I lived in a housing development in the Philadelphia suburbs – Fox Heath – for much of my childhood. Despite the rustic promises of its name, there was a striking absence of both foxes and heaths, as the construction likely destroyed the natural habitat of such things.
I didn’t realize how strange these developments were until I noticed similar places sprouting up where farms and trees used to be, and in between other housing developments throughout the suburbs.
Looking out the window of an airplane, streets look like deep wounds in the landscape below, stitched together
by crowded plots. You can count the unnatural amount of cul-de-sacs and smell the fresh paint.
Housing developments have popped up all over Pennsylvania as developers and investors continue to try to meet housing demands and encapsulate the American Dream in aluminum siding.
It wasn’t until a recent trip to New Jersey that I realized how far the American Dream had gone.
Take for example Pier Village in Longbranch. It combines high-end shopping and dining with luxury beachfront living space. With stores and restaurants on the ground floor and condominiums on the upper three floors, the Applied Development Company has literally put residents on top of the local shopping district, providing a charming, living experience for those who can afford it.
It was bizarre seeing such a place and noting the lack of both Piers and Villages, further proof that the names given to these places are patently false.
It was the evolution of places like the 300,000-square-foot shopping center, Main Street, in Exton, Pa., which, according
to its architects, sought to replicate an old-fashioned town square shopping district. By leasing cute brick buildings to retail chains, leaving some on-street parking and vintage-looking streetlights, developers have fooled shoppers into thinking it’s different from every other shopping center. To their credit, this shows that developers are at least trying to be creative. But it’s unnecessary to try to pretend it’s something it’s not.
To illustrate the absurdity of these schemes, imagine Wal-Mart doing this. If the American Dream is in the suburbs,
then the American Reality is in Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart could solve many of the country’s domestic problems by opening its doors and providing living space to the public.
Wal-Mart customers would become employees, still leaving them in prime proximity to the local shopping district a few aisles away. Wal-Mart has already begun to experiment with low-cost generic drugs, so they could eat, sleep, shop, work and medicate all under one roof.
This living arrangement would alleviate many of the country’s problems – low-cost housing, unemployment and the rising cost of living. Commutes, automobile emissions and the demmand for oil would decline. This would protect the environment and reduce dependence on foreign trade. With some imagination, Wal-Mart essentially could exist as an independent state.
But that will never happen because we love to hate Wal-Mart. So if we wouldn’t want this situation, why would we allow private developers to do this with places like Pier Village and Main Street at Exton?
They’re not solving any problems; only covering up existing problems and creating more.
Find someplace authentic, someplace old and make it your home. The American Dream can still be altered to fit the needs of Americans without quartering people into absurd housing arrangements.
Brian Krier can be reached at