FACS 1900 C
Arts and Ideas
Instructor: Robert Gill
Room: ACW 206 for lecture, ACE 006 for tutorial
Time: Friday 11:30 to 1:30 PM for lecture, 2:30 to 3:30 for tutorial
April 17, 2009
Tell your friends who are absent today to screen Radiant City and take notes. There will
be a question on the test about it. We are looking for evidence of the ideas we are
exploring in the course. The concept of discourse for instance. Foucault’s concern with
the notion of discourse because he feels that language is too limited a concept. Language
points to signs, words, images. We place too much emphasis on meaning, how meaning
is constructed in culture. What do we forget? Shout it out! A lens, you’re getting warmer.
Gaze of power, you’re getting closer. The body is the correct answer.
A central problem for Foucault, how do we understand the body? This is a really crucial
issue, you need to get it clear today. We are focusing on the body in this part of the term.
Reading bodies, the racialized bodies, the Oriental body. How power is focused on the
body in a variety of different spaces. Here you become a student, which requires a docile
body that pays attention. The reason it took us so long to come up with the body as an
answer is that culturally we block out the body.
We forget the body is mediated, we just think it’s there to the point we forget that it’s
there. Today when you watch this film think about the relationship between the city as a
space, the city as a discourse and how this discursive space is constantly shaping a
particular kind of body. The body of the urban dweller and a social system, suburbia. We
want to learn what kind of body, of experience does the suburbia produce. The film is
fun, it has a light hearted attitude, it is deconstructive. Focus on the film as evidence
about this idea of the body. In your tutorial have this discussion.
Peter: Have one discussion question ready for your tutorial, I will be collecting them
(tutorials 11 and 12.)
“Modern life demands and is waiting for a new kind of plan, both for the house and for
the city.” Le Corbusier, 1931.
Video Presentation: Radiant City
• The film follows the Moss family (mother, father, three children) as they adjust to
life in Evergreen, a suburbia still under construction. We find out towards the end
of the film that they are a fictional family, not a real one. Their story is
interspersed with comments on suburban life from various urban designers and
social thinkers as well as the local real estate agent. Statistics relevant to a
particular subtopic flash on the screen from time to time.
1 • Evergreen is described by the real estate agent as “beautiful and popular with
young professionals like yourself.” The oldest Moss child shows us his
“community” in the suburb. The landscape looks rather unappealing. “You get up,
jump this fence here and climb the water tower!”
• Dad: “We’ve been here for over a year, it is still under construction. It will take a
while for it to feel like the community we bought into.” Son: “My new school is
getting built over there, by the time it’s finished I will be out of high school.”
• Mom: “We picked this house because it didn’t have a cell phone tower. Now
there is a cell phone tower. Every time I drive by my teeth start to tingle.” Son:
“The shopping place is way down there, it has this gas station where my friend
was hit by a car that fractured his pelvis.”
• Son: “My sister Jennifer is 10 years old. This is our house, we lived here over a
year. I don’t know anyone who lives around us. I know this neighbor’s dog but I
don’t know the owner.”
• Dad: “Where I grew up there were trees everywhere and they would touch each
other, the trees on both sides of the road would meet. That’s how I picture a
home. I want to do the best for my kids to be happy.”
• Designer: Ken Greenberg, designer in Toronto, stands in a charming little section
of town to show us an example of a congenial small town environment that
suburbs aspire to. Yet this is the hardest thing to recreate in a new setting.
• Urban critic: James Heeler, author of The Geography of Nowhere, tells us that
most buildings built in North America in recent years are brutal, depressing, ugly,
unhealthy and spiritually demeaning.
• Dad: “We needed a bigger house with three kids, the baby was a year old. Anne
always wanted a new house. There’s only so many communities where you can
get that and they’re far out. You can fix an older house in the city but it will cost
you a fortune. We ended up in Evergreen.”
• Philosopher: Mark Kingwell comments that humans have always found meaning
in living with other humans, community is what defines us, without it we are
either beasts or gods. The suburb is a reverse movement to the urban
agglomeration of people, it’s people fleeing from each other into isolation. We go
there seeking an ideal that is impossible to achieve and find ourselves stranded in
these sterile environments.
• Designer: People live in suburbs because they have incentives to do so, such as
owning a very large home with backyard, reasonable cost of property, access to
2 the countryside. As long as these incentives are offered, people will keep buying
houses in the suburbs.
• Anne shows us her house, with plenty of space inside. The kids show us the
electrical boxes and the phone boxes for the whole block, right on their lawn. “We
get a discount for having them on our lawn.” Jennifer boasts that she can dance on
top of the boxes as they’re not dangerous. The average size of a North American
suburban home has increased steadily over the past three decades.
• Designer: Here in this section of town we have a postcard image of the suburbia
people want, walking to shops, schools, playgrounds, a real environment. That’s
what you need to make a neighborhood. We’ve just come out of that beautiful
environment and we are standing here at the fault line. Industrial suburbia opens
up, everything is built for the car. We are a block away from the small town
original suburbia that everyone wanted so much. In the industrial suburbia
something different has emerged which barely resembles that earlier world.
• The realtor, Peggy Scott, tells us that Evergreen has everything a family would
need, including new power centers. Why would you go anywhere else if you can
come here and do your shopping within minutes of where you live?
• The schedule for the Moss family is all color coded and very precise, to cover
everybody’s needs for transportation. Every member of the family is assigned a
different color magnet that gets moved around on the magnetic board. “We do it
month by month.”
• Son: “This is my school, a 20 minutes bus ride. You can find a more direct route
by bike. At first I liked the moving idea, but then after you do it you regret doing
it, you miss your old house. Change is inevitable though.”
• Father: “It’s a two hours a day drive to work, I don’t mind it, it’s my time alone. I
think about stuff, about my life. I listen to my music. It’s kind of meditative.”
Statistic: The average North American driver spends 55 eight hour days driving
• Kingwell: Suburbia is a place where people sleep and then they travel to work.
Someone can enter their cubicle without ever coming face to face with another
human. You get to the point where people don’t tolerate each other, we don’t
understand each other’s views, a suburban city is an intolerant city.
• What does it do to the idea of citizenship when we don’t share public space with
others? It’s not about the car, it’s about the way we choose to live. The
deteriorating sense of citizenship, people live so isolated from each other.
3 • Heeler: It’s an amazingly brutal environment, with chain link as a ornamental
material, more suitable for dog runs and prisons. The assault on your neurology is
impressive, you have to be here to appreciate it.
• Dad: “I’m making the best of the situation, it’s a nice neighborhood, the house is
great. I’m not sitting around the house feeling sorry for myself. We’re doing a
musical on the suburbia, that is keeping us out of trouble. I’m the co-creative
director for the theater group, it’s a funny show, I found it on the internet. It
makes fun of the suburbs but it’s not really satire, OK, there is a lot of satire, but
it makes you think about a lot of stuff too.”
• Heeler: The 20 century was like a nervous breakdown of architecture, a cartoon-
ification of our buildings. There is a clownish aspect to these vistas of suburbia
and also a tragic element. The greatest misallocation of resources in the history of
the world. It’s not going to work very well in the long run.
• Designer: “Suburbia has places to live, to work, to shop, and schools. In a
conventional suburban system all houses are in one area, then there are the
shopping centers where all you do is shop, then the office parks where all you do
is work. Sometimes you can’t even get lunch in the office building. They
disaggregated the elements of daily life, you have to drive from one area to the
other.” Statistic: Traffic injuries and deaths are three times more common in the
suburbs than in inner cities.
• Urban critic: The issue of walkability in neighborhoods. That is what failed in
suburban design. Before the second world war neighborhoods have a walkable
environment. There’s places to go, convenience stores, schools and churches, a
mix of uses that is difficult to build now. In our North American environments the
cars are the most important thing. The only way you can get to a convenience
store is by car. A pretty mean environment. Statistic: The average suburban
resident is 6.3 pounds heavier than the average person.
• Dad: “There are mountains in the distance, that was our view, then they put up all
these houses. If you look through that guy’s house you can see the mountains!
Anne does not want to hear the complaints. If she could move to the city and have
a nice house, she would, but we can’t. The situation we’re in sucks and we’re
complaining when there is nothing else to do.” Mom: “They blame me a little bit,
it feels like that sometimes. They put it on me.”
• Urban critic: The unwritten law is that you shall buy one car for each adult to
operate in this kind of place. About half of North Americans don’t have access to
a car. They are too old, too young or too poor to drive. That is very
disempowering, when for your daily needs you are depending on others to drive
4 • Designer: The developer achieves the higher densities required these days through
bylaws by clumping it all together. This is setting up a social apartheid, the
multifamily areas are seen as less desirable than the single family developments.