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The Contemporary Suburb:
A Response to Fishman’s "Technoburb
"

Written for The Paper Store, Inc.
by May Hall 10/98

.....In his works Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and

Fall of Suburbia
and Megalopolis Unbound Robert

Fishman (1989; 1990) argued that the development

of a new kind of city, the technoburb, was

occurring that sharply contrasted the suburban

development of the 1960s and 1970s. It was

Fishman’s contention that the technoburb, created

as a result of expansion due to technological

development and the insurgence of technical

civilizations surrounding major metropolitan

areas, determined significant differences from

earlier suburban regions. While Wallock and Sharpe

(1994) agreed with the supposition that

differences could be related through a

sociological and evolutionary perspective of the

suburb, they contradicted the central message of

Fishman’s works by asserting that these same

communities also demonstrated similar

characteristics as their ancestral suburbs.

.....In order to understand the foundation for this

argument, it is necessary to consider the views of

a number of sociologists, historians and urban

planners as they relate the transformation of the

suburbs, and consider the arguments of Margaret

Marsh, Mark Baldassare, Joel Garreau, and Jean

Gottman as they support or negate the views of

both Fishman and the team of Wallock and Sharpe

(1994). By evaluating the views presented in

Wallock and Sharpe’s (1994) article Bold New City

or Built-Up ‘Burb? Redefining Contemporary

Suburbia
it is possible to recognize the

foundations of the challenge to Fishman’s

perspective.

.....In Megalopolis Unbound, Robert Fishman (1990)

recognizes that architects, sociologists and urban

planners have considered the changes in the

American landscape, and he relates these through

the use of a number of common terms, including

edge city (also utilized by Garreau, 1992),

sprawl, spread city, and terms which provide a

view that suggests the extension of urban regions

through out what were once described as suburban

and even rural areas. Growth in the suburbs,

including the influx of businesses, increasing

growth in varied populations, and changes in the

economic base of these communities has led to the

development of the view that either these suburbs

are simply swollen and unable to function or a

process of wiping out the distinction between the

city and the suburb is currently underway

(Fishman, 1990). It is Fishman’s contention that

neither of these arguments is actually true, but

instead, that a new kind of city is emerging, a

technoburb, that is distinguishable both from the

city and from suburban communities, and is based

primarily in the "amenities of technological

civilization" and the extension of technology

based businesses into communities on the fringe of

larger urban centers (Fishman, 1990). Further,

Fishman (1990) asserts, the transformation of

these regions has occurred to such an extent that

there are few similarities between the technoburb

and their ancestral suburbs.

.....Fishman is not the only theorist who has argued

that the transformation of the suburban regions

through the insurgence of technical companies and

technological amenities has transformed suburbs

into these "new cities." Other theorists including

Garreau (1989) and Muller (1981) have suggested

that the basic structure of the suburb as a

segment of an urban center has clearly changed,

and suburbs have been reshaped in the process of

striving for their own autonomy. Garreau’s (1989)

arguments are especially convincing as he relates

the socioeconomic, cultural and ethnic components

of suburban development, suggesting that the

suburban communities have delineated themselves

from their urban centers.

.....Garreau’s arguments substantiate the difference

between suburban communities of the past (the

history of the suburbs) and present suburban

development. Garreau outlines the elements that

led to the development of the suburb and of

individual and identifiable subculture components

of the suburb, and uses these to demonstrate that

the suburbs have developed many of the central

components of the city. Suburbs are no longer

simply places where individuals who work in the

city live and commute from for their employment in

the industrial centers. As more and more

businesses have moved outside of the city for land

opportunities, less expensive operational costs,

and greater availability for office and industrial

space, the development of the suburbs as small but

distinguishable "urban" communities has led to

what Garreau outlines as the basic components of

the end of the history of the suburbs. In its

place, the development of a separate urban

subculture appears to be in place, and Garreau’s

arguments support the premises of Fishman in

devising a focus on the autonomous suburban

landscape.

.....Mark Gottdiener and George Kephart (1991) also

suggest that there are components that have

assisted in the creation of separated urban

centers within what were once suburban regions,

suggesting that the progression of urbanization in

the suburbs has resulted in the creation of

distinguishable central metropolitan areas that

are not necessarily connected in any way other

than in their initiation to the substantial urban

centrality of the focal city. Muller (1981) also

recognized that the changes in the suburban

landscape has resulted in the development of a

multiplicity of urban centers, and that the

autonomy of the central city in what were once

suburban centers clearly distinguishes the change

that has occurred and underscores the

differentiation between more than once urban

epicenter.

.....Though these views underscores the premise of

Fishman and suggest that there is truly a separate

entity that has developed as the suburban history

has come to a close and the development of a

separated urban landscape with a central and

autonomous identity has emerged, there are also a

number of theorists who have maintained that the

suburban landscape and the emerging urban

development in these regions is still underscored

by a connection with the foundation of suburban

culture. Margaret Marsh (1990), for example,

argued the nature of the suburban subculture and

supported the contention that separation existed,

but that the separation was based in an autonomy

central to the identification of the dwellers of

the suburban landscape. The development of any

component of the new suburban landscape, then,

would be directly correlated to the perspectives

of those living in this community and to the

integration of suburban ideas within the process

of seeking an autonomous identity. It appears as

if this suggests almost a contradiction in the

view: that there is a necessary link to the

identity of the suburb based in its foundation

that becomes central to diversifying from the

urban center.

.....In more direct contrast to the views of

Fishman, Jean Gottman (1990) has argued that these

suburban communities are not actually fully

distinguishable, and that their autonomy has yet

to be determined. As a result, it is Gottman’s

contention development of the "new city," of a

separate and delineated culture and central

economic and sociological component is challenged

by the lack of autonomy asserted by Gottman.

Further, even the assertions of Fishman that are

based it the industrial development of the suburbs

and his premise of the technoburb, which is

devised on the basis of technical development and

regional progress in both business opportunities

and structural improvements, suggest that there is

no means of devising a history of the technoburb

that is not correlated to the characteristics of

the earlier suburban culture.

.....Baldassare (1986) also related the

transformation of the suburbs and considered the

implications both in terms of the seeking of an

urban identity and the opposition to this kind of

extensive change. Like Marsh, Baldassare suggested

that there is a link between the development of an

autonomous regional segmentation and the central

notion of the suburban identity that must be

recognized as an element in preventing the true

autonomy of suburban regions. In addition, the

assertions of Baldassare and Marsh regarding the

continued connection between suburban and urban

communities based on job markets, the availability

of industry and the transformation of demographic

components all come into view when considering

Fishman’s argument for the development of the

technoburb.

.....Perhaps one of the central arguments of Fishman

and other theorists like Garreau and Muller, that

is challenged by Sharpe and Wallock (1994) is that

the economic conditions of the suburbs has reached

a "critical mass" and that there is an increasing

complexity tot he economic features that results

in greater similarities between the suburbs and

the urban centers and underscores the necessity

and push for separation and autonomy. As

increasing industrial development and the entrance

of high technology changes the shape of the

suburban center, it is evident that the prevalence

of business and the functionality of the suburban

economy is going to require significant

development. It is Fishman’s assertion that

changes are already in place and that the

delineation of the technoburb from its suburban

base is the result of a segment of this economic

process.

.....Though Sharpe and Wallock (1994) recognize the

central arguments of Garreau, Muller, and Fishman,

they also define the link between current changes

and the past identity of the suburb as related by

Marsh, Baldassare and Gottman, and underscore the

concept that the suburb will always embrace

segments of their underlying economic and social

cultures. It can be asserted that the

transformation of the suburban landscape, the

changing demographics and the widespread

development in many regions where large scale

industrial and technical changes have been

implemented has defined a new progression in the

evolution of the suburb, but this does not change

the fundamental foundation.

.....Sharpe and Wallock (1994) offer a substantive

challenge to the convincing and arguable points

presented by Fishman. It is evident that the

prevalence of Fishman’s perspective on the

development of the suburb has considerable support

in terms of the sociological, economic and social

changes that have occurred to delineate the

suburban landscape from its urban center. But

Fishman’ argument that an evolutionary process has

resulted in not correlation between the history of

the suburb and the history of the technoburb can

clearly be challenged. There is evidential support

for the belief in the history of the suburb

existing also as the history of the technoburb and

the fact that identification in the suburban

landscape is a central component of the

development of the technoburb. It may appear easy

to wipe away the history of the suburb as it

progresses so far from its initial

characteristics, but there is a greater segment of

evidence that underscores the correlation between

the existing characteristics of the technoburb and

its foundation in the characteristics of the

suburb.

REFERENCES

Baldassare, Mark (1986). Trouble .....In Paradise: The Suburban .....Transformation in America.
.....New York, NY: Columbia .....University Press.

Fishman, Robert (1989). Bourgeois .....Utopias: The Rise and Fall of .....Suburbia. New York, NY: Basic .....Books.

Fishman, Robert (1990, Winter). .....Megalopolis Unbound. Wilson .....Quarterly, v 14, p. 28.

Garreau, Joel (1992). Edge City: .....Life on the New Frontier.
.....New York, NY: Anchor.

Gottdiener, M. and Kephart, G. .....(1991). The multinucleated .....metropolitan region:
.....A comparative analysis. In .....Kling, Robert et al Eds. .....Postsuburban California: The .....Transformation of Orange County .....Since World War II. Berkeley, .....CA: University of California .....Press.

Gottman, J. and Harper, R. (1990). .....Since Megalopolis: The Urban .....Writings of Jean Gottman. .....Baltimore: Johns Hopkins .....University Press.

Marsh, Margaret (1990). Suburban .....Lives. New Brunswick, NJ: .....Rutgers University Press.

Muller, Peter (1981). Contemporary .....Suburban America. Englewood .....Cliffs, NJ: Prenitice Hall.

Sharpe, W. and Wallock, L. (1994, .....March). Bold new city or .....built-up ‘burb? Redefining .....contemporary suburbia. American .....Quarterly, v46 n1, pp. 1-30.

Snitow, Ann (1988, March). .....Suburban on the Rocks: Waking .....up from the American Dream. .....Voice Literary Supplement,
.....p. 21.

 

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