Emergent Urbanism

Rediscovering Urban Complexity

The collapse of rural cities

The advent of low-cost motoring and extension of expressways through rural areas made possible a form of urbanisation that few people had foreseen. Le Corbusier had dreamed the automobile to allow the working man to live in the country and work in the city. The suburbs made that dream real, or at least as far as the suburbs were a pastiche of the country. What the automobile did to radically transform rural landscapes was make it possible for someone to live in the country and work a hundred kilometers elsewhere in the country. The possibilities for economic relationships this opened transformed the country into rural cities, gigantically sprawling cities invisible to the naked eye. The fact of this totalistic urbanization of rural land became visible only when building typologies characteristic of the suburbs started appearing in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. A subdivision of identical houses, or a big box store, surrounded by nothing but fields makes no economic sense unless this subdivision is actually part of a very complex urban tissue. This is what had emerged in the country. Ruralites had all started living urban lifestyles.

Now this urban tissue is being starved of its blood. It is collapsing so fast that everyone can see it happen. Whole businesses who had relied for labor on tens of thousands of square miles of commute regions are seeing their employees beg to be laid off. Loans in vehicles and buildings are going into default. This is what had been predicted for the suburbs. It is happening in the most sprawled city, the countryside, first.

The suburbs can be remodeled to adapt to the post-automobile city, but the rural city is doomed for good. Rural populations are going to migrate into the remaining urban cities, aggravating the drive towards the centers. When we visit the countryside years from now, we will witness the ghost subdivisions and big box stores of the least sustainable development there ever was.

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