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Posted 10.20.11 | PERMALINK | ESSAY

Jason Griffiths: Manifest Destiny: A Guide to the Essential Indifference of American Suburban Housing



Lot Lines
The property lines between suburban lots are often difficult to see — the result, in part, of the consensus among its occupants not to build fences or walls between individual houses. This tradition can be traced back to the earliest North American suburbs and the legacy of the Parkway green space running through the center of each community. Here the lack of any division between properties produces a continuous belt of grass lawns uniting each lot along the roadside, an arrangement contrived to maintain the romantic idyll of suburban homes set within a “natural” landscape. In effect, the lawn takes on a dual role as both the private extension of outdoor space belonging to a particular property and a linear public park. The mutual exclusivity of these two functions, however, means that in practice it oscillates between the two. Despite the ephemerality of these property lines, owners understand them in a very tangible way, abiding by the rules of adjacency and respecting the proprietorial lot. To the untrained eye, barriers between lots can be detected in the slight tonal differences generated by discordant mowing schedules and the subtle variations in grass type and weed-killer. While these minute horticultural differences offer perhaps the most subtle of suburban effects, they are also one of the most important for the way in which they maintain the unique and rarefied aura of outdoor suburban space.

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ABOUT THE ESSAY

Manifest Destiny: A Guide to the Essential Indifference of American Suburban Housing
On Places, British architect Jason Griffiths offers a close reading of modern American suburbia, where mass production meets the myth of the arcadian frontier.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Griffiths is an assistant professor of architecture at the Design School at Arizona State University.
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