Roadside Infractions: Defying Suburbia with Simmering Compounds, Speeding Mailboxes and Objects Mounted on Posts
A highway I travel daily and have come to know very well links an ever-expanding Atlanta to one of the fastest growing counties in the United States; it then continues on to link that county with mine - one of the slowest growing and poorest in the metropolitan region. There have been remarkable changes over the past six years, the most obvious ones the result of the non-stop construction of residential subdivisions, big box retail centers and new roads in the fast growing county. More subtle changes have taken place over the line in my county, where the developers are descending but the locals appear to be circling the wagons through mutating assemblages of buildings, curious landscaping choices, cryptic signage and widely varying setbacks. The constant, non-choreographed movement along this corridor makes apparent the divide between urban (and suburban) social aspirations and the rural desire for the construction of self through highly personal acts of place-making, place-marking and place-defending. The collective will articulated here is much stronger than the symbols employed by individuals; symbols that range, of course, from the defiant to the nostalgic. This doomed little stretch of semi-rural highway puts forth many questions; here are three: Is environmental, social and political progress slowed or damaged by urban and suburban ideals and practices that do not extend cultural currency to rural or highly individualized aesthetics and modes of being? Has the dominant media and cultural obsession with (and dependence upon) highly aestheticized lifestyles actually humiliated the notion of life and the construction of self as a creative endeavor, rather than a mimetic one? When did painting flames on a mailbox become an act of aggression?
Keywords: Suburbia, Rural development, Aesthetic identity, Cultural identity, Construction of self, Media
Prof. Tina Simonton
Assistant Professor of Architecture, College of Architecture, Georgia Institute of Technology