As a kid, I remember taking a school bus to day camp in the summer of 1998. The Butler County Veterans Highway was under construction and everyday our bus would pass over the then uncompleted interstate. The construction looked strange to me as if the workers below were building a "road to nowhere." Nearly fifteen years later and the highway certainly isn't a path through wasteland anymore. The highway's sides are flanked by sound barriers and large homes peaking out above the concrete walls, the exits are buffets of fast food options and crops of businesses. In the early 2000's, population surged along the Route 129 corridor allowing once small towns to grow into some of Cincinnati's largest suburban areas.
|- Suburbs bordering Rt. 129 north of Cincinnati, Ohio. Image via Cincinnati-Transit.|
I was born at a hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio, but am a child of the suburbs. I spent the first two decades of my life growing up in Fairfield - a suburb about 20 miles north of the Queen City. As I got older, a developing interest in photography pushed me to look at the world around me. I quickly outgrew and began to reject the notion of suburbia preferring to be downtown or in Cincinnati if I could help it. Today I'd take a bar in Over-The-Rhine over a Buffalo Wild Wings or Applebees any day. I find the city to be vibrant, full of life and interesting at almost every turn. Even in the dead of winter, middle of the night with no one on the streets - there's a pulse and energy to urban areas. It's a feeling you can't get in a subdivision neighborhood where the street lights are rivaled by the glow of televisions inside similar looking homes.
I don't hate suburbia, so please, don't misinterpret me. In fact, I currently live in the suburb of Fort Thomas, Kentucky. I chose to move there since it's cheaper than most places downtown, close to the university I attend and within a ten minute drive of the urban core. I realize that people will have varying tastes and that to some, the suburban lifestyle is more appealing. What I take issue with is the notion that the suburbs are some sort of escape or "paradise" away from the "ghetto."
When the "greatest generation" came back across the Atlantic after World War II, they found their own "new world" like the Europeans did centuries earlier. Although this time, that new world was one of cheap automobiles and cheap housing built on what was once farmland outside of major urban centers. As America's post war population and economy boomed, so did our suburban growth. Highways created new commuting paths to well paying jobs that allowed the average American to afford a car -which enabled him to make the commute along the new interstates. We constructed circle freeways with satellite subdivisions that orbit downtown centers.
|- Views along Interstate 275 circle freeway.|
Populations grew, suburbia pushed outwards, longer commutes were tolerated and with them so was the traffic. New subdivisions were created, new businesses sprang up and it has all repeated itself as suburbia has pushed further and further outwards. Suburban neighborhoods appeared the same, varying only slightly with time as they were constructed.
|- Butler Township, a suburb of Dayton, Ohio, as seen from the interstate.|
If you've ever seen the motion picture version of Rocky and Bullwinkle (and most people haven't), there's a scene when the duo is trekking across America and Bullwinkle mentions that he thinks they're passing the same town again - implying that it looked the same as all the other highway exits he's passed. Suburbia across America lacks unique identity, appearing similarly all across the nation. As developers met suburban demand - new strip malls, fast food joints, retail businesses and office parks were cheaply built and mimicked from town to town. As the suburbs have grown and aspects of them have become abandoned, a certain familiarity and recognition can still be found.
|- Even an abandoned Pizza Hut still looks like a Pizza Hut.|
In the suburbs there is decay, there is neglect and there is abandonment. Instead of the historically significant structures and buildings designed with creativity and flare like those seen in older urban areas, we see repeated structures that are indicative of suburban culture itself: abandoned gas stations, fast food chains and strip malls. Even when they're left to rot, these structures still retain an easily identifiable image as they're quietly ignored by the passing SUV's.
|- Abandoned shell station.|