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September 25, 2009

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Jon -- I recommend "Last Harvest: From Corn Field to New Town," Wytold Rhybczynski's readable history of real estate development. It's an east coast history, of course -- Rhybczynski is at Wharton and isn't that the only place that matters? But it's intersting to learn how the industry got its start.

You are right about the social, soulful impacts of the MP community (I am less aware of the impact on government, but I'm going to learn more). The walls and fortress-front houses create a level of isolation that can eventually take its toll on families and individuals. Other institutions -- schools, churches -- are left to close the gap. People patch together "custom" communities made up of a few friends from here and there : Little League teams, church, Scouts, etc. (This has been my life, anyway). When circumstances change people drift away ... It's a challenge for leaders to keep institutions like churches healthy and strong enough to provide the community we need, and when they fail, the emptiness hurts. The built environment is the result of external social and historical forces, but once in place it becomes a force itself. The MP community is pernicious in lots of ways -- oh please, no more. Let's find a different way.
Book: http://www.amazon.com/Last-Harvest-Development-Washington-Twenty-First/dp/0743235975/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1253891029&sr=8-1


I totally agree with about everything you say. We live in Chandler right now and we are wanting to escape to downtown. I have lamented for years how the empty lot at the entrance to our subdivision would make the perfect spot for a corner store, but nope. Probably because they can't find a "big box" retailer to fill the space.

Which, speaking of big box retailers, that is the other half of the coin...the fact that there is a Target every 5 miles and a CVS or Walgreens every 2 miles. There is very little allowance or encouragement of locally owned and operated businesses. There is a too tight tie between developers and big box retailers and it suffocates local ownership. After a while of shopping at the big boxes you realize they only view you as a "consumer unit" and not as a person.

If you are right that our housing culture was born out of a 70's attitude, then our retail culture was born out of the big business, big box 80's mentality.

Why do you hate Arizona?

You know SciFi talks about the present as much as the future when you watch the 1999 movie "The Matrix": "'I’ve seen them Neo. Vast fields where humans are grown and liquefied in order to produce this', and Morpheus holds up a battery". The imagery of humans trapped in huge arrays of isolated incubation pods spread out over the landscape reminds me of...

Is it a bit of a stretch to conclude that outer-ring suburbs (including most master-planned communities) are the political soul of the new right? Isolate people in their houses and cars, privatize many public functions, and economically segregate them from those less fortunate. This artificial world compels the arguments of the "haves" who proudly claim not to need or depend on others. It veils the choices people make from their ultimate consequences. And it feeds the delusion that those consequences can be neatly compartmentalized, thus neutralizing energy and environmental concerns.

David Brooks celebrates this world partly because it's the demographic counterbalance to an increasingly diverse nation. He might prefer more Hispanics and even blacks in master-planned communities just to see if it can alchemize among them similar responses. If so, the future of the American right is assured for the long term.

I bicycle a lot and sometimes wander into these places. What are people watching on those glowing big-screen TVs? Is it a reminder of a real place, more dangerous and exciting, but entirely "out there" and contained? Are they clucking their tongues at the craziness and disorder they see represented? Do they self-congratulate for their own security?

I'm not a sociologist like David Brooks but all I see is the pain nice people thought they could avoid by escaping to these places.

The Unbearable Lightness of David Brooks:

"Most of Brooks's own ideas are clichés borrowed from popular culture....Like William Whyte, another child of Philadelphia's western suburbs fascinated with the interplay of money and manners among his contemporaries, Brooks is a journalist who works on sociological turf. But Whyte, who was an editor for Fortune in the 1950s, observed how people lived, inferred trends, considered what they meant, and then came up with grand conclusions about the direction of the country. When, in 1954, he wanted to find out which consumers were trend-setters, he went into Overbrook Park and surveyed 4,948 homes -- all inhabited by real people. Brooks, by way of contrast, draws caricatures. Whether out of sloppiness or laziness, the examples he conjures to illustrate well-founded premises are often unfounded, undermining the very points he's trying to make.

"In January, I made my own trip to Franklin County, 175 miles southwest of Philadelphia, with a simple goal: I wanted to see where David Brooks comes up with this stuff. ...As I made my journey, it became increasingly hard to believe that Brooks ever left his home."

http://www.phillymag.com/articles/booboos_in_paradise/

The Adventures of The Idiot David Brooks (in easy to digest comic-strip format):

http://dir.salon.com/story/comics/tomo/2005/01/31/tomo/index.html

CityScape was pitched as the suburban mall in the downtown specifically for downtown newcomers who still wanted chain stores. That's pretty much tanked, and it's turned out that the restaurants that feed the business crowd and the Stand Up Live venue survive.

The reason for cars being sold now with GPS units is all about driving into master planned communities that are so cookie cutter, you simply can't tell one house from another!

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