. The houses were templates in three versions--the one, the two, and the three bedroom. The houses were also color coded, and a condition of purchase was the promise not to change either the color(s) or the look of the front part of the property. The tract look was actually considered more "in" than the variable house forms.

I remember the kids who came from the tract neighborhoods tended to be more conditioned and stereotypic in their outlooks. They dressed neatly, and acted correctly. They were cheerful, and well-mannered, and dull. They wanted to be dentists and teachers and housewives.

The Stepford Wives was about people who live in those kinds of communities. The men ran a cult which constructed robot versions of their wives--perfect little bo-peeps, happy in their housework, faithful in their love-making, unquestioning, dutiful, and mindless.

TC said...

This and the preceding three posts were meant to address the viability -- and costs -- of the American Dream of a totally controlled environment.

The End of Suburbia

dalriada9 said...

The bucolic alternative doesn't always stand up much better -

The neighbour’s pig

forgotten in its own shit ‒



limping . . .

TC said...

No, Dal, but isn't that the entropic sign of the times, when the world is so upside down that a person would not even care for his pig.

There's this newish Bela Tarr film, "The Turin Horse". Opening minutes extremely interesting. Somewhat à la Au Hasard, Balthasar.

(In any case re. bucolic I've been over in the Pentland Hills these past few nights working up something in the revolutionary pastoral mode for you... perhaps.)

Robb said...

Invasion of the clones.

This breaks my heart, too:

If New York City is like everywhere else how can it be New York City?