Accepted paper:

Mining suburbs for sustainable urbanism: an ethnography of suburban redesign in the American West


Rachel Heiman (The New School)

Paper short abstract:

This paper focuses on a massive master-planned TOD community in the U.S. first developed by a mining company and now by a global hedge fund. It theorizes tensions over sustainable design at the intersection of corporate concerns, local politics, infrastructural maintenance, and regional culture.

Paper long abstract:

There has been a growing literature on architecture, planning, and policy efforts to rethink sprawling, automobile suburbs amid volatile economic conditions, climate change, and carbon concerns. Yet here has been little ethnographic research in the United States that explores the transformation of sedimented ideals of suburban dwelling as people's everyday routines and familiar spaces shift amid efforts to redesign and retrofit the infrastructural and aesthetic landscape of American suburbia. This paper draws on ethnographic fieldwork in a 4,000-acre, 20,000-unit master-planned community under construction in the American West by a subsidiary of one the largest mining companies in the world, whose remaining assets in the project were recently sold to a global hedge fund. Now 13 years into an anticipated 25-year build out on reclaimed land once used for mining activities, the suburb in which the project is located is now on the list of fastest growing cities in the United States and is experiencing political tensions over the influence of the project's design on the broader city. Designed by a California-based firm known for environmentally friendly, transit-oriented New Urbanism projects, with an award-winning advanced storm water retention system and housing options that enable higher densities, the project's location in the state of Utah—where environmental skepticism looms large and the Smart Growth Plan is for "voluntary, locally-implemented, market-based solutions"—provides fertile ground on which to explore multi-scalar tensions over sustainable development at the intersection of neoliberal governance, corporate social responsibility, shareholder value, local politics, infrastructural maintenance, and regional culture.

panel Sui03
Clashing scales of infrastructural development