Freedom In Familiarity


Here’s the original proposal for my SOM Felloship.


Urban sprawl perversely affects both the built and natural environments. To address the problems correctly it is first necessary to understand the procedure in which it takes place both locally and globally. I would argue that RVers are the emblematic derivative of urban sprawl.
There are approximately 2.8 million Americans who live full-time in motor homes, campers and trailers. Through urban sprawl, the landscape of America has become homogenized and regional differences are being abolished. People often visit exotic destinations (i.e., The Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls), yet many seek and congregate around the familiar (i.e., Walmart, Kmart).
There are RVers who participate in an ironic cycle of traversing the American landscape while parking overnight in Walmarts. In some ways it seems like a perfect marriage. The RVers park for free, and Walmart benefits from their patronage. The aberrant irony is found in the homogeneity of the identical Walmarts strategically positioned across the entire asphalt-scape. As one RVer put it, “consistently, wherever I go, a Walmart is a Walmart.” This is said in the most approving tone. Their destinations revolve around Walmarts, which they have no problem finding in the Rand McNally Walmart road atlas, which highlights every Walmart in the nation, of which there are over 3000.
To me this cycle represents two fundamental human desires. One is the somewhat mythical pursuit of freedom and the other is security of living in familiarity. Architecture today provides shelter and security in familiarity, but living spaces provide by architects are predetermined. To one who travels with their shelter, the idea of living in one permanent location may seem like imprisonment.
There has been much discussion on the topic of urban sprawl, but the concerns discussed remain in an all-encompassing idealistic cause and effect model. I would like to find the problems and solutions at the locality of the individual. Change begins at the will of individuals. By living in what I believe is the apogee of urban sprawl, I would be able to define the problems and benefits from a local standpoint.
I have focused on Walmart because of its economic power as the largest provider of jobs in 21 states and its overwhelming popularity among RVers as the ultimate freeloading site. (On any given night there are 2-50 mobile homes parked in the far corner of a Walmart.)

[Freedom in Familiarity Blog] [video] [flickr set]

This project was generously funded by the SOM Foundation.

The following were posted to a blog over the duration of the project:

Sunday, November 28, 2004


I believe the commodification of architecture is inevitable as many others have pointed out.New methods of non standard production or mass customization point towards marketing the individual.Imagine potential home owners scanning through a catalogue of home styles, each associated with a celebrity designer. With the push of a button, the style is chosen and the parametrically defined construction documents are then retrofitted immediately to accommodate the site.The designer will become an integral part of the non-standard production process.

Parametric architectural software is available, the branding of the architect is happening, the market for potential buyers currently shop at open homes or thumb through catalogues of blueprints.If everything is in place, why hasn’t designer soft-architecture taken off?


So where do I see Wal-Mart and all the big box retailers going?As I have said before, the competition will turn to the race for the bottom as retail giants gather their efforts to compete in volume.This practice is entirely against the pillars of capitalism.For the government to sit back and watch and in some cases encourage the abuse of consumers in the name of corporate profits is unacceptable.The anti-trust laws have prevented monopolies and their abuse in setting outrageous profit margins, yet we have seen no action taken to prevent companies from becoming essentially monopolies by setting extremely low profit margins.Wal-Mart would argue that this is the dream come true for consumers.

I believe we have yet to see the pinnacle of Wal-Martdom.With the coming saturation of the US market and its expansion efforts more focused on the global market and internet sales, there is no limit in sight for Wal-Mart.Its survival is dependant on growth.It must grow and it will do anything to grow larger and faster.Its genome is held in tact by the Wal-Mart culture.Each “associate” of Wal-Mart understands and recites the code of conduct that enables the organism to live.

Monday, August 23, 2004


Will architecture evolve or devolve in this hyper-consumerist climate? This country’s experiment in growth has escalated beyond the spectrum of what is acceptable on nature’s terms. The degradation of the biosphere and ethno-sphere is clearly reflected in the actions of industrialized nations. The speed combined with the damaging effects of over-consumption is forcing us to adapt and invent new ways of survival. Will technology continue to scoop us from the brink of catastrophe?

Architecture finds itself in a desperate position where its effects encompass various aspects of our lives, yet remains a slow evolving process, unable to appropriate the dynamics of economics and society. Change in our landscape is accelerating. Wal-Marts have been known to open new stores in close proximity to an existing store, only to demolish the old store. Building, demolishing, and rebuilding have been accepted as the solution, eliminating the possibility for fluid design. Fluid design would be more economical, allowing for constant change with less effort.

This accelerated culture requires rapid architecture, leading and creating new ways of living, rather than always re-acting the processes already in place.New modes of architecture require new thinking in the way architecture is built.

Architecture needs fluidity.The formal typologies, program, and fabrication processes must all react in the ways the situation demands.The architectural procedure of concept to fabrication is not able to keep up with the pace of commerce, hence the ‘un-designed’ giant warehouse retail outlets.For accelerated customization to work, the fabrication industry must rid itself of outdated modes of production.The technologies of new fabrication methods allowing new structural morphologies are available; it is matter of overcoming the barriers of old the industrialist thinking.The assembly line era is over.



posted by cw at 8/23/2004 09:13:00 PM

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Wal-Mart Culture and Wal-Mart Architecture

At first glance most Wal-Marts are the same. Their facades are uncanny and their interiors follow strictly enforced guidelines of product placement. Merchandise is spread across up to 150,000 square feet in, from what I’ve noticed, 4 carefully selected configurations. Similar things can be said about any big box retailer. Their architecture is unmistakable. Is this the architecture of America? Is this the materialization of this culture? Box shaped buildings are the most experienced forms of architecture by Americans. Any Wal-Mart has an unmistakable presence. Without any intention to be symbolic, its monolithic windowless facade at the end of an asphalt plain, pronounces its declaration of cheapness and abundance like a warehouse. Stores like Sam’s Clubs are built as warehouses stocking and selling items in the same space, in bulk.

Box architecture is built with ignorance, disregarding its local circumstances.Thousands of boxes are scattered each year, providing services to people based on simple principles of consumption.If there is a market for a box retailer, one will be built.If there is a market for many, many will be built.These markets are analogous to food for the large corporation.Each box is stocked with bait for markets to be eaten from 10am-9pm and in some cases 24 hours a day; a non-stop gluttonous feast. How the market is created is a whole other subject.

Although this all sounds cynical, my hope is that retailers would recognized the economic and social benefits to customizing specific stores to accommodate the variables of different locations.A policy of local customization would benefit both the retailer and the customer.Wal-Mart has been practicing this overseas as many other multi-national corporations have.In China, Wal-Mart, out of necessity to accommodate its market, has transformed outdoor food markets into more hygienic indoor markets.Couldn’t this kind of tuning occur at local scales, from store to store?It seems logical that the specific catering to local needs would give the store an advantage over others in a tight market.

The current structure of the Wal-Mart hierarchy is as tight as chain of commands get.In 2002 approximately 4000 store managers were overseen by 350 district managers, who report to 35 regional managers, then 6 division heads, then to Tom Coughlin, the head of Wal-Mart Stores.On top of all this there are 55 senior vice presidents reporting to 27 executive vice presidents, who meet with Lee Scott, the CEO.Wal-Mart has managed to create its own culture.Its philosophy is applied through each ‘associate’ from the CEO to the cashier without a hitch. Every employee knows Wal-Mart’s policy, not through a set of instructions, but rather a philosophy, always keeping the original message cohesive and undisputed.Sam Walton’s 3 original basic beliefs are: 1. Respect for the Individual, 2. Service to Our Customers, 3. Strive for Excellence.They seem generic and simple, but all of Wal-Mart’s policies stem from the 3 basic beliefs.A change to a more fluid policy at the store level, will not necessarily conflict with the interests of the greater company, but rather strengthen the original motives behind the institution of the Wal-Mart culture.

Architecturally, each building would address practical issues of transportation, accessibility, and other intangible programs of social interaction the subconscious of the local people.How could a merchant provide services without knowing to whom its services are being provided to?

A change in this landscape will take a change in architectural policy and practice. There will always be hurdles to overcome, mainly the cost of building architecturally sound environments. I believe it is a matter of time before retailers utilize intelligent design to gain on their competition.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Sam Walton’s Dream?

Did anyone before Sam Walton ever imagine that lowering the margins of merchandise will lead to profits? It runs completely in the opposite direction of the foundations of capitalism. Profits, in the tradition market, are made when retailers are able to create larger margins of profits on their goods, hence the antitrust laws which prohibit monopolies, which in turn would allow a single merchant to mark their goods at any price. Who would have thought the lowering of margins would increase profits by attracting customers in large numbers and at the same time wipe out the competition? In hindsight it seems logical, yet it only works for the black sheep. Once the competitions flips for the race to the bottom, the system breaks down; it’s Wal-Mart or nothing. Wal-Mart has already set the requirements to compete in this race, by eliminating morals and ethics from their policies. The race for the bottom has already drawn ill effects. Wal-Mart’s policies are predicated on the fact that they are the largest retailer in the world. Their policies could not possibly slide by, were they not the largest. In some sense the race has already ended. Wal-Mart has set the standards of the bottom, by cutting corners in ways considered unlawful by the standards of the Workers Rights Consortium. How will any other retailers compete? Is it a matter of time before the capitalistic mentality is to race for the bottom? Or is that how it already is?

Is this how it has always been?

This perverse cocktail of politics, money, culture, and freedom orbit each other chaotically as the masses march in sync to the hypnotic beat.Media influence, propaganda, politics reach down into cultures with the veil of freedom coercing the globe to line up to be fed the bytes of ethics and values.Is architecture fluid enough to conform, react to or battle the pressure?

posted by cw at 8/07/2004 03:20:00 PM

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

The Wal-Mart Culture

The so called Wal-Mart culture relies on the sameness of its stores.Its advertising targets the low to mid income families who find comfort in the sameness and predictability of cheapness in each store.Stores provide a one stop solution to shopping, providing everything from groceries to bicycles at the lowest prices in town, making Wal-Mart the first choice for many shoppers.Each town with a Wal-Mart becomes a Wal-Mart town.Supercenters essentially act as an anchor store with their high shopper turnover, enticing other big box retailers to set up shop nearby.In this way the network of corporate and media influence redistributes the patterns of cultural exchange.Perhaps what is most feared by anti-globalists is the redistribution of local influence to a centrally commanded global policy.What was once a village or community affair is becoming, or has become a national and global agenda.Changes at Wal-Mart’s headquarters would affect several thousand communities and millions of people, all of whom have little or no voice in the decision.

Now that the travelling is over.

My travels have ended and the hope is that I could capture the feelings and thoughts that have found a place in my mind through writing, moving and still images.The joy, sadness, and madness of this great experimental country have expanded my vision of how life in this country should and could be.Unfortunately, I have answered fewer questions than I had sought out.So as one adventure ends a new challenge begins as I piece together what I can into an attention span.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

NY TImes Article: Wal-Mart Invades Earth

It’s torn cities apart from Inglewood to Chicago and

engulfed the entire state of Vermont. Now the conflict’s

gone national as a presidential campaign issue, with John

Kerry hammering the megaretailer for its abysmally low

wages and Dick Cheney praising it for its “spirit of

enterprise, fair dealing and integrity.” This could be the

central battle of the 21st century: Earth people versus the


No one knows exactly when the pod landed on our planet, but

it seemed normal enough during its early years of gentle

expansion. Almost too normal, if you thought about it, with

those smiley faces and red-white-and-blue bunting, like the

space invaders in a 1950’s sci-fi flick when they put on

their human suits. . .

. . .No, Wal-Mart’s only hope lies with its ostensible

opponents, like Madeline Janis-Aparicio, who led the

successful fight against a new superstore in Inglewood,

Calif. “The point is not to destroy them,” she told me,

“but to make them accountable.” Similarly Andy Stern,

president of the Service Employees International Union,

will soon begin a national effort to “bring Wal-Mart up to

standards we can live with.” He envisions a nationwide

movement bringing together the unions, churches, community

organizations and environmentalists who are already

standing up to the company’s recklessly metastatic growth.

Earth to Wal-Mars, or wherever you come from: Live with us

or go back to the mother ship.


Sunday, May 30, 2004

Cold Turkey by Kurt Vonnegut

This is a masterpiece by a true literary genius: please read on!


Published on Wednesday, May 12, 2004 by In These Times

Cold Turkey

by Kurt Vonnegut

Many years ago, I was so innocent I still considered it possible that we could become the humane and reasonable America so many members of my generation used to dream of. We dreamed of such an America during the Great Depression, when there were no jobs. And then we fought and often died for that dream during the Second World War, when there was no peace.

But I know now that there is not a chance in hell of America’s becoming humane and reasonable. Because power corrupts us, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Human beings are chimpanzees who get crazy drunk on power. By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East? Their morale, like so many bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas.



© 2004 In These Times


NY Times Series of Articles Abt Las Vegas

Excerpt from NY Times, May 30, 2004


Seekers, Drawn to Las Vegas, Find a Broken Promised Land


AS VEGAS, May 29 — South on Las Vegas Boulevard, well beyond the casino-scraped skyline, there is a three-story hotel where tourists seldom go.

The parking lot is sprinkled with U-Haul trucks and trailers. A school bus stops at the front office. A sign on the lawn offers discounts for guests who stay a week or more.

Inside the no-frills rooms, where sheets and blankets cost extra, a desert city’s promise of new beginnings is regularly put to the test. This busy hotel and others in the Budget Suites of America chain are the cinder-block equivalent of circled wagon trains, a community of dreamers, pioneers and strivers pulling up for a while en route to someplace and something better. ”

The Series continues on Mon, May 31 thru Fri, June 4.


posted by jennylee at 5/30/2004 02:07:00 PM

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Metropolis Article

A friend emailed me the recent article in Metropolis Magazine (June 2004 issue). The article describes Wal-Mart’s architectural practice as a force that could change our landscape. In recent years Wal-Mart has become architecturally flexible, accepting local archetypes. It holds hope for big box architecture. The fear in Wal-Mart’s willingness to alter its classic big box image is that it may only serve as a mask for its policies. The hope is, this is the first step to a more socially responsible retail industry. A shift in Wal-Mart’s architecture would redefine our landscape which inevitably affects the way we interact as a community.

From the Road

Washington, MI

Yesterday’s encounter was very familiar. A supersize retailer was built a mile away from this existing stripmall, relocating the center of commerce as herds of big boxes caught on and moved in. The small grocery store’s parking lot was nearly empty. Upon entering, the poorly stocked shelves speak for themselves. Many shelves were completely empty and single items often stood on their own, signaling its end of stock and hinting at what had once filled the neighboring shelves. The store seemed so near death, I can only conclude that they have remained open to serve the few patrons who have continued to shop there. Sales couldn’t possibly cover the operating costs. The land will be nearly worthless. This soon to be abandoned space has all the local touches never to be found elsewhere. Aisles named after local schools decorate the ceiling with local mascots. The manager recalls their continued struggle politely to ensure no further controversy in her community. This experience was truly painful. I can only imagine what local supporters had gone through and continue to go through. Is this simply capitalism and the local grocer’s inability to revamp itself to the community’s needs? She ensured me that we, as a country are stepping on our own toes as we continue to sell more for less at the expense of others. It’s going to bite us in our ass, she said.

posted by cw at 5/12/2004 09:01:00 PM

Monday, May 03, 2004

From the road

Denver, CO

Traveling from Wal-Mart to Wal-Mart has become quite mundane and stressful, as the amount of time spent of the road wasn’t properly compensated by the dull reality so many suburbs exist within. Each city held its own uniqueness, but the outer stretches of asphalt were always consistently the same. . . Mcdonald’s, Shell, Wal-Mart, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Lowe’s, etc.

What had become a search to find a hotspot of a Wal-Mart feud finally paid off. The Northwest of Denver is amidst a fierce battle between Wal-Mart’s proposed Neighborhood Market and the local residents. I would like the opponents and the proponents speak for themselves through the final documentary film, so I’m going to refrain from speaking of the current situation at the Elitch site. The repercussions of the site’s failure or success are not only a local issue, but rather a national issue. This 40 acre site has the potential to set itself as an example for other new urban developments around the country with its thus far successful implementation of senior, low income, single family, live/work, and co-housing all within a single development.

Friday, April 23, 2004

In response to Jeremiah’s post on new tribalism

I think it is essential that when we talk of a new tribalism, the methods of connectivity are reconsidered. It is also important to note that all virtual modes of interactivity lead to the eventual physical connection or remain as a simulation of what is physical. Physical interaction may always be the quickest, strongest, and the most familiar, but greater leaps of interaction take place through the internet and other modes of interaction.

Anti-Global and anti-big box sentiment is abundantly expressed over the internet. The internet provides a platform for individuals who are not physically connected to create their own community. As the global economy pushes for a more homogenous landscape, the physical limitations between our experiences become less relevant because we all live under similar conditions. We live in our fragmented suburbs, connecting only by identifying with a tribe or with multiple tribes based on our common interests and / or our common enemy.

Take for example (among many others) This website organizes people from all around the country to meet physically to exchange thoughts and to protest Wal-Mart policies.


New photos link on the sidebar!

Post your images of urban sprawl by sending them to

Nomadic Tribes

Chris, your vision is a beautiful one. In light of your response, I take back what I said earlier about nomadic societies having less of a tangible identity than domestic ones. It must be a personal bias. The tribal activities that we encounter in the animal kingdom also tend to be nomadic, even if they occupy territories. It seems like the closer one is to sustainance survival the more likely is a strain of nomadism. Another typical (and false) assumption I’ve made is that Tribal identity is a distinctly human activity. I guess it all goes back to the question of animal consciousness and where we draw boundaries between the self-aware being and the embedded being which is never conscious of its actions. I hate that question, but somehow it seems relevant.

Can you elaborate on ways that one might earn a living on the road? You mentioned the internet – does that mean we’re only talking information-based services, or do you include freelancing and such? Could we achieve nomadic sustainance by subverting the postal system and creating ‘free’ or ‘barter’ delivery services? I’m fascinated by the idea but I can’t really tell where you’re taking it.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

also from the road

I appreciate very much the commentary that Che-wei has provided about the sprawl he has encountered, and I offer simply an idea that I could only have been inspired to on the road. For one, I love living nomadically and it has surpassed my expectations in many ways, yet the expense of it is evasive of most of my peers and contemporaries. So the challenge I have placed upon myself is to devise a self-sustaining lifestyle based on the comforts of technology I have encountered along the way, either in theory or in person. Walmart, for example is the perfect building block for such an existence. You arrive with your home, and immediately you have access to groceries, clothing, media, auto repair and supplies, seemingly everything you could possibly need to get through to the next day. One thing that’s missing is access to the back-and-forth stream of information we currently know as the internet, which would ultimately provide a means for providing services, even locally, and receiving compensation in return that could be used at an everything-stop that we typically associate Walmart with. One company, that seems to provide everything to RV’ers that Walmart does not, is Flying J’s, which is actually more geared to truckers. Flying J’s offers free water and dump stations, wi-fi access as well as general internet access, showers, laundry machines, restaurants, telephones, restrooms, ‘general merchandise’ and the next best thing to a post office, all under the same roof. It’s true, combining Walmart and Flying J’s would make for a more transient, unkempt crowd, but it would provide just the type of network that a nomadic, ‘working’ person would need. Which brings me to my next point, that this everything-store could exist primarily off this new sub-class, that it would be policy for every RV’er, every travelling work-from-home businessman/inventor/artist, every trucker/familyman/ebay-enthusiast would willingly give a small amount of their time and effort into the sustaining of these nodes of commerce/culture/freespace to the point that they existed entirely on volunteerism, simliar to a co-op, but remarkably on different volunteers on a day-to-day basis. So I’ve personally undertaken the task of designing this system of transient units and accomodating nodes of contemporary sustainable nomadic living in the hopes that I might be able to live in such a way at some point in my life, hopefully before the ever-receding promise of retirement, ideally as a ‘professional’, possibly raising a family through home-schooling, travelling with a tribe of roving units, able to survive as just one, always happy to contribute and provide for the stable communities I encounter, and always travelling, which is the best part of this trip with Che-wei and Jeanee: going different places, getting to know different people, learning all kinds of things about history, humans, myself, the land, the wild… For me, travelling is the way to go.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

From the Road

Albuquerque, NM

Flagstaff, AZ

Las Vegas, NV

Henderson, NV

San Bernardino, CA

Los Angeles, CA

It seems, given the opportunity, every city in this country will sprawl. Albuquerque, Flagstaff, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and its neighboring Henderson all have accelerated in claiming the flat landscape. The intersections of major freeways are now the points of interest instead of city street corners.

In the past these sprawling cities must have seemed like growths with no end in sight. Today some peripheries have reached natural boundaries forcing development in new directions. Henderson is a typical bedroom community with commuting traffic to Las Vegas via the oversaturated outer loop freeway. The loop itself is functioning beyond its capacity like a clogged artery. New developments are being built without restrictions, taxing the freeways even further. Los Angeles and its growing suburbs continue to create new cities with the same strip of retailers every so often.

Could Wal-Mart make the difference? Could Wal-Mart re-organize the landscape of suburbia?

As a major supporter of suburban communities, Wal-Mart is essentially the town center. In some cases it can divide a city by placing several Wal-Marts on the outskirts of the city, reconfiguring local regions according to their distance to the closest Wal-Mart.

The problem with Wal-Mart as a town center is that it obliterates the importance of the town center, by re-signifying the program as a shopping center (often paving the way for other large retailers to join nearby, in which case the shared parking lot becomes the town center). Although it seems appropriate for the accelerated consumerism of this culture, communication within a community is lost, therefore sprawl and the distancing of communities physically and emotionally follows predictably.

California has fought Wal-Mart’s attempts to set up its oversized architecture in large suburb-cities, although many smaller suburbs already have Wal-Marts as town centers and plenty more are on their way. In recent events, Wal-Mart had lost a battle to open its Superstore (the size of 17 football fields) in Inglewood. Many opposed the construction based on what we have seen all over the country. Wal-Mart’s interests are solely to provide the lowest prices possible to attract the most customers possible, all in the name of profit and growth. The side effects of such policies are abundant and significant. Even after Wal-Mart’s one million dollar campaign to convince the public, the residents of Inglewood voted against Wal-Mart’s arrival. It is surprising to find the widespread effects of Wal-Mart’s proposed influx do not end there. “Last fall, some 70,000 grocery clerks throughout Southern California walked out on strike against the Ralphs, Vons, Albertsons, and Pavilions grocery stores; after four months and 18 days spent on picket lines, those workers agreed to a new labor contract full of concessions, including steep cuts in wages and health care benefits for newly hired employees.”( Voters in Inglewood, CA Reject Wal-Mart Superstore , Democracy Now!, Thursday, April 22nd, 2004

Even after their victory against Wal-Mart Supercenters, no retailer can go unharmed without opening to customers for over 4 months. Today the morale and the inventory of the grocery stores are not to par. Many customers who were forced to find new outlets have not returned to the stores that went on strike. Has Wal-Mart become so powerful that it can put others out of business simply with a threat? This is only the beginning to the many battles Wal-Mart is going to face, as the media and the public’s interest in Wal-Mart’s policies help establish opinions among the population.

Wal-Mart is currently testing the “Neighborhood Market” (among others), which is an attempt to provide a local grocery store to customers who avoid shopping at their massive Supercenters. It will be interesting to see how this scenario pans out. Other Wal-Mart stores being tested are banks and clothing stores. If they are successful it would introduce a new model of localization of businesses by large retailers. Perhaps the division of merchandising could be taken further, so other families of products could have their own spin offs as a solo storefront on a downtown street, recreating the mixed used downtown that most suburbs lack. Current store managers of Wal-Marts are encouraged to treat their division within Wal-Mart (whether it is the sporting goods section or the auto repairs section) as a private store within a store, so in reality each section could have a storefront of its own.

I often hear people speaking of their “love, hate” relationship to Wal-Mart. Meanwhile they “go to find things I never new I needed.” Wal-Mart has its own consumer culture. There are those who love Wal-Mart and swear by their low prices and then there are those who cannot help shopping in what is familiar and convenient even with ethical dilemmas lingering in their minds. Wal-Mart for many is the quickest solution, or the best bet in finding whatever merchandise is needed. Why waste your time anywhere else, when you know Wal-Mart has what you want. Ultimately it is the consumer who decides how Wal-Mart will change to best serve the populace.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

New Tribalism

I’ve been tinkering with an idea for years now. It is steeped in the all-encompassing and seemingly ineffable topic that seems to be the premise of Freedom in Familiarity. The familiar is rooted in the family, the oldest tribe. And as the family takes a back seat in the formation of humanity’s perception of what is and what should be, the familiar takes over. Jeanee and Chris strike many of the same notes in their posts here on the blog. I call it New Tribalism. The essential questions are those of identity, familiarity, and the deeper syntax of our activities. Perhaps the largest lesson to date is history, where we have catgalogued the transformation of these aspects across various cultures, economic ages, and social revolutions. From the problems we now face in mass media, consumerism and sprawl, and a lack of relevancy in education, we readily draw parallels to global industrialization of previous centuries. There is abundant connective tissue in the realms of production, advertising, product identity, personal identity, illusions of media, the urge to blindly believe and follow our ‘leaders’, etc. We tend to draw the line at Industrialism, forgetting that the forerunner to the Industrial Revolution was the printing press, an inescapable link to the middle ages that acts like a wormhole, skipping past the Scientific Enlightenment of the Rennaissance (which is possibly the birth of mass Capitalism), industrial booms, and failed revolts of Communism, straight to our current dilemmas in the so-called Age of Information. (See Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘The Art and Craft of the Machine’ in Prairie Architecture)

To take it further, when we examine the middle ages in terms of the identity of the individual, the question arises: “How did the identity of these masses of people end up under the complete control of a few wealthy land-owners and religious leaders?” Is it really much different now? I argue that the majority of American population is still counted and exploited like so many head of cattle. The answer to the question of domination lies in the transformation of human settlement, from the fallen ages of empire and conquest which brought about the middle ages back through the pre-imperial nation-states, the chieftains of the metal ages, the earliest domestic tribes and their cult of the female and fertility, and finally to the hunter-gatherers, paleolithic man, and even to the animal kingdom and our ongoing speculations over evolution, if you wish. Somewhere in that massive history, there are turning points from idyllic societies to societies of domination, exploitation, and enslavement. This goes far beyond the physical limits of the body, possessions, and even the rights of action. It has always been about identity.

I can’t even begin to answer it all here. It may be a life’s work. I want to hear the ideas and opinions of everyone who reads this. We are all engaging in New Tribalism: you have already been initiated by your eyes and your active comprehension of my words and those of so many others. When Mankind banded together and formed settlements, the tendency of individuation and self-referential mentality was born. It was only a seed and it has been transformed in so many ways. Identity is an active mode of perception, wherein the part is separated form the whole. Nomadic hunter-gatherers moved their settlements with the changing environment. They had not reached a place of total identity, in which we find stability. The first village settlements abandoned the embedded identity of displacement and subjective existence, seeing strength, stability, and objective identity in a stretch of unmoving earth. There is a certain inherent violence in this act and we have lost our delicate control over the process.

For the vast majority, the identity of the self and the world is shaped and controlled by others. It is actually a small fraction of humanity that consciously questions the nature of identity. But the newly connected population of the world engages in the question as a subconscious act of subversion (see Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life) in the active and selective creation of new communities, virtual spaces, unhindered discourses, new tribes, New Tribalism. My proposal involves bringing these virtual domains back into the real world, back to the communal stretch of unmoving earth. I feel that this needs to happen to selectively affirm the virtual domain by way of an investment real human energy in the corporeal world. Most virtual communities are nomadic and the individual is able to participate on a whim wihtout exerting any real effort or sacrifice. There is rarely a sense of solidarity, support, and dedication unless those involved are also taking part in an actual physical community as well. Others will have different proposals. I am posing the question now to all of you out there:

What is your New Tribalism and can it/how can it be be used to repossess the self, production, synergy, and the perception of existence?

posted by Jeremiah at 4/20/2004 05:34:00 PM

Sunday, April 11, 2004

From the Road

April 10, 2004

Dallas, TX

After many visits to Wal-Mart centered towns, Dallas was refreshing. In an effort to revitalize its downtown, downtown living spaces are being heavily marketed. It seems the city still struggles to lure residents to spend time in its downtown area during the off hours and weekends. Although the downtown area is surrounded by highways, creating a clear divide between the city’s respective zones, it is still ambiguous as to where the suburbs begin. Across the highway from Dallas’ skyscrapers, suburban style houses pack the streets. These neighborhoods, located at walking distances from the downtown area have characteristics of a suburban commuter town. Even the few townhouses have clear architectural references to the single family dwelling. Could it be the residue of suburban architecture seeping into the urban language?

posted by cw at 4/11/2004 01:06:00 AM

Friday, April 09, 2004

From the Road

April 9, 2004

Bossier City, LA

Bossier City seems as if it is reaching its holding capacity. What was once a small military town has boomed into a 6 Wal-Mart city. It seems as though Wal-Mart literally paves the way for other large retailers, by replacing local malls and small business along the boulevards and intersections. The sprawl becomes apparent when you see big box retailers at any major intersection opposite cotton fields waiting to be transformed into asphalt. Within the last ten years, boat casinos have altered the area into a destination for leisure. After speaking to a casino employee it is apparent that Wal-Mart’s 24 hour convenience is important for people employed in any 24 hour entertainment business.

Bossier City is especially interesting because there are other large retailers experimenting with the supersizing of their services. Target, another big box retailer has opened a Super Target, following Wal-Mart’s Supercenter model down to it’s slogan, Expect More, Pay Less (Wal-Mart’s slogan is We Sell for Less.) It will be interesting to see how competition from other retailers will reshape Wal-Mart’s strategy. Although Target isn’t Wal-Mart’s direct competitor since they claim to provide higher quality products, the race has begun for each retailer to take hold of its own loyal market and lure converts to shop from their store. This is exciting because loyalty from the consumer’s standpoint gets into the realm of the experience of shopping. I think most people will agree that Target provides better quality products in a warmer, less invasive environment. Are people willing to pay the price for better quality and experience? Or will the low prices always be the bottom line? I think it is still too early to speak, but as other retailers such as Sears jump on the bandwagon to supersize their shopping experience, they will certainly be keeping their eyes and ears open to Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart shoppers as the tides shift or remain stagnant.

Bossier City’s Wal-Mart is second location visited to have a sheriff’s office inside. I’m beginning to think it may be more common than I had thought.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

From the Road

April 5th, 2004

Stockbridge, GA

The Wal-Marts in the Atlanta area lie on the outskirts of the city. Of the 30 or so Wal-Marts / Sams Clubs in the Atlanta region, 2 are within the city of Atlanta. As one of the worst sprawling cities, Atlanta’s big box retailers have managed to support the sprawling growth. Pollution from commuting vehicles have become so bad, the government has stepped in banning any more construction of highways.

Pulling off the highway to the destination for the night, unsurprisingly, could have been anywhere. There was the same strip of stores along a similar stretch of 4 lane street / highway. Strangely enough, Wal-Mart uses an architectural language which changes over the years. You can tell how old a Wal-Mart is, by looking at its elevation. The colors and profile differ slightly. This Wal-Mart was a little bit odd. The sheriff’s office is inside this Supercenter. Tucked in the vestibule between the two automatic sliding doors, the tinted glass doors read, Sheriff’s Office. It speaks volumes. Which came first, the town or Wal-Mart? Either way, the absurdity of having the sheriff’s office in Wal-Mart remains. If Wal-Mart was new in town, then the sheriff must have relocated his office to the center of town (a retail giant set half a mile back from the major intersection by its own parking lot). And if Wal-Mart created this town, the sheriff is a creation of Wal-Mart, essentially a government security force based in a private retailer.


I’ve been asked to give a brief synopsis of my travel proposal. Now that I’ve started traveling, it seems like a good time to clarify my approach and biases. My initial proposal to travel the United States in an RV to documents urban sprawl and its relationship to big box retail remains the same (inspired by the documentary, This is Nowhere). My research and discussions prior to traveling have formed an approach which I feel is most effective in documenting sprawl. My mediums are digital video and sound as well as photographs and writing. My hope is by interviewing local residents, I can get a better understanding of the circumstances surrounding big box retail. Retail as it exists today won’t remain forever, so it is up to us, the common people and the younger generations to recreate the landscape as we choose to live it.

I’ve noticed in my conversations with colleagues, that my bias towards Wal-Mart and other big box retailers seems less ruthless. (My focus on Wal-Mart is due to the fact that it is the largest employer in this country as well as the Fortune #1 company. Wal-Mart simply couldn’t be left out of a discussion on urban sprawl.) I think most critics of Wal-Mart see the retailer as simply bad and seek to remove it completely. Today we are at a point where this country can no longer afford to wipe out what is perhaps the backbone of the working class. Critics must rethink Sam Walton’s vision which seemed full of potential in the name of the common people. His vision to help communities and small business has somehow reshaped our landscape into strip malls and parking lots. I think it is easy to say his vision didn’t carry through although his legacy of providing more for less has certainly remained.

What’s next for Wal-Mart? As the population of anti-big box shoppers grows, corporations like Wal-Mart can’t afford to turn a blind eye to its critics.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

From the road

April 4, 2004

Mountaineer Mall, Morgantown, WV

A twisted story is about to reveal as Wal-Mart strategically places its new Supercenter in Morgantown. Mountaineer Mall was a soon to be demolished mall, when Wal-Mart stepped in to rejuvenate local interest, specifically to its wing of the mall. According to a local, all the best stores are in Wal-Mart’s proximity. People are pleased with this Wal-Mart, providing what the mall couldn’t previously and saving several businesses as they moved in. There’s more in the works. Wal-Mart has decided to open a Supercenter, currently rumored to have three potential locations. One of which would be a couple miles from Mountaineer Mall. If Wal-Mart were to choose this path, we can only hope the Mountaineer Mall survives. Another location is a Native American burial ground with staggering environmental consequences as well. Will Wal-Mart make the right decisions?

One lady pointed out how Morgantown is becoming a tech town. Growth to some is prosperity, but her concern was the potential change in the economy of Morgantown. The land prices and the general costs of living could rise from the influx of tech jobs, forcing lower income residents to move. Her tables displaying her woodwork sit directly in front of the mall entrance to Wal-Mart. Her excitement for a new Supercenter, where she’ll be able to buy cheap groceries, is followed by some uneasiness as the personal economic consequences of supersizing a town are revealed. Rising land price and the exodus of lower income residents is a familiar sequence of urban sprawl we’ve seen many times.

April 03, 2004

Pittsburg + Century Three Mall, West Mifflin, PA

Pittsburg, a beautiful city occupying a delta has its own history in steel which forced a unique transformation on the city. As the steel industry moved out, many lost their jobs and the city’s economy declined. Did big box retail save the day? The Wal-Mart Supercenter currently sits at the top of a hill overlooking the remainder of the Century Three Mall complex, a town of stripmalls. Winding ramps and parking plateaus overlook the highways feeding the businesses from every direction. The complex sits ironically on a dead steel mill site, perhaps hiring the same people who lost their jobs working the steel mills. Has this retail conglomerate saved many from poverty or have they erased forever, the small businesses of downtown?

A simplification of the current trend in Pittsburg is as follows. The steel industry went through a decline, bringing with it, the entire economy of Pittsburgh. The political leaders have little choice, but to raise taxes and spend less. So the cycle of urban sprawl begins. City residents move out to townships, only to commute to the city to make money which they spend outside the city at big box retailers whom have also chosen suburban locations to avoid high taxation. How and when can this cycle be redirected?

Sunday, February 01, 2004

strip mall identities

The general sentiment about urban sprawl here is that it is a good thing because of the network of familiarity and convenience that it offers to comfort-minded transients, and that it is a bad thing because it is a shining example of everything that is wrong with corporate globalisation. One thing I picked up from the RVers interviewed in the film “This Is Nowhere” is that every part of America, especially around Walmart which is usually situated on a strip mall, looks the same. This makes it hard to remember all the different places visited, and in an anti-globalisation point-of-view it is guilty of slowly wiping out the variety of ancient cultures in various countries. I think it is important to remember Che-Wei’s attitudes towards design, which he expressed quite well in his writing about car dealerships. One of the most important ideas I learned about from Pratt was from John Lobell, when he spoke about how the digital age is a step up from the industrial age in terms of production. He said that the industrial age was characterized by mass production of the same thing over and over at an extremely efficient and economic rate which made products available to many people. He then foresaw that the potential of the digital age could make it possible to turn out variations of the same thing at the same pace and efficiency of production that the industrial age offered. This idea has been explored beautifully through Haresh’s work with Milgo/Bufkin, which he likes to call an exercise in “mass customization”. The question I’m leading up to is, can the modular/morphological ethic of design be a solution to an otherwise bland and dominating landscape?

Friday, January 23, 2004

posted by cw at 1/23/2004 04:59:00 PM

Sunday, January 11, 2004

conform, consume: both incomplete/unsuccesful

Is it possible to successfully limit our consumption? With the need to survive turned from hunting for food and shelter to hunting for a job (to earn the abstracted form of sustenance)…. the more you have the safer you are. The connection seems primitive and set deep within our collective conscience… but with these tendencies seeming to turn on us… making us fat, lazy, stupid and depressed… a desperate trend towards a more efficient way of life takes hold. We damn ourselves for not being machines…. for having whims and irrational tendencies. Those characteristics having also spawned from guilt… the cycle continues leaving us fat but unfulfilled. If we were to be more accepting of our culture, then our consumption, waste, ignorance and fear would give way to a more productive and mutually beneficial way of life. Whether that is through the individual’s use of stainable architecture, biodegradable products, (produced by sweatshop-free labor), organic or free-range products… the change must come from within. Governmental regulations and mass media serve only to damn individuality, initiative and life. Their power is derived from our acceptance of fear and guilt as driving forces. It seems now they turn our thoughts to self-immolation …. you must die for these products you love, and it will be painful and you deserve it. In believing that hype we are consumed and immobilized by guilt, creativity falters and we find our selves escaping to a virtual world for self-expression and identity. The tangible world is made evil… so full of man’s desires made real, their forms mostly imposing, incomplete and expressive of an immature, schizophrenic society. Virtual reality is man’s creation, but sterile and safe in its anonymity. There is little chance to get dirty and complete control within this box. I am wary of this media, recognizing the opportunities and knowledge so readily available… it seems this wealth of information serves not to expand but instead to shrink our universe of understanding. Life is lost in the translation. All of this world must fit into a select few formats and programs… a very limited way to begin a way of life. We program ourselves to comprehend and function in a (real and virtual) world not made for the individual. We do this willingly, painfully and/or (un)consciously. We buy, sell, work and pray to fit better into something, anything, as long as it is not our selves. Instead of consuming finished products we must utilize them as tools and raw materials. Every thing man-made, living or not, is an opportunity for self-exploration. Using materials smarter and re-creating products suited better for our individual purposes would lessen consumption, waste and lead to greater satisfaction with society.

Dealership Branding

I just finished reading an article in the New York Times titled, “Car Dealerships Face the Great Homogenization: by David Wethe.” The article covers the branding of auto-dealerships. The trend in major auto corporations is essentially to entice auto-dealerships to build single-brand architecture to convey a brand image. My initial response as I read the piece was negative, as the article continued to stress the burden of a homogenous image. It would be disheartening to see another onslaught of franchises spread across the asphalt-scape, yet I welcome the dealership branding movement. From my personal experience, I have yet to see an architecturally distinguished dealership. Prefabricated or not, they pretty much look the same, Volvo or Ford, they all have similar experiences. The auto manufacturers have finally caught on. Display cases sell. Architecture sells. From the consumer’s point of view, the experience of fitting a turbo vehicle is sold with images through advertisements, so the dealerships of today are dropping the ball with their bland showrooms offering coffee and donuts as ambiance and atmosphere. The new dealerships charm shoppers with an image through an architecture that shouts. Hummer’s stand alone dealership features an off-road course complete with mud, logs, and steep inclines. There is no doubt those who purchase an H2 from the new industrial-look Hummer showrooms will feel tingly each time she or he drives past the birthplace of their baby.

It has happened before and it will happen again. The little people with their family owned businesses will be forced out by big businesses and each suburban gathering will have all the familiar clumps of plastic signage glowing bright luring shoppers to buy things they never knew they needed. Is this the way of things to come, or will corporations build local franchises that morph and reshape according to local forces? The malleable nature of water allows for outside forces to change its course. If franchises could be more sensitive and malleable, they would be more profitable and desirable. Do they listen? Have we spoken? Do the masses desire the familiar?

Saturday, December 06, 2003

As cw says, the problem is not efficiency of production, but our mentality of consumption. Consumption is a mode of being that is taught to Americans (and the americanized) at an alarmingly young age by the media, our school system, and (this is the most dangerous and daunting) our parents. The ideas are embedded in our culture. I feel that we need educational reform and alternative research to combat this widespread disease. Our efficiency should be focused on establishing and offering alternatives rather than on putting efficiency into the hands of profiteers.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Chris makes a really interesting point. It may take some convincing that Walmart is doing good, but in fact as a model of distribution, it is the best in the world. It has been and remains the number one company in the fortune 500 listing. It’s bare bones merchandise distribution is highly admired by corporations.

I think the idea of just-in-time production can be pushed even further to a localized level of the individual. There have been recent products such as a refrigerator that knows when to order food. It tracks the food remaining in the refrigerator and orders food over the internet. Products such as the smart refrigerator could be coupled with grocery providers of choice, i.e., according to the product. For example, eggs, from the local egg distributor, milk from the milkman in the next town, and bananas from Costa Rica. There are other obvious extensions, such as a printer that knows when to order new ink and paper. It is merely a matter of networking individual consumption with local and global distribution. The link can happen through products that take these existing networks and providing the interface for individuals to take control.

The dilemma is in the hard facts of our relentless method of consumption, which could only accelerate with an efficient distribution network. Is there a way to curb the way we consume as the cycles of production, consumption, and waste become closer knit?

Urban Sprawl Linked to Obesity Risk

Hi people. I hope i’m not intruding with this non-arts-related post. I found this article ( today on There’s not much to the article, since it’s pretty short and full of quotes, but I figured it would at least be an interesting read. The link above takes you to the medscape website, which requires a (free) account to read articles. For those who don’t want to sign up, I’ve conveniently copied the page (yes, against their terms-of-use, but what the hey) on my site(


Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Walmart as an existing network for the new…

In regards to what your trip in April will involve, I think that it could serve as a study on the chain store as a potential ‘network’ that can be utilised in a similar way that the internet was adapted for the public before it was focused towards consumers. We know that Walmart is extremely efficient in its inventory, and that shipments are made every day from nodes of production and/or storage in order to supply only those shelves that need restocking, all due to computerized tracking of each product offered. We also know that more and more Walmarts are being built at an alarming rate in America alone. Can this network of production and distribution be integrated with the nomadic RV social group somehow to create a sustainable existence?

posted by Christopher DeVine at 11/11/2003 01:51:00 PM

Friday, October 31, 2003

Could desktop architecture free us from the constraints of being embedded in the infrastructure of the landscape? Desktop publishing and independent film making are beautiful ideas that have manifested as examples of accessible technology. The idea of desktop architecture isn’t so far fetched. The technology exists. Laser cutting, cnc milling, stereolithography, and other emerging technologies are becoming everyday technologies. Remember when a color printer was not a consumer item? Can you imagine “printing” a remote control on your desktop? The 3D printer with embedded circuitry is here, and soon will be next to your color printer.

Computers and it’s many digital formats have made it possible for a home computer user to speak the same language of manufacturers of all scales.

How will these accelerating technologies merge with our needs for sustainability?

Sunday, October 19, 2003


The revolution after the Industrial has made it possilble for people to create virtual communities, publish independently, etc. This do-it-yourself trend has the potential to grow on a larger scale towards sustainability, where the ‘create-your-own home/community’ user-technology interface would be grounded in sustainability. Your project could set an example of not only the need for sustainability (which includes the end of sprawl) but it could inspire a new constructive interaction between the D.I.Y. mindset and the industrial industries, including the building industry. I think the success of the technological revolution towards home-publishing, independent filmmaking and the like are the carefully designed interfaces between the user and the technology. Perhaps you could explore this in your research to take it to an architectural scale.

Sunday, October 12, 2003


Sustainable architecture is catching on. Take Cesar Pelli’s buildings in Battery Park City.

”The green high-rise residential building 20 River Terrace is the first to be designed under an ambitious set of new building guidelines developed by the local Battery Park City Authority in New York. These guidelines have been developed to create a full-fledged environmentally friendly precinct within the city.”

So we’re still in the midst of government programs catching on. Many environmentalists argue that it is economically advantageous for corporations to become “environmentally friendly”, so would it be such a bad for a new trend of being self sustainable to emerge? The first argument against my own question would be, that no one could have predicted the state of self annihilation we find ourselves living, when the industrial revolution was first catching on.

posted by cw at 10/12/2003 07:01:00 PM

Saturday, October 11, 2003


why and how does the AIA stifle any possibility of advertisement or pro-active aquisition of clientel…?

why must sprawl/growth continue?

why cant you demolish what is there? do you mean you cant reverse the damage done?

to decide that one day the answers will be found (within this culture) and the mode of life that we chose will have no ill effects on us and our environment seems absolutely absurd…. our understanding, of even ourselves, is so incomplete how can we ever propose to know any one way to build/live that will be “right”

the largest atrocity this culture has inflicted upon itself is the lacking diversity of every form of life. it seems to me the proposed sustainable architecture will be just as stifling when it catches on and is mobilized as govt./social programs.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

Shock and Awe-some

Wow CW, those are some awesome remarks you recieved there from some of the biggest American architects… Well done.

So are you shocked my what I said because I exposed some lack of vision? Or was it that I seemed cynical about how the world works… I agree, Those with the Ideas have the power in this world because they have the future in their hands. True. Ghandi defeated the wealthiest country and most powerful navy in the world with his idea, his commitment to that vision and his actions consistant with that vision. Those are the three things needed to make a difference. Commitment, Possibility, and Action. An Idea alone doesn’t make a difference.

Sprawl is a powerful force, even more powerful than the British military that Ghandi faced. I have a problem with our destructive relationship to nature, and sprawl is a great symptom of that relationship. I read Ishmael in High School and became so vocal about the ideas expressed in that book that I became despised by that administration and eventually thrown out. I didn’t care… All I knew was that I was going to find a way to transform our relationship to our natural environment, even if it killed me. There is no reason, with all the technology we have today that we can’t transform our relationship to nature from one that is parasitic, to one that is symbiotic.

So when I muse about how wealth controls growth, I speak in the memory of Nicola Tesla who was backed by JP Morgan. He was building a shooter that took the electricity that resides naturally in the earth’s crust out to the ionisphere. From there we could draw all of our electricity needs. Morgan loved the Idea, and many others that Tesla had ( AC instead of DC, remote control, internal combustion engines…). But once Morgan realized that he couldn’t put a meter on that system of natural electricity, he pulled the plug on the project. Now we are left with big heavy and cumbersome systems that waste space, pollute, and are prone to blackouts just so profits can be made.

Cynical? If I stopped there, Yeah I would be. But I see the value of profits in this capitalistic society we’ve created, so I strive to cause this transformation while including that mindset. Besides, the new economies that could arise out of transforming our relationship to nature could be extremely profitable. So instead call me a skeptic. Skeptics want to know the cost of everything, Cynics know the value of nothing.

I talk about the power of wealth to transform, because i’m considering who must be inspired by the new possibility to bring forth the reality of an idea. Average people have to be inspired to desire such symbiotic dwellings, and the financeers who fund projects have to be inspired by the profits and the positive contribution to society. I should modify my claim that Architects are tools in the hands of developers, and say that they have been recently. There is so much focus on making things look pretty or funky and spatial juxtapostition of [Criticality] that they’ve alienated people with practical concerns. A great NYT article had the headlines to the effect that mortar isn’t all that architects lay on thick. Architects have become the sophists of our time. No wonder these “great thinkers” have been passed up by walmart for someone who is practical and capable to get the job done without jargon and with profit in mind.

See, the way it works, the AIA has stifled any possibility of advertisement or pro-active aquisition of clientel. Somehow its honorable to just sit back and wait for the clients to roll in ’cause they like ya. So what is created in that space is a situation where the client comes to you and says here’s what I want. This even happens to the big names, Richard Miers clients are rolling in saying “I want a white house and a flat roof”. Puff Dady rolls into Miers office saying “I want a white house in the hamptons so that everybody can where white to my parties”. So then Mier makes him what he wants. What needs to happen if we are to counter the trend of sprawl and get your ideas out there is to be able to cruise up to clients and say ‘This is what you want, need and desire’. Until then, the people who do the wanting aren’t going to know anything different than what they allready want.

What does this have to do with your focus on urban sprawl? Well i’ve avoided specific solution because i’m the big picture type. If we can get into the manual that all sub-urban sprawl builders use and tinker with that standard we can alter the results. We can’t demolish what is already there, but we can alter the pattern of growth and development. Starting at the source of the problem will have a greater impact on the results. The source is the financeers who develope these projects (supply) and the people who buy into them (demand). Supply and demand are the key aspects to any economy along with land labor and capital. The results can be transformed into whatever you dream it to be. If you inspire the suppliers and demanders to strive towards your vision anything is possible.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

Monday, September 29, 2003

Why am I doing this?

I was recently awarded the SOM traveling fellowship, which involves my proposal to take a trip around the US in an RV, parking in Walmarts to document and learn more about urban sprawl.

I have yet to find a convincing argument for or against sprawl. Naturally I have a harder time being convinced that urban sprawl is good, although I have read plenty that make undeniable links to urban sprawl as good or not so bad thing.

At this point I do not have a clear objective. Part of the reason I am opening up the discussion is to gather focus on certain areas involving urban sprawl.

posted by cw at 9/29/2003 01:02:00 AM

Portland is probably the best example of a highly programmed city. The government has taken the initiative to guide growth within strictly drawn boundaries and access to public transportation is regarded as a high priority. In many ways it has been seen as a model city for smart growth, although my question would be, what’s next? In cities such as Boulder, CO, a green belt lines the perimeter of the city to maintain a border of growth, but as land prices rise, poor neighborhoods are forced to the other side of the green belt. These extended neighborhoods are disconnected from the city, creating new pockets of sprawl.

Controlling Sprawl in Boulder: Benefits and Pitfalls, Pollock, Peter

So what’s the solution?

I am a little shocked at Kristoff’s response, stating ‘Architects are only tools in the hands of developers. Its who holds the purse strings that creates this world and its infrastructure.’

In other words, those who positions of economic power, create this world and its infrastructure. This may be true to some extent, but this problem of urban sprawl cannot be fixed with any amount of money. There is no end to the orbits in which economic growth and urban sprawl follow. Can you believe a single idea can transform the way people live their lives around the world? The Industrial Revolution was sparked with a simple idea. Change involves ideas. Those who have ideas are those who hold the power to shift visions.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Urban growth patterns

CW, You mentioned NYC and Portland Oregon as two smart growth cities…. I recognize NYC as one but that is mainly a virtue of being on a series of islands… sprawl simply can’t happen. What is it about Portland that makes it a smart growth city?

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Natural Urbanity? or Urban Desert?

Growing up in Texas there was a keen awareness for me of the brutal oppression that is parking lots. If the mall or the wall-mart (or whatever equivalent) can be considered the castle of commerce… the parking lot is a moat of despair. God help you if you can’t find parking close to the castle, because in Texas the sun beating down on that black asphalt is unforgiving. It is possible to suffer heat stroke just trying to get to the indoors from the parking hinterland. We live in a consumptive society that’s all about TAKE TAKE TAKE…. and there’s no concept of giving anything back. Once upon a time, before the parking lot there was an *ECO-SYSTEM* where things moved in a complete cycle… There may have been grass that a cow ate, then shat upon which fertilized the grass that the cow ate and so on… That cow didn’t know it but it was giving back just as much as it was taking… In our natural state we do the same, we breath out carbon dioxide that trees need who then breath out oxygen. Instead of completing a cycle in our building process we work in incomplete semi-circles… We create huge amounts of waste that do nothing for any ecological concerns. Parking lots of that magnitude are wasteful in just about every sense. Waste of space, wasteful in that there can be no relief from heat that trees and grass provide, even the desert has more opportunity for heat relief… They’re wasteful in that rain water (which is distilled water) is so polluted after running off the oil slicked asphalt that its completely useless… and the water runs off so fast, there is no where for it to be absorbed so it over taxes the rainwater collection systems that townships have… Its wasteful in that it destroys the ecosystem that keeps our planet in balance… And in what capacity do these moats of despair give back to our own environment… And I’m not talking about trailer parties…. Kickin’ it in the back of an RV doesn’t count, as fun as that sounds. As damning as I sound in all this its not the Architects fault per say, its the result of a short sighted economy that’s focused on short term gains that sound like “Take take gimme gimme. ” Architects are only tools in the hands of developers. Its who holds the purse strings that creates this world and its infrastructure. And our economy cares less about our grandkid’s way of life than about quarterly gains. Yes man has failed, we are the ultimate rapists. We have been pissing upstream from our drinking well and we may see in our lifetime a generation who has to bear the cost of that irresponsibility. Resigning in cynicism by saying we’ll all die in the process of evolution is a total cop-out. Then why bother to get up in the morning? Why champion civil rights? Why fight for women’s rights? Because this life is worth living to its fullest while we are here, and its worth making it better for those after us, not worse.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Much of the discussion surrounding urban sprawl has been focused on smart growth. Smart growth can loosely be defined as a program which encourages less stratified, higher population densities. New York has been hailed for its ability to maintain a high population density as well as several highly concentrated economic centers. Other regions labeled with smart growth such as Portland, have done exactly that. They have grown strategically to lessen the burden of civilizations on themselves and on nature. These strategies provide better public transportation, better communities, and a lesser environmental impact. Yet this vision of growth remains. It is continually fuel by our way of life, only to encounter small patches of relief. We’ve been digging deeper into our hole, never looking upwards to see that we can’t dig ourselves out even if we dig slower.

What I find troubling is that growth is part of the vision we continue to live. On one hand the global populations footprint can be seen nominally if you count the surface area occupied by humans, hence the fear of physical overpopulation seems far fetched. On the other hand the measured impact of humans on global warming IS A FACT. It seems many remain delusional and content, thinking it is still an issue up for debate.

We are nature. We live and die, but our impact on the survival of other species is a responsibility we are unable to fathom. Some claim “survival of the fittest”, as the justification of our dominance over other species and their elimination. Evolution is not simply the survival of the fittest; it is also the growing diversity of the various species which inhabit our space. The elimination of diversity is de-evolution.

posted by cw at 9/20/2003 10:32:00 PM

taking issue with language

Everything is “familiarity.”

There is no “exotic.”

What is the significance of a stretch of earth untouched by human hands? ”unspoiled” is a term I hear so often exalting “nature” left free of man’s mark. We are “nature.” We’ve set ourselves apart from our identity. We’ve denied the connection for so long we lack proper language. to allow for exploration of this simple fact that we are animals, a vital and justified species of/on this planet.

Every atrocity we’ve committed against ourselves (in our childish play with earth) is a part of the natural progression of life.

I think we are in a process of evolution, of the mind. Free of “resignation, acceptance, damnation, forgiveness,” or any word denoting a failure in man, we will find ourselves loosed from the paradox of deciding ourselves unfit to judge. We will recover a life much easier to live.

We will come to a more lasting “freedom in familiarity.”

Friday, September 19, 2003

Urban sprawl perversely affects both the built and natural environments. To address the problems correctly, it is first necessary to understand the procedure in which it takes place both locally and globally. There have been studies which show the global effects of sprawl through streams of politics and economics. Several models have proven accurate in portraying diagrammatic links of cause and effect, yet have not been able to apply itself as an evolving strategy which incorporates participating individuals.

The ultimate downfall to any urban strategy is its reliance on programs. Programs by definition are instituted to counter the norm. For example, the problem of littering is countered by programs of street sweepers. Littering is not lessened but rather bandaged to appear less severe. Such programs divert attention into directions which provide relief but no solution.

There are approximately 2.8 million Americans who live full-time in motor homes, campers and trailers. Through urban sprawl, the landscape of America has become homogenized and regional differences are being abolished. People often visit exotic destinations (i.e., The Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls), yet many seek and congregate around the familiar (i.e., Walmart, Kmart).

There are particular RVers who participate in an ironic cycle of traversing the American landscape while parking overnight in Walmarts. In some ways it seems like a perfect marriage. The RVers park for free, and Walmart benefits from their patronage. The aberrant irony is found in the homogeneity of the identical Walmarts strategically positioned across the entire asphalt-scape. As one RVer put it, “consistently, wherever I go, a Walmart is a Walmart.” This is said in the most approving tone. Their destinations revolve around Walmarts, which they have no problem finding in the Rand McNally Walmart road atlas, which highlights every Walmart in the nation, of which there are over 3000.

The trip has been postponed to April 1st.

Related links:
Freedom in Familiarity Preview