Date of Degree
Was there a "real place" to be found in the sprawling "new city" landscape? This interview study considers the categories of sprawl as a placeless, apolitical space, and of the suburban white middle class, to explore how "place" is variously understood by homeowners confronting rapid spatial reconfiguration. The interviewees are residents of a municipality located in one of New Jersey's "growth corridors." Emphasis is on homeowners' experiences, and on what they view as problems related to rapid growth.
Given the long settlement history of this northeastern seaboard region, this study finds that relations among homeowners had changed over time in surprising ways. In the present era, homeowners are differentiated according to historical position (settlement layer), taste culture, and related housing ideologies. Housing is treated as many things. Among these things it is a commodity, a valued property, exclusionary or inclusionary space, and also a moral stance vis-a-vis others in a wider body politic.
The sprawling "new city" landscape is not an impersonal space, a haphazard jumble of spatial uses. It is instead fractured into separate political entities, each a work in progress. In New Jersey, "home rule" grants residents of its 566 municipalities control the power to make zoning determinations (within overarching guidelines). Residents are often in conflict as they engage in a politicized process of balancing one spatial use against another and one set of values against another, never entirely losing track of a necessary competition with other municipalities for revenue-generating clean ratables. They are not only users of space; they are also its makers.
Housing, space and place are subjects of particular relevance for planners. Knowledge of residents' categories of meaning and experience is an indispensable prerequisite for specific hypothesis-testing research and survey design aimed at identifying problems and solving them. Interviewees do not view sprawl as a problem that has to be solved. They do not need a small town configuration with a Main Street, as posited in a New Urbanist model. What they do view as problematic is the shrinkage of open space, necessary for the fulfillment of their different visions of place.
Leslie, Lael, "Turning Space into Place in the Sprawling “New City”: Shrinking Space, Visions of Place, Homeowners in Conflict" (2008). CUNY Academic Works.