SUBURBIA: A LOVE/HATE RELATIONSHIP

What started out as an American Dream has turned into a nightmare...

There has always been a strong desire to live, work and play in a middle/upper class community, a concept that was born in 1950s America, that would expand and even today, reach the ‘suburbs’ of the deserts of the Middle East. Growing up in the Emirates, I recall watching the creepiness of such neighbourhoods in the opening credits of the 1990s television show Eerie Indiana but at the same time enjoy the coziness and warmth of typical North American suburb home life like in the shows of Family House or Small Wonder to name a few…

Suburban neighbourhoods of major cities in North America range from poor to wealthy. They are a collection of cookie-cutter homes that are spread out and away from the busy streets of downtown and the stressors of industry. Each is distinctive in its own set of colours and textures but almost all share a similar floor plan with a clean-cut front and back yard - with or without an attached garage. Surrounded by planted trees and playgrounds for children, these neighbourhoods are served by near-by schools and shopping plazas for convenience in accessing healthcare, shopping, entertainment and other daily necessities.

In recent years, the concept of suburbia has been detrimental in the efficiency of cities today. Cities are striving to become highly dense in order to support a growing global population that is less dependent on the vehicle. Architects and Planners of today see suburbs as uncontrolled sprawl and a severe cause of environmental waste and overall, un-sustainable in the long term.

Suburban housing is continuing to grow but with the current economic downturn, an adaptive approach to the ‘American Dream’ is taking shape. Many detached homes are no longer for the single family. They are adapted to accommodate basement or in-house suites to allow for extended family members to share accommodation or benefit, to some degree, from the current rental market (legal or illegal in-house suites). Some driveways have been expanded to accommodate an additional car and hence reduce the needed water consumption for maintaining a clean-cut front yard.

In addition to sharing the ‘single-family’ detached house, some have also been renovated and redesigned to suit daycare/nurseries or Bed & Breakfasts. The suburbs, it seems, are here to stay, at least for now. They will, however, adapt themselves to the current changes in economy and society - Still, there will always be those who long for their own white-picket fences and large open-plan living where they can watch their children play safely in their backyards and enjoy life on a quiet street in the suburbs...