Moderated by Judith De Jong and Marshall Brown.
References to American suburbia typically conjure distinct images of vast, homogenous tracts of post-war residential neighborhoods, filled with white, middle-class families who left the city in search of the “American Dream” of the single-family house and lawn. Yet decentralization is neither new, nor monolithic, nor specifically American; rather, it is evident as early as the third millennium BCE outside the typical Mesopotamian city, where outlying settlement was often focused on commerce and industry. Early American suburbia was likewise often industrial, and developed as distinct municipalities, some of which were annexed by their central cities, others of which faded into oblivion, and still others of which developed into thriving economic hubs. Simultaneously, decentralization acted back upon the traditional city center, forcing a reconsideration of its own forms and qualities.
The contemporary American metropolis is therefore characterized by a wide range of decentralized urbanisms, many of which exhibit formal and spatial patterns that are much more open than in traditional settlement-what Lewis Mumford called “spatial looseness.” Because these patterns are harder to identify, understand, and instrumentalize, and because the architecture is so often banal, these conditions are easily dismissed. There is significant value in understanding them, however, as they not only are the largest and fastest growing parts of the metropolis, but also are evolving extremely quickly. They are, therefore, the primary sites of potentially innovative new architectures and new urbanisms.
This roundtable thus asks: what are the new forms of architecture and urbanism of decentralization in the American metropolis? What are the primary forces being materialized in their making (new and evolving collectives, democratic processes, free markets, new forms of mobility, others)? And what are the opportunities for the future?