As thousands cram into the winding streets and public spaces of lower Manhattan in a revolt against the “corporate forces of the world,” Galina Tachieva would really prefer protesters take over an abandoned Walmart parking lot instead.
She’d really prefer we occupy sprawl.
One of my personal heroes, Tachieva is a partner at Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, Architects and Town Planners (DPZ), Miami, and author of the Sprawl Repair Manual. She specializes in suburban retrofits—revamping automobile-oriented, sprawling regions into more lively, sustainable, and compact communities.
She was at the Lab this week hosting a workshop with Retrofitting Suburbia co-author and CUNY professor June Williamson on suburban retrofits when she told me about her Occupy Sprawl manifesto, which she posted on her newly launched blog earlier this week.
Inspired by the recent popular discontent expressed so colorfully on Wall Street, I offer this proposal: Occupy Sprawl!
People are not happy with the economy, with politics, with the government. Consider the physical surrounding of the protesters: the streets and squares in lower Manhattan where there are plenty of places to gather. Good urbanism provides good spaces for assembling and protesting. Our sprawling suburbs are devoid of such places. Where can people get together to show frustration (or to celebrate)? Why not revolt against the system of sprawl, which is responsible for some of the most serious environmental, economic, social and health problems in recent history? Sprawl has been central to our economic troubles: the mortgage meltdown, dependence on cars and oil, pollution and waste of resources to mention just a few.
There is so much to occupy in sprawl! People should reclaim the empty, unproductive, wasteful spaces: over-scaled parking lots, empty big boxes, dead malls, vast front lawns, foreclosed McMansions, massive cul-de-sacs, underperforming golf courses, etc. Suburban strip corridors can become main streets and boulevards, malls can incubate much-needed town centers, deserted McMansions can house students and seniors, and parking lots can be transformed into productive community gardens.
While Tachieva’s post was really using the Wall Street occupation as a metaphor for the suburban retrofits for which she has become known, her post struck a particular chord with me that has been ringing in the back of my mind for some time now.
Especially with the Lab’s current focus on sprawl and suburbia, it bears reminding ourselves that so many of America’s environmental and economic burdens that the Occupy Wall Street protesters are standing against have come about due to the sprawling developments that Wall Street banks helped to build—and that we bought into.
When Wall Street put the American dream just that much further away, we chased after it until we could no longer afford to, and the system collapsed.
Read more about this and some of the creative solutions that Tachieva and her colleagues are coming up with to problems plaguing our sprawling suburbs in her post.
And, should you wish to follow her advice: “Get out and occupy sprawl!”
. . .
Photo: used by permission under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) License from straightedge217