Cities and Suburbs – sitchensis – March 09(2/2)

I WANT TO BLAME SOMEONE WHO DO I BLAME

Black people.

happy_black_couple.jpg lol

OK, fine, it isn’t actually black people.

However, that said, the way we got to this point is very much related to racism. Even though the “suburbanization” of North America has only occurred over the past 60-70 years, the process by which it happened is layered in complexity. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to lay out who or what the inital primary drivers were in creating this mess.

You should blame:

1. General Motors
2. Levitt & Sons
3. Dwight Eisenhower

1. General Motors

Most modern North American cities actually looked very european back in the early twentieth century. For the most part, transportation was taken care of via electrified tram lines, trains, bicycles, horses, and walking. The car was not a particularly popular means of transporting yourself from one place to another. Even up until the late 1930’s, cars were seen more of a novelty status symbol than the democratic means of transportation that we see them as today.

Back in those days, it was a real fucking pain in the ass to ride around in a car. For the most part, people didn’t know quite what do to when you came down the street. There was virtually no traffic control, horses were still pretty dominant, and trolleys would ding-ding their cute little bells at you. Added on to the fact that most rural areas were completely unsuitable for your dinky little wheels, gas-stations were few and far between, and that most cars were death-traps in the case of an accident and you can see why people didn’t really regard them that much as the best way to go from point “A” to point “B”.

So let’s say its the 40’s and you are a General Motors head-president dude. You are sitting around with your supplier, Firestone Tires, and a bunch of other guys who represent various car-related industries in the United States (Mack Trucks, Phillips Petroleum, Standard Oil, etc.) and you are wondering how the hell you are going to get people to buy more of your product. The car is catching on for sure, but not fast enough.

“Ah-hah!” You say, rubbing your hands together and twirling your waxed moustache, “Let us create a holding company that will buy out all that nasty, dirty, tricksy Public Transit so that people will be forced to buy our cars!”

The others nod and then laugh hearty capitalist laughs. Later on you are all sued successfully for creating a monopoly.

So basically all these companies came together to run National City Lines, which went across North America and bought up 100 electrified tram systems in 45 cities. These systems either had their tracks torn up or were replaced by busses. In any case, during the 1940’s the car surged in popularity as transit networks were literally pulled from the ground!

Los Angeles before and after lol

Ah, the invisible hand of the free market lovingly strikes again.

2. Levitt & Sons

Levittown was a planned community created in New York state after World War II. At this period in time, many army personnel were coming home to enjoy the fruits of the post-war boom. This was probably what a lot of people think of when they think of the “American Dream”, a house with a white picket fence, a doting wife, 2.5 kids, a dog and a car. Levittown basically came to symbolize that dream.

Unfortunately for a lot of GI’s and their pregnant wives, most housing available was still located in cities which (due to rapid industrialization) were dirty, loud, filled with crime, and polluted. The draw of an imaginary unspoiled countryside/rural way of life was (and still is) a big attraction to a lot of young families.

Capitalizing on this idea was the construction firm Levitt & Sons, who began work on a master-planned community called “Levittown” (they weren’t very original back then). Located on a former potato farm, Levittown sold half it’s 2,000 properties within two days of being announced. The wild success of the community spawned more in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The large lots, ease of access with an automobile, clean air away from large cities, relative safety, and cheap fabricated housing made the model instantly attractive to building firms and families across the continent. By the end of 1951, Levitt and Sons had constructed 17,447 homes around the eastern United States, and the model was quickly appropriated and put into use across the country. This was probably the first example of a modern sprawling suburb.

3. Dwight D. Eisenhower

“But Sitchensis,” you say, fondling your assorted petticoats.
“Yes?” I reply.
“I haven’t read anything about BLACK PEOPLE yet! Where does racism come in to all of this?”
“Fuck you.”

I then promptly walk outside to determine timber volumes for a cutblock project I’m ignoring to type all this shit.

So you are Dwight Eisenhower. You did some shit in the Korean war and now you are president. How does it feel, asshole?

OK so you come into an America that is scared. Scared for its freedom, scared of the Russians, scared of pretty much everything. So what do you do? You try and get them to focus on other things while at the same time executing a gigantic national plan to facilitate massive troop movements across the country.

You create the Interstate System.

One of the largest public works projects in U.S. history, the Interstate System basically connected every major metropolitan US city with a bigass four lane highway. Even to this day it is still being worked on.

Unfortunately most of these highways punched right through major downtown areas, primarily through poor black neighborhoods. These dislocated black residents were either forced to become homeless or move into more “affluent” white neighborhoods in the city. Long story short: white people in the cities don’t like black people in their neighborhoods, perceive an increase in crime, and then decide to move.

Lookit all dem white folk fleein’ dem cities

Of course, facilitating this movement was the brand new interstate system! Which led into newly built Levittown clones! That were not accessible to black people because they were poor and all the transit systems had been bought and torn up!

So you can see how in the 1940’s onwards there was a huuuuuuuuge demographic shift of white people to the suburbs from the cities. Which facilitated more highways, which meant more suburbs, which meant less transit, which meant the destruction, abandonment and blight of urban neighborhoods!

The construction and integration of interstates as the defacto transportation network also ruined many small towns along the way. Originally conceived as a way for people to get from “A” to “B very quickly, the interstate actually facilitated a bunch of shit to be built alongside it, so that soon enough “A” to “B” became “A”bcdefghijklmnopqr”B” leading to the endless stream of fast food outlets, strip malls, and other assorted highway crap you see today.

Imagine you are a business owner who has a cafe located in the downtown area of a small mid-west community. Suddenly ol’ Dwight puts in a big ass highway a few miles outside town. Traffic through “Main street” virtually ends as motorists use the highway to bypass having to go through your town, where the might have stopped to eat at your cafe.

What do you do? Well, you close up shop and open a fast food outlet right by the lone exit ramp that leads to your community. This, along with other factors (the advent of big box stores) led to a lot of communities virtually abandoning what were once traditional gathering areas and business/residential districts.

SO HOW THE FUCK TO WE FIX THIS OH GOD OH GOD

“OK,” you say, “so I live in the middle of the Inland Empire in a big house that is about thirty minutes by car to any sort of shopping.” You wipe your gleaming forehead with your shirt sleeve, perspiration building as you realize your entire life in the suburbs at this point as been predicated on an unsustainable system being sustained until it all collapses around you, “What do I do?” you say.

Well first off, “Congratulations”! You have taken the first step towards wanting to create a healthy, vibrant community in your neighborhood, city, town or village. By actually thinking about how your community is structured, you have taken a step towards addressing the issue.

Unfortunately, much like everything else in life, you will have to deal with politics and people who have a vested interest in keeping things the way they are. If you are really wanting some change, you should try and start a community organization to lobby city hall on behalf of your neighborhood. Sit in on developer meetings, read the newspaper, get as much information as you can on what your area’s long-term planning documents are and try and LOBBY!

If this is too much, and you need something a bit more structured, here is the way to go about things in a very simplified and straightforward way in your neighborhood if you have some sort of magic fucking development wand or you give the mayor blowjobs (or cuntjobs, lf feminism represent):

Step by step:

1. Put in sidewalks

2. Relax secondary suite building codes

3. Encourage higher occupancy housing development

4. Once higher density is completed (say, through homes renovated into suites or apartments, or the building of rowhouses and townhomes), the area should have a high enough residential density to warrant a transit station for commuters.

5. Build transit station in an area that boundaries two or three (ideally four) neighborhoods (this could be, for example, a disused strip-mall, or an old school, but must be close to residential areas!)

6. Encourage mixed-use development around transit hub through zoning laws and development

7. Let the new area grow into its own.

At this stage things should basically be “sustainable”. For the most part you want to create areas where people will congregate as pedestrian traffic. This means that buildings should be somewhat permeable, that is they should be easily accessible from street level and consist of stores, services, or spaces that facilitate people interacting with one another. Moreover, they should be “lively” during most parts of the day and the night, which means that you shouldn’t have it stratified in such a way that the area surrounding the transit node is strictly made up of business high-rises or residential housing. A mix is always best!

There. You fixed your neighborhood. Now you only have tens of thousands more left to do — Good luck!

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