Sprawl

Photographer turns unrelenting boringness of suburbia into art

Jason Griffiths is an assistant professor of design at Arizona State, and apparently living in the middle of all that desert sprawl got to him after a while. In the early aughts he jumped into a car, drove all over the country, and made a discovery so banal it’s practically a tautology: Suburbia is the same everywhere.

Nature is trying to reabsorb the exurbs

Great news for folks who have watched the value of their exurban McMansions circling the drain over the past few years: These fringe habitations can be returned to nature to find new life as wildlife habitats. It’s basically the real estate version of composting. Okay, so there's not really an official effort to make subdivisions into sanctuaries, but apparently nobody told bears that. In Hopatcong, N.J., a cable TV repairman recently descended into 85-year-old Frank Annacone's basement and found a 500-pound black bear slumbering there. The folks at Gothamist dubbed it the "Reverse Goldilocks Bear," and in a true case …

Biking

Merry Bikesmas: A 1970s Schwinn livens up a family holiday

Photo: Joe Penniston This year, as we have in years past, my wife and I packed up the kids and flew across the country to spend the holidays with her family in suburban Baltimore. Christmas at the Thomas house is always a festive affair: crab soup, wine by the bottleful, quality time with grandma and grandpa and sundry cousins. And for my benefit, they keep the Barry Manilow Christmas tunes to a minimum. (Sincere thanks for that, guys.) There’s just one problem: Put me in the ‘burbs for more than about 48 hours and I go completely batshit. I’m not …

IKEA to design an entire neighborhood

Exciting news for those whose entire house is populated by IKEA furniture (we know you're out there): the Swedish furniture company is going to be building an entire neighborhood in London. We know. It'll be like living in the IKEA store! With a Swedish meatball shop on every corner and 24/7 access to lingonberry jam. (There will also be a floating cocktail bar. That’s not an obscure IKEA store joke. There will just be a floating cocktail bar.) IKEA is planning some smart features for the 26-acre, 1,200-home neighborhood. It'll be mixed-use and feature underground parking. The company also says …

Cities

Cities: Not quite as awesome as we like to think

Photo: David Graham If you Google the term “a scholar and a gentleman,” the first result to pop up is a picture of Witold Rybczynski — or it would be if there were any justice in the world. Rybczynski is an architect, author, and professor of urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania. He has written a dozen or so books on technology, architecture, real estate — even a natural history of the screwdriver. He knows The City like it’s nobody’s business. So it was notable when, in a blog post a few weeks back, Rybczynski opened a can of Jedi-style …

Business & Technology

Can you say ‘sprawl’? Walmart’s biggest climate impact goes ignored

My, that’s a big abandoned parking lot you have.Photo: Rob StinnettEarlier this year, the New Jersey Sierra Club and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance tried but failed to block a permit for a new Walmart supercenter in the small coastal town of Toms River. The development, now moving forward, will destroy habitat for the threatened northern pine snake. What’s especially frustrating about the project, local environmentalists say, is that Walmart already has a store in Toms River. It’s just a mile down the road and will be shuttered when the new supercenter opens. The Toms River site is one of several …

How Baby Boomers doomed the exurbs

Homes and strip malls in America's outer-ring suburbs, which contained most of the country's most expensive homes in the 1990s, are now worth less than what it cost to build them. And the land beneath them is worth effectively zero, says Brookings Institution senior fellow Christopher B. Leinberger, in a powerful op-ed arguing that the future of the country is urban and walkable. Simply put, there has been a profound structural shift — a reversal of what took place in the 1950s, when drivable suburbs boomed and flourished as center cities emptied and withered. What's driving this transition? The two …

Report: Homeownership is keeping unemployment high

The U.S. is suffering crushing unemployment, yet workers can't move to where the jobs are because they are trapped in underwater mortgages, explains a new report from Brookings. This, it turns out, is the ultimate fate of the "ownership society" that our government has been pushing for so long through Fannie, Freddy, and tax policy: People can't migrate to where they're needed most, even if their livelihood depends on it. The new statistics indicate that just 11.6 percent of U.S. residents moved between 2010 and 2011, down from 12.5 percent the previous year, and the lowest rate since 1948. To …

Critical List: Australia will have a carbon tax; 10 percent of Chinese farmland contaminated

Australia is going to have a carbon tax: The prime minister's plan just passed the country's senate. Not only do cars kill, so do commutes. A man in England dumped more than 1 million tires across the country. Heavy metals have contaminated 10 percent of farmland in China. Shorter Rick Perry: The government should stop picking energy winners and losers, unless the winners are oil and gas companies.

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