Launching just today is an awesome new ideas competition called Reburbia.

In a future where limited natural resources will force us to find better solutions for density and efficiency, what will become of the cul-de-sacs, cookie-cutter tract houses and generic strip malls that have long upheld the diffuse infrastructure of suburbia? How can we redirect these existing spaces to promote sustainability, walkability, and community?

How would you put the suburbs to better use? Would you replace them altogether?
Or, from spaceports to agricultural plots, from newly walkable town cores to micronations, what should the suburbs become? Perhaps empty, foreclosed houses should be transformed into, say, zoos for the displaced native species of the region… Or perhaps every house on a certain cul-de-sac should be linked by paths and awnings and turned into a library: fiction in one house, history in another… Or perhaps the suburbs should simply become a ruins park, rotting in on themselves in summer thunderstorms.

Co-sponsored by Inhabitat, the contest’s judges are Jill Fehrenbacher, Sarah Rich, Fritz Haeg, Paul Petrunia, Thomas Ermacora, Allan Chochinov, and myself. It’s a fantastic group of people to be with, I have to say, and I can’t wait to see how people respond.
So go theoretical, go structural, go narrative, go botanical, go cynical, go scifi: tell us how you would redesign the suburbs.
Check out the Reburbia website for more info, including the schedule.
And good luck!

18 thoughts on “Reburbia”

  1. What's with the 3 week deadline? And what's with the constant slamming of suburbia by metrosexual magazines like Dwell? "I live in a condo and rent a prius zip car."

    Chew on this: Americans love suburbia. They work for it: the big yards, pools, Tuscan arches, Corinthian columns, and three car garages. It's not about urbanism or achitecture but how much you can buy and what you can park in the driveway.

    Keep sighing about European models with glossy high speed trains and little diesel cars used 6 times a months. The only real competition entry is what was there before: cultivated land.

  2. Simple idea: reduce by 1/2 the width of all suburban residential streets. They are generally plenty wide for traffic and, as developments like David Salmela's Jackson Meadow (in Minnesota) have shown, narrower roads are obvious solutions to reducing runoff, increasing green space (imagine a landscaped bike path replacing the excess half of the street), and increasing opportunities for personal interaction between neighborhood residents (the sort of thing that doesn't happen with isolated homes and wide swaths of pavement).

  3. The base assumption for this competition is of course that the presumably-despicable generic American suburb is or shortly will be unused and unusable as it stands…that no one would or could use these suburban houses as shelter as they currently exist.

    That's not likely to be true: besides "decaying" (or simply under-utilized) suburbs, if the news media can be trusted this economic depression (or "repression," perhaps) is also characterized by an increase in homelessness and in instant shanty-towns or tent-cities outside of major metropolitan areas, or perhaps in the bushes at the base of that bridge around the corner.

    Reasonably, and charitably, the people in these nouveau favelas would probably appreciate any chunk of a decaying and inconvenient suburbs, because even a cookie-cutter McMansion with bad gypboard and leaking windows is presumably a "trade-up" with regard to a tent made of garbage bags and stinking grocery-store-dumpster cardboard or a mildew-encrusted sleeping bag on a cracked bit of damp tarmac. Even quite inconvenient or architecturally-despicable housing is preferable to none, for those who have no housing and need some right now (and not in some distant green future). Reasonably.

    The corollary assumption for this competition is therefore that this is no longer an immediate, utterly pressing, utterly Reasonable need for housing, in the short term or long term, for the people who currently are homeless (many of whom, presumably, were removed from these same abandoned suburbs for entirely abstract–i.e., financial–reasons).

    We must therefore assume an apocalypse, in order to satisfy that corollary assumption: Swine Flu Part Deux; a Kim Il Jong plutonium tantrum; a Katrina Squared; or perhaps simply the return to power of the utterly, inhumanly heartless, uncharitable, and Unreasonable.

    I'm sorry, I can't abide the idea of entering this competition myself. No matter what the clever solution for reusing or removing the supposedly-decaying suburbs, I'll never get past the notion that in order to carry out that solution multitudes of my fellow Americans must–one way or another–have been condemned to extermination.

  4. Deconstruct the 'burban houses, saving the materials. Ship the left-over housing materials (plastic siding, windows, half-baked greenwood lumber) overseas to help build proper non-suburban homes for people in Africa, South America, Middle East and Asia. Reforest the de-burbanized areas. Or render the newfound space as arable land, if it hasn't already been polluted with engine oil, gasoline, epoxy residues, plastic toys and other non-degradable effluents left-over by Sub-human-urbanites.

    The Greater Toronto Area suburban zones have been developed on top of the most arable, fertile land in Ontario, Canada. Shame. Shame. Shame.

  5. What is written in this articule is something important that needs to be thought with total care. I like the idea of sharing information between houses, 1 house for history, the other for technology, that sounds really interesting. Thanks

  6. Quote from
    “By submitting an entry, you grant to Sponsors and their respective successors and assigns an unlimited, worldwide, perpetual license to publish, display, use, exploit, edit the text, adapt, modify, copy, disseminate, post, or dispose of the design, text and other submitted materials online, in print, film, television, or in any other media for editorial, advertising, promotional or other purposes without compensation or notification of any kind to you, except as prohibited by law.”


    “Entrants shall have no right of approval, no claim to compensation, and no claim [,,,] arising out of any use, blurring, alteration, or use in composite form of their name, likeness, city and state, biographical information, or entry.”

    Am I the only one who thinks that these conditions are – even if common – unacceptable? Shouldn’t we at least – if we do open competitions for free – protect our copyright and our rights to protect our work from the above mentioned conditions – which basically include everything from edits of images and text to marketing of our ideas in contexts we are not even notified about? I strongly disagree with this kind of exploitation – even if it’s aimed at students, even if the publication in Dwell magazine brings recognition besides the price money and even if the production of 5 jpegs + text is not much compared to other competitions.

    Geoff, since you're in the jury, what's your stance on this?

  7. Thanks for the comments and replies.

    Lewis, I'm finding it almost impossible to follow your logic, however, as I find no indication at all in the competition brief that we are calling for the extermination and/or wholesale genocide of your fellow Americans. We're asking how better designs might improve the suburbs – which, as I emphasized in my own blog post here, revolved heavily around the idea of reuse. Your own idea – that the suburbs could be used to house the homeless – sounds like a perfectly viable competition entry, but somehow you've decided that we are calling for jihad. I'm genuinely unable to see how you've interpreted the competition this way, to be honest – but I would suggest that your own comment contains the seeds of an interesting architectural idea that would fit the contest quite well (and I'm referring here to housing the homeless not exterminating the American middle class).

    Anonymous, you ask: "what's with the constant slamming of suburbia by metrosexual magazines like Dwell?" I would suggest that you might find the answer to that question by reading magazines like Dwell in which they discuss the pros and cons of suburban living.

    Jakob, I think the overall problem here is more one of over-cautious, preemptive legalese writing; all contracts of this sort sound terrifying and exploitative (at least in my experience). My own book contract scared the shit out of me. I think what is actually being said here is simply that the competition organizers would like to montage the submissions into some kind of poster or full-page announcement later, and that they felt the need to make it legally clear that they intend to this. If, on the other hand, I had thought that I was helping to jury a competition that was going to take participants' work and rip it off and republish it and so on for years to come, at harm to the designers of those images, then I really wouldn't have signed on to be on the jury. Perhaps I'll be proven naive, and this really will be a scandal later this summer; but, till then, I'm betting that this is simply the organizers covering the bases in advance, due to the litigious nature of the US.

    If you genuinely have concerns about Reburbia, however – either because you feel it advocates genocide or because it seems exploitative – then I would urge you to contact the organizers at Inhabitat or Dwell.

    Having said all that, I still very much look forward to seeing what people submit!

  8. I just noticed you replied. Thanks.


    Let me try again, then, Geoff.

    If it is reasonable (and perhaps moral) to use abandoned housing to house those who do not have housing, why is it necessary to develop an alternative? It so stunningly obvious that I find it difficult to propose (reasonably) anything else.

    Therefore, if this competition is to be taken seriously, we have to assume that it is not reasonable, moral, and patently obvious to house those who do not have housing in these abandoned suburbs. It follows that in the speculative timeframe implicitly projected for this competition, there is no longer a need to house the house-less. So what happened to those who currently need housing and do not have it now, that alternatives are obviously necessary for the use of this housing in the context of this competition? Something must have happened to the people who–in our real and current point in history–need housing desperately for it to be reasonable for us to develop other uses for these suburbs. Perhaps I've been reading the news too much and my visions for the future are clouded by a CNN-induced dystopia, but there seem to be very few ways for large numbers of people to suddenly "go missing" (and therefore not need the currently-available and underutilized suburbs) without assuming that something really bad very suddenly happened to them.

    I am not trying to say that this competition proposes "jihad." Instead, there seems to be an implicit assumption (a "back-story" if you will) here in this competition that such an apocalyptic event has already occurred, or will occur, and it will be necessary to do something else with these abandoned houses since they are no longer desperately needed for their original purpose.

    It's that back-story that seriously bothers me, and of course that is an entirely personal issue for me. If I was a little less pessimistic, perhaps I could assume that there was a more pleasant or even utopian implied back-story here, concerning what might have happened to those who currently need housing.

  9. Living in the suburbs of El Paso TX is down right dangerous to be honest with you. We have scorpions, tarantulas, poisonous snakes (mainly rattle snakes), and all sorts of other crazy looking creatures making their way out of the dessert and the mountains into your home.

    The bad news in El Paso is that much of our dessert land is quite useless for farmland unless you water it heavily but the areas around the Rio Grande are being paved over with houses. The homes are flooded routinely when we get our typical gully washer rain storms and we have to spend money and time pumping out water and installing drain systems.

    But the really horrendous thing is when I look over the border at Juarez Mexico I see hundreds of shacks that are barely standing that people live in without water or power in many cases. I see them and realize that our suburbs and all our problems aren't really that big compared to this.

  10. Hey Geoff,
    I don't think it's a question of being naive or not. If I would have been asked to jury in this competition I most likely would have said yes.

    My concern is, that this competition (among others) pretends to be what it is not. The breadth of the discussion in this and other blogs is enormous, showing how valid it is. Many facts point toward this competition being a little bit superficial though: 3 week deadline; Max. 1500 characters/200 words essay; "the wilder the better!"; Are dwell and inhabitat the right medium for this kind of discussion?. While others point toward it being a serious approach of discussing the complex issue of 'the future of suburbia': the jury.

    I personally have doubts about this competition being able to meet my expectations of what a competition like this should incorporate. I look forward to being proven wrong. The legal issues described in my previous post spoil my interest in participating myself though and underline my concerns described above.

    For me it's not about contacting dwell or other sponsors trying to persuade them of not robbing the competition entrants' of their copyright etc.. It's a question of how we as architects want to work in the future, how we can protect our rights, actually earn money with our work, find the right medium to present our visions and make sure that our ideas/values are treated right and protected from unwanted edits. If magazines are overprotective about their rights, why aren't we?

    I think a blog like yours is a good place to feed a discussion about this and to make both competition entrants and maybe even the jury aware of these issues. If you disagree, please ignore the above.

    Best, Jakob

  11. When suburbia is discussed in practice, I always have to think of James Wines' wonderful drawings 'Highrise of Homes' (

    Perhaps this is the only solution where the spatial satisfaction of suburbia (two-car garage, lawn, pool, etc.) and urban density coexist?

    Do we need to reinvent suburbia? If energy prices continue to increase suburbia will eventually cease to be occupied. It can then be reclaimed by nature – the new green-belt perhaps?
    JG Ballard wonderfully envisioned the world of 2145 in the aftermath of 'global warming' in his novel The Drowned World (1962)

    Squint/ Opera beautifully illustrated this world in their series Flooded London.

  12. Hey Geoff,

    I have a question. Is this an international competition?..What I mean is, if I'm not American or Canadian, am I still eligible to participate and win a prize?

    I saw the "Eligibility" section of the Official Rules and it did not address any Nationality issues so I assume non-Westerners are eligible to participate..

    Are they?

    Please reply as soon as possible, hopefully before July 31st.

    Many thanks.

  13. I have a great idea. We'll demolish the suburbs and replace them with modern, sustainable, box shaped houses with imperceptible variation. Everyone who lives there will be forced to wear dark rimmed funky glasses and thrift store chic. They will all drive the exact same reconfigured bio diesel VW Passat and have solar cookers that they gather around on Friday nights to eat quinoa. Here, the grown ups will buoey eachothers self worth by mocking the archaic methods of their predecessors who used to carefully place gnomes in their non-native species gardens.

    Reburbians will teach important lessons to Suburbians. Those poor ignorant bastards who used to watch big screen tv's and teach their kids how to be deer hunters and cheerleaders…they will cast aside their 24oz cans of Budweiser and see that this is for their own good. We will make them weigh their hormonally large children at the farmers market (that they walked to) and only allow them to purchase organic locally grown food products. They must ride bicycles, share grey water, compost their own feces, and limit their trips to Walmart to once per year. We will set an edict to live by that encourages individuality, tolerance, and above all…progress.

  14. hey what happened with the competition?..isn't today the last day of judging?…we havent heard anything since the 31st july

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