18 Comments


  1. Interesting observation that our homes have become more like those of oil-producing countries, but will probably lose those attributes as the oil becomes less abundant. I’ll be thinking about this.


  2. Well, yes. But of course it wasn’t oil that shaped traditional domestic architecture in the Near East; it was the climate. Which makes that model even more relevant as the climate in many parts of the U.S. becomes hotter and drier, I should think. From a page on Islamic architecture:

    The most striking feature of all Islamic architecture is the focus on interior space as opposed to the outside or facade. The most typical expression of this focus on inner space is in the Muslim house. Rectangular dwelling units typically are organized around an inner courtyard. The facade of this house offers high windowless walls interrupted only by a single low door.
    […]
    Yet the traditional courtyard house is an advanced structure. The open-air interior courtyard performs an important function as a modifier of climate in hot, arid areas. The courtyard allows for outdoor activities with protection from wind and sun. The courtyard also serves as an air-well into which the cool, night air can sink. And the plain, thick-walled street facade of the house with few or no windows is designed to withstand severe elements like hot winds and sand.

  3. Teju

    Really lovely photos. Captures the desolation and inertia of the ‘burbs perfectly. I hope you’ll do more black and white.


  4. Dave, so if this apocolyptic view is accurate and the priceof oil goes thru the roof where will all those people go when they leave the burbs? We don’t have room for them in the citys. Unless we use covert some of the offices and stores to living space. Maybe they will go to the countryside and carve out living spaces.


  5. Teju – Thanks. The desolation is hardly indigenous to the suburbs, though. You can already see it in Edward Hopper’s paintings, or in read about it in Henry Miller’s The Air-Conditioned Nightmare.

    Fred – Uh, why would they go into the cities? The cities will be even less sustainable than the suburbs.


  6. Fascinating post. Much to chew on. Fantastic photos, as well.


  7. More thsn a touch of the J.G. Ballards about these fascinating speculations, Dave. And to deepen the English association, many of these pictures could have been taken in a well-to-do Home Counties.


  8. twitches, marja-leena – Glad you liked the post. It was surprisingly easy to assemble – I guess because I’d been mulling over it for two weeks.

    Dick – I wondered how well this would resonate with folks from overseas. As far as England goes, I think one of the best things I’ve ever read on this subject (housing subdivisions and planned communities replacing natural habitat) was a novel by George Orwell, Coming Up For Air.


  9. I can see how climate would shape architecture, but that seems like a stretch here, even within the context of global warming — although my saying that may seem ostrich-like. Or near-sighted. I was really considering the social aspects you pointed out in your post of people’s being increasingly attracted to privacy (fences, etc.), and I wonder how that might be connected to wealth/comfort.

    If that makes sense. 27 poems in 27 days, written with three preschoolers, has turned my head into a sieve. So thanks for the diversion, anyway.


  10. It is as if something from another planet (and I mean that in the nicest way) were snooping around my neighborhood, taking pictures. I recognize my neighbor’s house in one of these; there’s the fence surrounding the park; but something is just a little off, a little scary.


  11. angie – I know the feeling. But I agree, it does seem like a stretch to expect that American’s will be able to make the drastic changes in architecture I’m suggesting would be necessary to weather global warming in relative comfort. And yes, it has everything to do with weath and comfort — or at least our perceptions of them.

    Peter – That something would be me, I guess. :)

  12. Honey Girl

    Drastic changes in architecture? Architecture?!!

    Dave, Dave, Dave….what are you smoking? (Never mind.) Your bucolic portrait of post-oil suburbia simply doesn’t jibe with common sense.

    Suburbs will be quickly reconfigured all right, but not so that essential goods and services are nearby. Armed marauders and vigilantes within walking distance? Certainly. Ya think there’ll be “earth-sheltered, passive-solar structures”? Well, yeah, if that’s your euphemism for “foxholes.”

    Trees will be cut down for firewood…d’oh. (Please also mention that household pets and young children will be snared and eaten, ‘kay?) Lawns will be dug up? Yes, for burial grounds. People will spend a lot more time outdoors? Of course! We’ll be 24-7-armed-guarding our pathetic little garden patches of succotash. And will we come together in ways we haven’t seen since WWII? Mais oui! We shall engage in hand-to-hand combat over our pathetic garden patches of succotash, and perhaps over the week-old corpse of our shar-pei puppy, as well. (“Hot dog, Mama! We’re eatin’ Chinese 2-nite!”)

    But your prediction about people losing no time planting trees? That one is so funny I forgot to laugh.

    I theenk you’re just a teeeny leeetle beeet out of touch, my dear Dave.

    But yo, I still love yer pretty blog! ;-)


  13. I like this discussion. Cities may be more sustainable than one might think. People have always lived in population centers. I refer you to the books of the late Jane Jacobs.

    Maybe we could turn this around and make this whole discussion a blog written in the future where people are remembering “the crisis”. Might be fun!


  14. Honey Girl – Thank you for that challenging reaction. I admit, your vision is perhaps more plausible than mine, especially given Americans’ penchant for paranoia and violence, and the likelihood that fascistic leaders will exploit our fears during the coming crisis. In defense of my own vision, I would point to our still-robust civil society, and our stong tendency to come together in times of crisis. (Look at New Yorkers in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.) I seriously doubt that things will be extreme as you suggest, because most individuals derive no benefit from an every-person-for him/herself reaction. I also question the value of making public prognostications that don’t allow some room for hope, because all prophecies have some potential of self-fulfillment. Apocalyptic thinking arises from laziness or exasperation, I think: we want complexity to end, even if it means a violent cataclysm. Those who actually long for an apocalypse do worry me, but I’d like to think we still have them outnumbered.

    My upcoming post will also feature a sort of oblique answer to your comment, though I wrote it before reading this.

    Fred – I think cities will survive, but they’ll have to shrink quite a bit.

    I have written posts set in such a future, I think. A whole blog set twenty or thirty years ahead is a great idea, and would doubtless — if the internet survives — provide people living in that time with a great source of entertainment.

  15. Anonymous

    Americans’ penchant for paranoia and violence? As exceptional as we like to think we are, we’re not the only human beings in existence, Dave. What we’re talking about here is a universal human reaction to extreme scarcity, and a universal human response to intense competition for survival. In circumstances like that, leaders are simply the dudes who brought in the last food and water; “fascistic” is kind of beside the point. And any civil society, robust or otherwise, will break down quickly when its infrastructure collapses. New Orleans right after Katrina offered us a G-rated sneak-preview of that phenomenon.

    New York after 9/11 is a bad analogy, though. In post-power (sub)urbia it’ll be more like “Escape from New York.” There won’t be a mere few minutes of terror and destruction, followed by a coming together in numbed relief. There’ll be an endless stream of daily battles to secure just enough food and water and shelter ’til tomorrow, especially during the winter months. So yeah, an every-person-for-self strategy will be typical, and probably more effective, too.

    But this isn’t lazy “apocalyptic thinking,” which itself is a lazy man’s epithet — “apocalyptic” meaning nothing more than an uncovering or a disclosure, except when it’s employed as a rhetorical device to evoke Biblical images of end times, which is why you describe it as “public prognostications” and “prophecies,” I suppose, for similar emotional effect, not to mention easier dismissal. But no, it’s just neutral mathematics.

    (How you came to know that prophecies have some potential for self-fulfillment would be a much more interesting and informative post than this one, though!)

    And since you’re already (or still) of an “us” vs. “them” mentality, and you’re hopeful that “we” are prevailing, I’d say you’re about as well prepared for this publicly prognosticated scenario as anyone! :-)

  16. Honey Girl

    Oops…that last ramble was from me, sorry. Somehow I lost my name before posting. xoxo


  17. Found via FOTT. The photographs are so evocative of Jersey suburbs. I’m intrigued by the remnant woods you found and how children interact with these trees, and in general, with trees in the “development” landscape.

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