Skip

Grow a protest
April 24, 2006 8:38 AM   Subscribe

When artist Matthew Moore found out part of the family farm was to become a suburban subdivision, he did what any farmer/artist would do, and recreated the subdivision in crops to show what it would look like in the surrounding landscape.
posted by mathowie (55 comments total)

 
It's worth noting that it's not part of the family farm that's to be a subdivision, but some land that his family had sold.
posted by ODiV at 8:52 AM on April 24, 2006


Uhhhh, didn't his family sell the land in question?
posted by MrZero at 8:54 AM on April 24, 2006


My point being, if they didn't sell it to the developers, who did they sell it to, and what did they think was going to happen? It seems disingenuous to take the money, then stage a cute little "protest" about suburban sprawl -- if that's what's going on here.
posted by MrZero at 8:57 AM on April 24, 2006


I'm not sure it's a protest per-se. It's tagged here as art and, heck, it looks like art to me.
posted by Jofus at 8:59 AM on April 24, 2006


That'll show 'em!
posted by shnoz-gobblin at 8:59 AM on April 24, 2006


The CoolHunting page says its a protest, but the artist's own page doesn't say anything about protest. He feels some personal loss, he says, but it doesn't come across as "they're doing something bad", just "I'll miss the fact that it used to be farmland".
posted by Bugbread at 9:02 AM on April 24, 2006


I suspect that the artist isn't super close to the rest of the family, like the ones that sold land to a developer.
posted by mathowie at 9:02 AM on April 24, 2006


This is pretty amazing. And sad. Why do Americans insist on buying big houses that are mere feet away from each other?
posted by bardic at 9:06 AM on April 24, 2006


Why do Americans insist on buying big houses that are mere feet away from each other?

Assuming it's not rhetorical, it's because houses are cheap. Land is pretty damn expensive.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:09 AM on April 24, 2006


/leans back, smirking knowingly.
posted by Jofus at 9:09 AM on April 24, 2006


If the big houses weren't mere feet from one another, there wouldn't be room for enough of them.

Good post, I love macro-scale art.
posted by chudmonkey at 9:09 AM on April 24, 2006


Really interesting project. Nice post.
posted by 327.ca at 9:11 AM on April 24, 2006


And sad. Why do Americans insist on buying big houses that are mere feet away from each other?

Why is it sad? What do I need a bunch of land for?
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:29 AM on April 24, 2006


Why do Americans insist on buying big houses that are mere feet away from each other?

So that they can have the lack of privacy of city live combined with the lack of convenience of rural life. Truly the best of both worlds.
posted by octothorpe at 9:38 AM on April 24, 2006




You nailed it there, octo. But yeah, as XQU said, it's the land that costs you more than the house these days. It's also why people are buying small houses in ritzy neighborhoods for huge sums, then plowing the house and putting up a property line-to-property line monstrosity in so many areas.

Oh, yeah, and land requires maintenance. I have less than a quarter acre, but it's still many hours out of my weekend every weekend -- and if I miss a weekend (or two), I'm suddenly overrun.
posted by davejay at 9:49 AM on April 24, 2006


Why do Americans insist on buying big houses that are mere feet away from each other?

They don't. The builders are maximizing profits by packing us in like lab rats. Every house should be at least thirty feet from each other, just in case you neighbor turns out to be a major asshole.
posted by disgruntled at 9:50 AM on April 24, 2006


As a person who lived 5 years without a washing machine because the washing-mashine closet was the only closet in the apartment, and who avoided buying a game console because there was nowhere to fit a PS2 into the apartment, I can fully sympathize with the desire to have a big house.

I have actually had dreams of having a big house.
posted by Bugbread at 9:51 AM on April 24, 2006


Every house should be at least thirty feet from each other...

Only if you want to accelerate urban sprawl, increase use of water to maintain lawns, and increase housing prices. And is 30 feet really going to shield you from the asshole next door?
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:54 AM on April 24, 2006


Every house should be at least thirty feet from each other, just in case you neighbor turns out to be a major asshole.

And people wonder what's happening to our country. The suburbs are turning people into anti-social agoraphobes who have to burn more and more increasingly expensive gasoline to drive to Wal-Mart so they can buy Chinese-made crap that was once produced by their neighbors.
posted by bshort at 10:13 AM on April 24, 2006


And is 30 feet really going to shield you from the asshole next door?

Not on chili night at our house.
posted by yerfatma at 10:13 AM on April 24, 2006


This is pretty amazing. And sad. Why do Americans insist on buying big houses that are mere feet away from each other?

Why does someone always insists on having to scutinize every little aspect of American this and that? And what is the question really addressing... the big house, the fact that they are close to each other, the combination? I don't get it.

If the houses were small, would the question read, "Why do Americans insist on buying small houses that are mere feet away from each other? As if Americans are the only culture in the world that live "mere feet" from each other (not that you wre necessarily suggesting that). Are you suggesting that big houses should be on big land... otherwise it's somehow wrong?
posted by Witty at 10:19 AM on April 24, 2006


as Native land was overtaken by the quest for the frontier, the dreams of a once agrarian nation have been paved over by the need to house those in search of new frontiers to claim as their own.

Aha! People want 30 feet spacing because they're in search of new frontiers to claim as their own!

Still, this statement makes no sense. How can you simultaneously idealize Native land and the agrarianism that replaced it? The entire western US was gridded into 40-acre plots to support its agrarian dreams -- why complain if it gets subdivided a bit more finely? The agrarian dreams are part of the problem, not some storybook past. Farm preservation outside cities and his art are both pretty cool, but I'll skip the nostalgia.

And I have to say, nice comparison -- Native Americans getting literally slaughtered -- farmers selling their farms and retiring.... a little bit different, btw.
posted by salvia at 10:28 AM on April 24, 2006


Only if you want to accelerate urban sprawl

I seriously doubt that house-spacing is a significant factor contributing to urban sprawl. Compare to say, the advent of the automobile!

Yeesh.
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:31 AM on April 24, 2006


At the very least, it's a pretty cool looking crop maze. :)
posted by drstein at 10:36 AM on April 24, 2006


sonofsamiam : "I seriously doubt that house-spacing is a significant factor contributing to urban sprawl."

Well, of course not. Americans live in houses that people here call "close together". So it isn't a significant factor. If, as being argued, everyone should put a 30 foot buffer between their house and the next, then it would become a significant factor. Hence the comment.
posted by Bugbread at 10:37 AM on April 24, 2006


Hey its not just us 'Mericans who like to build houses close to each other. Many European cities dating back to recorded history have so many people piled on top of each other.

What bugs me though is that no matter how small the plot of land each household will own a washer and dryer, lawn mower, hedge trimmer, snow blower, swing set, swimming pool. etc. When will we begin to pool community resources? Heck maybe if we all had to use the Laundromat we might get to meet our neighbors and start re-growing a sense of community.
posted by Gungho at 10:55 AM on April 24, 2006


I think that bugbread probably has the artist pegged. In any event, what he said describes some of my own feelings. My family had a farm on the point between the junction of two rivers in South Carolina. As my grandfather's siblings began to approach retirement age, they realized that they didn't have much to go on, and so much of the lakefront property was sold off (the river was dammed around 1930 and lake property is valuable). Fortunately, my grandfather had prepared in advance for retirement and didn't need to sell his share, and in fact bought up much of the interior land. Yet I cannot go back without feeling a bit sad about the loss of the land and the use which is being made of it.
posted by Tullius at 11:02 AM on April 24, 2006


Increasing US house size, 1950-2000 (jpg). Caption points out that average # people/household declined during that same time period (from 3.4 to 2.6).
posted by salvia at 11:13 AM on April 24, 2006


Protest is the wrong word.
> Moore, 29, isn’t making any boldly negative, down-with-development statements with such creations. Yes, he’s a hard-working, fourth-generation, full-time farmer — but he views the changes in the West Valley’s agricultural landscape as inevitable.

It's also clear from reading that he's a professional artist doing a number of different projects to document, comment on, and provoke thought about the transition from rural to (sub)urban. He simply views the family farm as a canvas and he's trying to do something different and thoughtful.

NPR, 2004, when his project was doing an oversized floor plan

gmaps -- nothing to see tho
posted by dhartung at 11:15 AM on April 24, 2006


Gungho writes: Many European cities dating back to recorded history have so many people piled on top of each other.

Hence the term "city," where you have to deal with some of the drudgery of apartment life (small quarters, loud noises), but you get a ton of benefits (culture, good restaurants, not having to deal with a car and/or a long commute). Or, what octothorpe said.

I'm an American, btw. I used to live and work in a county west of Baltimore (*cough* Howard *cough*) where well-to-do people would buy a plot, cut down every single tree, build a McMansion, and then plant some shitty bushes. And they had a tendency to complain about both the lack of privacy and the lack of community spirit.

If you want suburban/exurban mediocrity like that, you've earned it baby.
posted by bardic at 11:18 AM on April 24, 2006


Why do Americans insist on buying big houses that are mere feet away from each other?

Why do people insist on isolating a single aspect of American culture and extrapolating from it a ridiculous overgeneralization with which to paint the entire culture?
posted by scody at 11:27 AM on April 24, 2006


Not the entire culture. Just a big chunk of it, as I think about certain friends and family members who've bought houses that are far bigger than they need. I mean, literally, multiple empty rooms. I find it creepy and depressing, but YMMV.
posted by bardic at 11:28 AM on April 24, 2006


"Seventy percent of Californians would prefer to live in a single-family detached home, even if it means they have to drive to work and to travel locally. However, a majority (53%) also say they would choose to live in a small home with a small backyard if it means a shorter commute to work."
-- Public Policy Institute of California

Is that the same as "big houses that are mere feet away from each other"? It's not urban flats. When asked about mixed-use neighborhoods (being able to walk to the corner grocery store or the barbershop), half actually prefered the all-residential suburb.
posted by salvia at 11:53 AM on April 24, 2006


Phoenix farmland.

That's funny.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 12:08 PM on April 24, 2006


I've been living in the 'burbs for the last seven years now after having lived in a city or town for the previous years of my life and I just don't get it. You have to drive everywhere, there're no music, no theater, no good resturants and the schools aren't really all that much better than the city schools. I spend at least eight hours a week in my car commuting to work, time that is completly wasted. I just don't get the point.
posted by octothorpe at 12:09 PM on April 24, 2006


This is a cool link, matt, thanks.

The simple fact that this work of art kickstarts a discussion about urban sprawling shows that it works. Somewhat like Christo and Jeanne-Claude's The Gates in Central Park: every discussion about it becomes part of the artwork.
posted by bru at 12:19 PM on April 24, 2006


every discussion about it becomes part of the artwork

Thus resulting in a copyright issue so byzantine that Lawrence Lessig couldn't sort it out.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:24 PM on April 24, 2006


bru : "The simple fact that this work of art kickstarts a discussion about urban sprawling shows that it works."

Nah, the same discussion would have happened in response to any post, as long as the post had the word "suburban" in it. The link is interesting, don't get me wrong, but the fact that we're discussing urban sprawl is more a characteristic of MeFi than of the motive power of the art itself.
posted by Bugbread at 12:24 PM on April 24, 2006


Speaking of artistic license, that Christian Science Monitor Increasing U.S. House Size infographic visually exaggerates the 1950 to 2000 increase by a factor of four. The year 2000 house outline (2200 sq. ft.) is twice the height and width of the 1950 house outline (1000 sq. ft.), but this quadruples the area of the 1950 house outline (to 8000 sq. ft.)

To better represent 2200 sq. ft., the 2000 house outline should be the height and width of the 1970 house outline (which is about 1.5 times that of the 1950 house outline.)

Edward would not be happy.
posted by cenoxo at 12:34 PM on April 24, 2006


...area of the 1950 house outline (to 8000 sq. ft.)

Make that 4000 sq. ft.
posted by cenoxo at 12:36 PM on April 24, 2006


Phoenix farmland.
That's funny.


More ironic than funny. I lived in the area about 30 years ago. You didn't have to travel far get to the irrigated cotton fields and orange groves. With the current droughts, I'd be curious about whether it's takes more water so support an acre of farmland or an acre of houses in that desert. And where does everybody go when the water runs out?
posted by SteveInMaine at 12:36 PM on April 24, 2006


bugbread writes: the fact that we're discussing urban sprawl is more a characteristic of MeFi than of the motive power of the art itself.

Speak for yourself.
posted by bardic at 12:36 PM on April 24, 2006


Not the entire culture. Just a big chunk of it, as I think about certain friends and family members who've bought houses that are far bigger than they need. I mean, literally, multiple empty rooms. I find it creepy and depressing, but YMMV.

Sure, I find it creepy and depressing too -- frankly, I can't stand most subdivisions, having spent a few of my formative years in one (vowing at age 14 to get out and never live in one again once I left). And that, right there, is my point: not only do millions (i.e., another "big chunk") of Americans not live in subdivisions, millions of us don't even want to.
posted by scody at 12:44 PM on April 24, 2006


Looking at Phoenix in gmaps is depressing. I would hate to live somewhere so incredibly square, just one giant grid of boring, identical houses.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 12:54 PM on April 24, 2006


cenoxo : "Speaking of artistic license, that Christian Science Monitor Increasing U.S. House Size infographic visually exaggerates the 1950 to 2000 increase by a factor of four."

It's an infographic, not a proper graph, but this kind of thing bugs me too, so:
Original infographic:

Corrected infographic, at same scale:

posted by Bugbread at 12:55 PM on April 24, 2006


Yeah, that's no protest, and that's fine. It's a cool large scale installation, and I like it. Thanks for the link.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 1:18 PM on April 24, 2006


Also, apropos of nothing, if you consider the infographic to be what it looks like, which is a side view of the house, then a more accurate representation would be this:


Unless you think that a house with 2.2 times the square footage is necessarily 2.2 times as tall as well.
posted by Bugbread at 1:40 PM on April 24, 2006


Why is it sad? What do I need a bunch of land for?

Things to do with a bunch of land:
  • Grow your own veggies and fruit
  • Have 50 some-odd friends and acquaintances come over for a backyard concert on a cool summer evening
  • Have neighborhood kids play football or tag or whatever there
  • Sleep outside and wake up for meteor showers
Obviously, a number of these things are luxuries -- in fact, the only one that might not be is growing your own veggies and fruit, and even that one's arguable if you simply accept that modern agriculture is the best way to go, since backyard growing fails miserably in terms of scale when compared to industrial ag. But on the other hand, this is hardly certain to continue as petroleum supplies fall and prices rise, and there may be health and lifestyle benefits for some degree of grow-it-yourselfers, as well as potential individual-scale economic benefits.

The rest of the list, I guess, is just lifestyle hopes and maybe a little nostalgia. The community I grew up in was just on the cusp between rural and suburban through my childhood and adolescence, and I miss having the irrigation ditches run, miss picking apples in the church/community orchards in the fall, resent the fact that most of the orchards are now strip-malls titled things like "The Orchards" and "The Riverwoods", miss the time when you could sleep out in the backyard and see a billion stars in the dead of night, instead of the bland glow of light polution. I realize these are all, again, lifestyle and aesthetic issues, and that our society will inevitably yield them to the demands of economics (except for a few who can afford to pay for the aesthetic and value it over the latest big-box home). This doesn't mean, however, that particular aesthetic didn't have some real utility and beauty to it.

Increasing US house size, 1950-2000 (jpg). Caption points out that average # people/household declined during that same time period (from 3.4 to 2.6).

I've wondered for a while if this isn't actually a symptom of the shift away from the aesthetic/lifestyle values I mentioned above. As a community becomes increasingly sub/urban, it might naturally value "outside" less, and seek to have more artificial and bounded space than open natural space. It's rarer to see big-box homes in rural communities, though I'm not sure, again, whether that's due to community aesthetics or whether it's just that economics won't support big-box homes in rural areas. Maybe a combination of both.
posted by weston at 2:12 PM on April 24, 2006


I appreciate your sentiments weston, as they resemble mine in some ways. I grew up in a suburb, but it's what I'd call a sensible one--everyone owned cars, but as a teenager I could take a bus and then a train into the city. The local junior high school had lots of basketball and tennis courts and playing fields, and on the weekends neighbors would congregate to exercise or just watch their kids play sports. Nostalgia of an aging fart, I realize, but this is precisely the kind of "mixed development" that isn't happening in the exurbs of today, as far as I can tell.

weston: It's rarer to see big-box homes in rural communities

I can assure you that in the DC/Baltimore area this is not the case at all. Of course, it's the big-box home owners who've lived in these exurbs for about five years that consider themselves the "natives" now, and they never stop bitching about the "invaders" who want to have their own piece of the bland, big-box home experience.
posted by bardic at 2:27 PM on April 24, 2006


Good call on the image, cenoxo. Sorry about not catching that. I'd seen numbers somewhere else before, so when I saw the graphic, I grabbed it without looking closely. Oops!
posted by salvia at 2:35 PM on April 24, 2006


The local junior high school had lots of basketball and tennis courts and playing fields, and on the weekends neighbors would congregate to exercise or just watch their kids play sports. Nostalgia of an aging fart, I realize, but this is precisely the kind of "mixed development" that isn't happening in the exurbs of today, as far as I can tell.

That's mostly because the suburbs you are describing are poorly designed. The subdivision in which I'm planning on buying a house this fall has basketball courts, tennis courts, an olympic-size swimming pool, a golf course, and nearby shopping. While I don't live there yet, my limited experience has revealed a friendly community vibe. Suburbia doesn't have to be endless tract housing.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:37 PM on April 24, 2006


Weston, I have the same "lifestyle hopes and maybe a little nostalgia." So I've been wondering, how can we get it without splitting the entire countryside into 6 acre parcels? The more I think about it, the more I think that nothing on my very-similar list requires private ownership of that land.

I think the quarter-acre lot suburb is worst way to get those things we want. My childhood summers were spent at a place originally built as a family retreat camp. Fairly small houses, practically on top of each other, built around a large central park. It had a playground next to a grassy area with trees and picnic benches. There was a forested hill, and on the other side of it, a football field, basketball and tennis courts. It all averaged out to about 4 houses/acre, same as your typical suburb, but instead of a quarter acre of grass-mowing responsibility apiece, most of that open space was clustered and shared. My brothers and I rarely walked anywhere on the road because it was faster to cut through the park, and we spent whole days exploring that tiny forest.

In fact, there was also a church-owned orchard there -- do I know you? ;)
posted by salvia at 2:58 PM on April 24, 2006


Sounds great monju. If you can access it all via walking, and if a major city is accesible via public transportation, I'd consider raising a family there. This would make it a notable exception to most developments AFAIK (again, my experience being based on what it's like in the DC area).
posted by bardic at 3:05 PM on April 24, 2006


bardic, most of those elements are in place, or are coming soon. The subdivision is less than three years old, and there isn't currently any grocery shopping with walking distance. However, a grocery store will be opened on the edge of the subdivision in the next year, so that will help. The public transportation situation isn't great, but this is in Houston, so you can't expect much, unfortunately. However, if you work downtown, there is a park-and-ride Metro Commuter bus stop about five minutes from the subdivision. Downtown is a 20-minute drive away, so the cultural events and restaurants you're looking for aren't far.

I agree that this kind of subdivision isn't the rule, but I do think it provides strong evidence that when well conceived, suburbs don't have to be the kind of oppressive, endless "big-box" experience that many suburbs have unfortunately become.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 5:48 PM on April 24, 2006


« Older Dangerous Men is completely pure   |   True travel photography Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post