Based in Sydney, Australia, Foundry is a blog by Rebecca Thao. Her posts explore modern architecture through photos and quotes by influential architects, engineers, and artists.

Sprawl.

Slimy concrete slabs Crush the arches of my feet

Flip-Flops from Target.

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I wonder if I can make all of the subjects of my entries start with 's' this month.

This past weekend, I was lounging around basking in the cleanliness of the apartment that was long overdue for a sweeping.  I was sweaty.  I was wind blown.  I was ready to snuggle up in bed and browse Netflix.

If we know each other in 'real' life, you might not be surprised to learn that 80% of my Netflix cue is documentaries.  I love them.  They teach me things and they make me feel less guilty about plugging into a screen for a couple of hours.  I am also fascinated by whatever crazy algorithm it is Netflix uses to guess what I might like to watch.  I have some found some gems in the "Recommended for Kayla" row.

I was feeling especially critical of the consumer lifestyle this past Sunday evening, so I naturally chose a documentary examining the phenenomon of the suburban sprawl.  This doc is called Radient City.  It was mostly good, the the ending left me feeling pretty let down.  I won't spoil it for you; it is still worth checking out.

Standard Suburban Sprawl

I was actually born in the suburban sprawl of Chicago/Indianapolis in Kankakee, IL.  I don't really remember it too well.  What I do remember is spending a lot of time in the car going from the apartment complex, to school, to the grocery store, back to the apartment complex, and to the park to fly kites and shoot rockets on weekends.  My dad had a purple Ford Ranger and my mom had a red Thunderbird.  Both my my parents worked, so they had to have two cars, as there was no public transportation and everything was so spread out that it was impossible to walk.  Even if you wanted to walk or cycle, you wouldn't be able to because there were no sidewalks along 5 lane might-as-well-be-highways.

My first sprawl looked something like this:

cluster of dwelling- cornfield cornfield-liquor store- cornfield cornfield- strip mall- cornfield- cluster of dwelling.  This is a sprawl in training.  A sprawl that failed because it could not be sustained by the consumerism it demanded.  The prisoners of this sprawl were simple, and only took what they needed.  This sprawl harbored no mansions, no in-ground pools, and nothing that could be marketed using the world "luxury".  I haven't been back in quite some time, but no one near and dear to us lives there any more.

Now I am six.  We move to Pennsylvania to 'be closer to family'.  The town has three traffic lights that begin blinking at 6:30pm.  The town's houses, schools, and public spaces are either made of red brick or lumber sealed dark red or painted white.  All of the houses have a red door for good luck.  The town's streets are lined with oak and maple trees that have stood guard for over 200 years.

This town grew organically- with it's people, it's animals, and landscapes.  This town was planned thoughtfully, purposefully, and with awareness.  This is the town I tell people I came from.

In high school, I moved to the real sprawl (see above).  This sprawl had an isolated pod for everything.  You have your housing pod, your shopping pod, your restaurant pod, your movie theater (which takes up a whole block, so it counts as a pod), your recreation pod, and your work pod.  All of these things require cars to transport your from pod to pod.  Since there are so many cards, the roads have to be 10 lanes wide to accommodate them all.  There is a even a special HOV lane if you have as many as TWO people in your car because you are saving resources and CARPOOLING! (What does HOV even stand for anyway?).  Suburbia is a magical place because you get rewarded for doing things like sharing your car with one other person.  (Which is probably the daughter you are taking to ballet class.)

At least they tried to make it       look interesting...

The suburbs are an isolating, impersonal, fragmented, and inefficient place.  There are no tall trees because they took them all out to build more sprawl.  There might be 'real' trees in 50 years or so, if they don't decide to tear it all out and start over.  Spreading everything out in such a way that requires people to use excess energy to consume more stuff is just absurd.  And what about all of these towns that have gone under since the 2008 financial crisis?  We have miles of empty warehouses, office spaces, storefronts, and homes that are sitting and rotting away.

Instead of moving on to the next sprawl, I suggest that we start to make use of what we have.  Instead of shipping the garbage to China, we should strive to make less garbage.  I am not saying that everyone needs to adopt micro-living, but maybe you should think about fixing up that historic Victorian house before building a new one.  Besides, brick stands much stronger than drywall ever will.

We are obsessed with having the newest, freshest smelling thing that we forget about the treasures that already surround us.  We are blessed to live in a country where most people have exactly what they need.  All they need to do is look around, get creative, and maybe get their elbows a bit greasy.   We need to start seeing beyond our own noses and start looking at the world around us.  We are running out so space, we are running out of resources, we cannot sustain our current state of living.   This is a scientific fact.  Economists have said it, environmental scientists have said it, and it is basis grade school physics.  The universe may be expanding, but not fast enough to put up with the first world lifestyle.

DISCOVER something!  Use the potential, power, and beauty you were put on this world to enjoy and to share!  I will be there right along with you.

Word travels fast.

Strife.