Building Community in the Suburb: Negotiating overconsumption + standards of living

"The pace of life has accelerated to the point where everyone is breathless.”1

We are experiencing an epidemic of lack of time. This is an issue that crosses race, gender, and class. Influenced by deviant marketing ploys and consumerist ideals, we are constantly reminded that material culture will allow us to momentarily escape our busy lives. A newer model or a larger home promises benefits such as greater happiness, or higher social standing. Beginning early in our life, we become participants in the cycle of ‘cultural clutter’ by maintaining, sorting, and replacing consumer goods. The home, a place where we seek refuge and comfort, has become a site of overconsumption and overwhelm. Technology promised to provide more leisure time and relaxation, and thus, less work. However, the care required for item accumulation has resulted in the opposite, which has isolated us within the walls of our homes.

Resource depletion is an imminent issue for Western culture, as “the world’s garbage dumps are filling up with toxic artifacts of industrial culture.”2 Current standards of suburban living promote forms of consumption and transportation that are not sustainable. Suburbanites must become aware of their contribution to wasteful culture due to the influence of corporately owned chain stores. We are draining resources by constantly buying, throwing away, and replacing. No longer are we consumers, but have become consumed, left with a void for personal connection that we cannot fill.

By designing urban spaces with efficiency, moderation, and equity, we can realize a cooperative, mindful culture. This thesis will address how shared spaces and amenities in suburban communities can be reimagined with a focus on sustainable, sociable living. This reprogramming would contribute to the local economy, reduce waste, and promote a culture of sharing. Amenities such as the corner store would be reimagined as a site for exchange and socialization, with surrounding programming to support community engagement. Citizens would have more leisure time to engage in mindful tasks, providing a more fulfilling way of life.


1Dr. Richard Swenson, as quoted in John de Graaf, David Wann, Thomas H. Naylor, Affluenza: How Overconsumption Is Killing Us — and How to Fight Back, Third Edition (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc, 2014), 35.

2Ellen Upton and J. Abbott Miller, The Bathroom, the Kitchen, and the Aesthetics of Waste: A Process of Elimination, (Cambridge: MIT List Visual Arts Center, 1992), 71