5.18.2006

Moratorium on Ugliness

I'm serious about this. Sometimes I drive by one of those God-awful frickin new housing sub-divisions that has replaced some lush little greenbelt, or pastoral little farm, and is indistinguishable from every other beige, squared cul-de-sac from here to the gulf coast, and someone says, "They are nice houses, though."
I stop. I look for some sign of irony in their expression, but I find nothing but a blank look. They're serious!
What exactly is "nice"? What does that mean to people?Because I thought that there was some sort of shared definition of what niceness was. To me, big trees are nice. Flower gardens are nice. Front porches are nice. Pastures and greenbelts and rivers and orchards are all nice. I thought this was something we could all get on the same page about! I thought "nice houses" were a bipartisan issue.
But to me cardboard houses are not nice. Lawns that come in rolls? Not nice. Garage vista houses? Yeah, no. I have another word for that kind of niceness: Ugly.
And I think that we need to call a full moratorium on ugliness. Stop messing around. You know as well as I do the difference between nice and ugly. Tract housing is ugly. Only nice things are nice. Let's just stop playing games, and stop building ugly, permanant structures all over our lovely county, and pretending they are nice.

9 Comments:

Blogger Rob Richards said...

The argument one might make, which I don't buy but in the interest of having a conversation I will make, is that it's much cheaper to build these cookie cutter places and the low-costs are passed on to the consumers. There are many holes in this line of thinking. To consider the true cost you have to look upstream and downstream and measure the environmental effects of these housing developments. It's kind of like eating organic foods, it might cost you more at the cash register, but will end costing you less at the doctor's office.

6:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ugly things tend to rob one of one's soul. The reason that cities or suburbs are being made ugly is because "they" want us robbed of our souls. Without our souls (and I'm not talking about a Xian soul) we then become the unthinging and unfeeling masses that are easy to control, fool, and manipulate.

Crenshaw Sepulveda

9:09 AM  
Blogger Jade said...

Crenshaw, you're right, though perhaps your wording is a bit simplistic. What sort of values does this architecture communicate to us?
1. Individualism (lack of shared/public space, lots of street/driveway, etc.)
2. Conformity (by setting a standard of sameness as "nice")
3.Fear (By design strategies that communicate security, not welcoming)
There was a great little piece in the Seattle Weekly a while back about the architecture of gentrification in the Central Distict. The author talked about how the trend in older homes was a large front stoop and big low windows, which look hospitable because they provide a sidewalk view of the home's interior. In contrast, the new homes in the CD convey (racist) fear. The garage in the front, so you can quickly get from your car to the inside of your house without ever walking outside; and high windows so you can watch people outside, but they can't see in. Where the old homes look like friendly places to visit, the new ones are obtrusive and foreboding. This is how they made the once lively Central District "nice".

2:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would recommend two books then, both available at the Olympia library.

One. "A pattern language"

Two."the Death and Life of Great American Cities" by Jane Jacobs, recently passed away.

Both books have changed my life in more ways than just housing, urban planning, and the like.

Crenshaw Sepulveda

5:03 PM  
Blogger Jade said...

I own a copy of A Pattern Language. Very important book.
I will check out that other one, too. Thanks.

9:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i would also recommend "the geography of nowhere", i forget the author...

11:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

always like a good book. "the geography of nowhere" sounds very interesting. Thanks

Crenshaw Sepulveda

9:12 PM  
Blogger Machete Red said...

I have a lovely hardcover Death and Life, if you'd like to borrow it. One of the great points Jacobs makes in this book is that you don't have to resort to aesthetic circular arguments--you can attack the sameness on a principle of WORKABILITY. It is simply not workable to have these security-oriented, separate, cheaply-built houses right next to each other and far away from anything else. What people need to realize is this: what makes a neighborhood scary to you is probably what's keeping you safe. And, Rob, you should look into the savings that people are enjoying in the developments of DuPont; they actually have a lawsuit against the developer because their "affordable" houses started falling apart after a mere five years or so.

4:08 PM  
Blogger Rob Richards said...

Machete Red,(if that IS your real name)

They must have been sass-boxes. Bad things always happen to sas-boxes. Always.

2:04 PM  

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