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I Hope the Prairie Buys You More: Fauxtopias, Then and Now

A tour of the Detroit suburbs and its historical villages that doubles as a reflection on architecture and memory; and a look at IKEA’s model London neighborhood in the shadow of Olympic Stadium.

IKEA

 

* Via Coudal, “The Fauxtopias of Detroit’s Suburbs.” It’s an excellent photo essay of the city’s suburbs, and its suburbs’ historic villages, as well as a meditation on history and architecture. It’s also something of a corrective to the record: lots of ink and digits are given to the city of Detroit and Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village (“an unoccupied historic village without any actual history… existed solely as a simulacrum of the world Henry Ford destroyed"), but not so much its suburbs and their historic villages:

We believe architecture brings us closer to history the way medieval pilgrims believed relics brought them closer to Christ. They must have known that chunk of wood probably didn’t come from the true cross, but still they bought it. We know a building is really just wood and bricks, but still we tell ourselves it’s something more, and open our imaginations to the wonder of those who came before us.

* Yesterday I was going on about some of the stuff that the Olympics were bringing to London, like massive rent hikes and rooftop missiles. Also among them: a neighborhood designed by IKEA.

Set in East London, in the shadows of the newly constructed Olympic Park, Ikea hopes to create affordable living opportunities (in keeping with their furniture-making mission, of course) for residents in more than 1,000 homes and apartments. The rigidly designed and overseen community will include townhouses, apartments, two- and three-story homes, condominium towers up to 11 stories tall, offices and a hotel.

No, really:

The ‘IKEA Land’ will also be free of vehicle traffic, except for buses and ambulances (during emergencies). Upon entering the neighborhood, drivers will be directed straight to an underground garage.

Trash will be removed from the homes by a series of underground suction tunnels, and a hydroelectric plant will provide power to the neighborhood.

America has Celebration, Florida, Disney’s master-planned community, so I suppose it makes sense that Europe would have a branded community from IKEA. The New Yorker who sent me this (h/t @nocoastoffense) commented that IKEA’s water taxi ($5 weekdays, free on weekends) is not just convenient if you’re shopping at IKEA in a city where many residents don’t own cars, it’s actually a really good way of getting to Red Hook in Brooklyn.

A few people I’ve talked to find the IKEA town a bit eerie—in the future, zoning will be replaced with niche marketing. But history has a way with these things:

The town of Pullman would be built fourteen miles south of central Chicago with its rough working class districts, its dirty air and unhealthful tenements, and its union organizing and strikes. Unlike the typical town or city, which grew haphazardly without order or forethought, Pullman would be designed according to a well-thought out plan; yet unlike the typical utilitarian company town, which served immediate profit, Pullman would be dedicated to social uplift.

[snip]

Many workers resented their inability to buy their homes, a limitation that Pullman adamantly retained…. Because the majority of Pullman’s residents were immigrants, many wanted to build their own ethnic institutions and were attracted to nearby towns where this was allowed.

 

Photograph: Per Ola Wiberg-Powi (CC by 2.0)

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