Another South: Exurbs and America
It was only after I left the South that I came to fully appreciate the misconceptions and myths that surround this region of America. Far from the simplicity of the “urban-rural divide,” the South I know is filled with rural farms rapidly transforming into tract housing, McMansion boomtowns, and thriving metropolises. The South contains seven of America’s top ten fastest growing cities. It is also a region with a complex history and culture expressed today through its music, food, fashion, landscape, and of course, its built environment.
I have often struggled to reconcile various narratives of the South (in its popular culture and its history) both from inside and out. I believe now that a distinct in-betweenness remains. Between suburban and rural, between past and future, between mountains and rivers, the region offers more mystery than answers, more possibility than defaults, and I wouldn’t prefer it any other way.
[Image: “Exurbs,” by Worker101.]
Our Patchwork Nation
If you have ever thought that blue and red maps of American politics oversimplify our complex political and built environment, this book uses detailed demographic information to organize every county in America into to twelve comprehensive categories: Boom Towns, Monied Burbs, Tractor Country, Minority Central, Military Bastions, Emptying Nests, Campus and Careers, etc. Depending on where you live in the South you might actually have much more in common with a demographically similar county in a different region of the U.S. than you have with the community in a neighboring county. Finding out which community you live in might be as easy as considering which (or which combination of) stores exist in your neighborhood: Starbucks, Walmart, Whole Foods or Cracker Barrel Old Country Store?
The Sound and the Fury
Barnes and Noble
This novel captures (as few others have) the deep, complex narrative of one Southern family struggling to survive economic and cultural change at the beginning of the 20th century. A story of lust, anger, chivalry, faith, reputation, shame, death, financial ruin, and most of all family, Faulkner’s style and masterful use of stream of consciousness allows this novel to both embrace its geographical region and transcend any particular aspect of Southern culture to tell a truly human story. Of all the “Southern literature” I have read, this remains my favorite.
Atlas of Another America: An Architectural Fiction
Through a collection of beautifully collaged paintings and generic suburban home elevations, Keith Krumwiede collapses several centuries of American Dreams into single images. In each image the pastoral meets the conventional to create sublime environments which are neither suburban nor rural. Although not strictly Southern, the images recall historical visions of the unknown, the wild frontiers of yet “Another America.”
A musical and visual delight, this video needs no introduction for most. The video cuts between several powerful backdrops including the porch of a Louisiana antebellum plantation house, a flooded police car in New Orleans and Black Lives Matter protests. With dynamic scenery and impeccable fashion choices Beyoncé surrounds herself with visual touchstones of Southern history in a video which uses architecture to provide new meaning and context for many of the song lyrics.
At Home In Sprawl : Selected Essays on Architecture
Published in 2002, Betsky presents sprawl through several new lenses: as a collection of geometric and economic systems, as a preoccupation with the acquisition of space, and as a consumer-driven experience. His conclusion: “We might even have to accept it first in order to make it work. We must find our way into and through sprawl, make sense of it and make ourselves at home in it.”
White Trash: The 400-year Untold History of Class in America
From Thomas Jefferson’s “rubbish” to the pop culture hits The Beverly Hillbillies and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Isenberg tracks the story of social class throughout America’s history. The South features prominently in this retelling, often through the narratives of the self-proclaimed “redneck” or “country boy.” With surprising frankness, this book calls to attention aspects of our society and class structure often overlooked in the discussion of our country’s formation.
This book offers a thoughtful interrogation of the “flattening” of American spatial practices and the proliferation of hybrid sub/urban spaces. Using Houston as one of the primary case studies, the book examines new hybrid spaces through four typologies: car space, domestic space, public space, and retail space.
Released in 2010, this song feels at first like an autobiography about the first generation of American kids who grew up in contemporary suburbia. The music video takes place in a typical development outside Houston where a group of young boys roam around an all too familiar landscape of cul-de-sacs, McMansions, and deserted construction sites.
The video portrays a complex yet striking narrative of the generic and the specific both as experiences of adolescence and as the spaces in which they occur. What begins as a nostalgic feeling toward the generic spaces of suburbia (fast food restaurants, empty lots, highway overpasses) turns into a darker, more subversive reading of teenage angst, confusion, and violence. As the band has described, the album "is neither a love letter to, nor an indictment of, the suburbs – it's a letter from the suburbs."
A Field Guide to Sprawl
W. W. Norton & Co.
A useful handbook for anyone interested in the ever-changing vocabulary used to discuss the American suburb. From "Alligator" to "Zoomburb," each term is illustrated with Jim Wark’s banal, yet stunning, aerial photographs.
Inspired by a series of photographs by J.E. Bellocq featuring New Orleans prostitutes in the early 1900s, Trethewey imagines the life of one woman who she calls Ophelia. As with her previous work, Trethewey’s insights on race and femininity allow the reader to glide through otherwise difficult subjects. Her poems give voice to forgotten characters of the South and harnesses the power of images in crafting those narratives.
Environment as Politics
Struggling to spatialize politics and exurban America? This article and the accompanying diagrams clearly articulate many of our assumptions about the ways in which politics and spatial practices overlap. Using the most recent presidential election as a case study, the drawings provide useful context and as the author suggests, “show that landscapes are not neutral, that they reflect social and economic relationships that shape (and are shaped by) our politics.”
Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes
Walker Art Center
Much more than an exhibition catalog, Worlds Away includes images and artwork from the exhibition at the Walker Art Center as well as new essays and conversations on the art and architecture of the American suburb. Highlights include the unsettling photography of Gregory Crewdson and a conversation between Beatriz Colomina, Robert Venturi, and Denise Scott Brown.