The grass is green and mowed. The paint is white or beige. The sky is blue or gray. The forest is green or brown. The road is black. Suburbia is normal. That is the message that people who live in such artificial landscapes receive, and unsurprisingly, as the experience is visceral, like silence, and color.
Then, there is poverty. The middle class bastions of civilization become slums for the poor, masses, who swell by the year. Nuclear families become extended families. Siblings, cousins, and in-laws sleep on the floor. Living rooms, family rooms, and offices are partitioned. As quarters close in, people become more competitive, envious, and finally, violent.
Later, the white fences, and beige walls of the suburban homes are stripped. Raw materials are gleaned from driveways, decks, and facades. Other forms of housing emerge, which require less heat, offer more privacy, and are simply more practical.
In such conditions, as in the overpopulated slums of the Global South, suburbia is a speculation, of a hope for the future, where the American dream is attainable for everyone, as espoused, and believed the world over.
Yet, in 2008, when the global recession occurred together with the bursting of the housing bubble, the American dream lost its attractive veneer for many thousands who lost their homes, and watched as the obscenely wealthy profited off of human misery.
To many the American dream became a nightmare, born of the dark night of a man named Charles Ponzi, who inspired the term, Ponzi scheme. As seen in the 2008 housing crisis in the U.S., a Ponzi scheme is characterized by the fraudulent sale of a belief in a nonexistent enterprise (the American dream), propped up by quick returns to first investors (hedge fund managers) by money invested later (from duped homeowners).
As often asserted by Canadian author Linda McQuaig, hedge fund mangers aren’t worth a damn. An investigative journalist whose work prompted the imprisonment of Canadian political lobbyist Patti Star, McQuaig’s most recent book is called The Trouble With Billionaires.
“In what moral universe is that hedge fund manager worth 82,000 nurses, in what moral universe is he worth even one nurse?” said McQuaig, at the 11th annual Public Interest Alberta conference, referring to the exorbitant income of the American sub-prime mortgage beneficiary John Paulson.
Hedge fund managers who profited from the burst of the housing bubble soon became one of the symbols of capitalist extremism, and the source of widespread criticism, eventually echoing down the halls of history towards the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011, and most recently, Flood Wall Street, an action that occurred on September 22, 2014.
Suburbia began in Levittown, New York, immediately after WWII in order to prepare for the baby boomers. To the good life, amid cookie-cutter housing, many residents migrated from the city. Years later, people left as more locals succumbed to substance abuse.
Interestingly, substance abuse, in the greater societal sense, is one of the primary features of the suburban lifestyle. Car-dependent, and promoting largely unsustainable consumer lifestyles, both personal and environmental health has been at the mercy of decades, and now generations of heating systems consuming natural gas as if it were inexhaustible, and heart-disease diets sourced from grocery shop aisles laden with the yields of industrial agriculture, not to mention fast food.
Truly, suburbia is an offshoot of postwar American consumerism, and the rampant success of capitalism. In return for the artificial image of a more rural life, suburbanites enjoy the conveniences of what are essentially urban amenities.
Suburban infrastructures offer water, heat, and electricity to residents afield, in more individualistic units, suitable to the American character of independence, entitlement, and wealth.
Yet, as seen most apparently in the burst of the housing bubble in 2008, suburbia is a superficial excuse for the realization of the American dream. In southern states, where most people were deceived into taking out sub-prime mortgages, and subsequently lost their homes, suburbia is getting out of control.
In fact, a recent study issued by North Carolina State University and the U.S. Department of Interior’s Southeast Climate Science Center says urban areas in the region will likely double in size over the next 45 years.
Population growth and expanding urbanization are themes for economists, and futurists alike, as for environmentalists. The unabated phenomenon of suburbia across the American landscape raises significant concerns. The award-winning documentary, “End of Suburbia” released in 2004, relates post-suburban speculations directly to one of the most controversial resource issues, peak oil.
While suburbia may not fade away, the precious middle-class, non-urban life that suburban families enjoy may evidently become much more assimilated into a nearby, swelling megalopolis.
About the Author: Matt Hanson is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, NY. He has lived in Egypt, Mexico, Peru, and Canada, and has worked with numerous daily newspapers, online start-ups, leftist magazines and everything in between since 2005.