Friday, March 27, 2009

The New America

This post is a photo essay I created. Lately I've been thinking a lot about the housing market crash. I keep hearing lots of reasons or excuses for it. That greedy unregulated companies and lenders are to blame. That the economy and the crash of the credit system led to there being no home buyers. While these aspects may be true, all of them jog the real issue that few seem to notice--our housing culture. For years, probably since the second half of the 90's, I've been wondering why there is so much new housing going up. The population of my area is only growing slightly and the population of surrounding areas is shrinking. Yet new homes and housing developments keep going up. They are not places many would want to live, but they are also expensive and full of excess. There is little to no affordable single family housing going up. Everything is focused on the rich, marketing the rich and well-off to move further out and into bigger houses. The housing is also marketed to young up and coming families. For years, in effect, the market has been creating artificial demand, in order to develop new housing for the upper-class, pushing the borders of cities.

This idea of flight from the center is nothing new. It probably started well before WWII, but became standard practice as a practical way to house new families right after the war. At the time it was a welcome and useful solution to the sudden housing demands. But it set a precedent that has been snowballing ever since. The idea and particularities of this type of housing keep getting pushed further. They are approaching the appearance of caricature. Currently, suburban developments are odd looking compared to their ancestors. The houses now days could fit three or four average size houses from the early 50's in them. The development is further out with more space, more dead ends and more curvaceous roads. While suburban housing was once modest and affordable, to fit the needs of rising population during a boom, current developments are now strictly luxury housing with an escapist edge. But old and new suburbs have still some things in common. They are built very fast, and cheaply.

This essay explores my mounting curiosity with the culture of American suburban housing. It is a very topical time for such an exploration, because this kind of housing is the result and subject of many headlines today. Most building and buying has come to a dead stop. Apparently this came as a total surprise, leaving many developments unfinished or barely started. For this essay I took photos of several sets of developments at the edge of the cities of Mankato and North Mankato, MN. The area population is about 45,000.

Above: A detail from a lot map sign in a North Mankato subdivision. Almost none of the Balsam Court lots are sold.

One of thousands of marking flags in the area's partially complete housing developments.

A strange sidewalk to nowhere on a lot for sale. It goes in too far from the road to be a path to a future front door.

Rows of new townhouses. They mix concepts of an apartment and a house.

A new treeline at the edge of North Mankato development.

Construction leftovers and a dirt pile. A new road runs behind the pile, but it may be a long time before it is developed.

A new storm sewer drain with a golf ball.

A boxy house at the frontier of North Mankato.

Optimistic planning: A tornado siren installed on streets with no houses.

Utility boxes of unknown purpose on yet to be developed streets.

This street snakes toward more townhouses.

Creative landscaping around a utility post.

When I was a kid my parents would take me to this park when they were in a softball league. It was like Field of Dreams, just a ballfield and corn. Now townhouses border the outfield.

Many new houses have problems. This one has a peeling foundation and a chronically wet basement.

This house has an odd layout with no walkway to the front door.

An older suburban house painted mint green. Almost all new houses are beige.

This house has an odd feature: a second garage with its own mini driveway.

A quaint terrace lawn on the edge of a filled in finger of a ravine.

An older house in a North Mankato subdivision.

The title sign for Mayan Way's own public park. It is only about ten years old.

The artificial golf green, F.A. Buscher Enterprise Park.

The welcome sign for a small subdivision. Only a single row of houses have been built.

Construction rubble, Copper Village Patio Homes.

The potential patio view from Copper Village Patio Homes.

Excavator near the Copper Village Patio Homes dirt pile.

An empty road off of Timberwolf Drive.

An old farmstead with 100 year old oaks being advanced on by townhouses.

This small creek, sometimes called Pohl creek, is crossed by at least four culvert bridges in this townhouse subdivision.

The same unnamed creek feeds into a wetland in a house subdivision.

This empty road now ends at farm implements instead of townhouses.

A lot map at a townhouse subdivision. Wilson creek is called Diamond creek by a nearby, much larger, subdivision.

New housing at Diamond creek. The green objects are to limit erosion into storm drains.

Diamond creek also known as Wilson creek.

Veiw of homes from the North Gate subdivision.

The edge of North Gate from an overgrown dirt pile.

Backyard powerlines, North Gate.

The metal welcome sign, North Gate.

This development is across the road from North Gate near ravines. The houses are all identical except some are singles and some are doubles.

One other difference is the color of the fake shutters. There are black, navy and mulberry shutters.

An enthusiastic landscaper.

It is common practice for the city to fill the bottom of ravines in and lay storm sewer anywhere near development.

A hydrant on the edge of a deep ravine.

Wires and a discared plant litter an unsold lot.

Foundation making equiptment.

Townhomes still under construction.

Unfinished townhome garage.

Housing at the edge of North Gate.

Creative lot sign on Coventry Lane.

A particularly handsome house off of Coventry Lane. The brick and stone give way to biege siding on the other three sides of the house.

Truck parked in unsold lots off of Coventry Lane.

Blown over lender sign, Coventry Lane.

A new fire hydrant near the edge of the Minnesota river valley.

Lot # 1, Coventry Heights subdivision. Behind is an old farmstead.

An exciting playhouse at the filled head of a ravine, Coventry Lane.