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Is the Most Absurd Community the One That Tries to Please Everyone?

A satirical new exhibit explores what might happen if we tried meet every single planning and design demand.

Nate Berg

Countless plans and proposals call for the creation of equitable cities, ecologically sustainable towns and socially inclusive housing developments. These ideals, while great goals that are truly needed, are always a little too utopian to ever completely come true. What city has ever existed that’s good for every citizen? What community meets everyone’s individual needs exactly? And yet so many design proposals purport to be able to meet these aspirations.

With this unfortunate truth in mind, and through a highly satirical design proposal, Yale School of Architecture assistant dean and professor Keith Krumwiede explores this emphasis on trying to please everyone in a worthwhile exhibit called "Freedomland."

“In one bold, absurdist move, 'Freedomland' colonizes the super grid that blankets America, attempting in the process to solve every problem, please every citizen," reads the exhibit description, currently on display at the Woodbury University Hollywood Gallery in Los Angeles. "Like the work of a benevolent (or perhaps delusional) dictator, it seeks to accommodate every wish, every desire, no matter how contradictory and to combine them in a master plan that sets out a beautiful, if seemingly naïve, vision for a better, more harmonious world,”

"Freedomland" identifies the inherent clash of disparate desires that define the emerging politics of space and citymaking. The frame through which Krumwiede looks at the desires of modern-day America is that local farming is good, urban living is good, and that the majority still wants the “spatial luxuries” of the single-family house. In a highly patternistic plan, all three of those goals are appeased ... with predictably absurd results.

Each town is a square, three miles by three miles, subdivided into 36 square sections of 160 acres each, the entire landscape of which is bisected by primary roads at half-mile intervals. At the center of each town are four 160-acre infrastructural squares – an energy area with a field of solar panels, a water reservoir, a “ten-acre big box of community and commerce” market square, and “an ever-growing, manicured pyramid of refuse” in the waste square.

Each 160-acre square in the rest of the town is further subdivided into four 40-acre plots, one-quarter of which is used for housing, and the rest is preserved as open and agricultural space. The housing styles, the exhibition notes, are selected from “the country’s greatest builders” and represent the most popular designs in the country. Each housing plan and neighborhood layout is detailed. To facilitate crop rotation and the short lifespan of modern housing, each neighborhood is demolished every 20 years and rotated counterclockwise to the next 40-acre plot.

It’s a modern-day, tongue-in-cheek take on Thomas Jefferson’s ideas about a rural democratic society of citizen farmers.

Freedomland pokes at three competing ambitions of an urban setting. This triplet will never actually be born, and Krumwiede’s 21st century settlement scheme shows the absurdity of trying to design its conception.

Photo credit: Nate Berg

About the Author

  • Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.