Defining the Modern Urban Landscape

In  A Field Guide to Sprawl, Dolores Hayden gives names to many of the structural and stylistic occurrences seen in modern American cities known collectively as sprawl .  Hayden describes sprawl as “…..Unregulated growth expressed as careless new use of land and other resources as well as abandonment of older built area.” (page 7)   It is within the concept of urban sprawl that Hayden adds new vocabulary like leap frog, boomburg and alligator to the urban lexicon.  New words can be used by people to describe the specific things that are happening to them and their communities. Anthropologist that study linguistics suggest that the shaping of a culture’s reality is partially formed by its language. I wonder what they would say about the  Soon it is possible that you may hear a resident of South Phoenix say  “That multi-tasker was torn down and replaced with generica.” Or “This used to be such a  colorful neighborhood but all the new developments are monochrome.” 


New ideas that could be added to sprawl lexicon for South Phoenix. 


Generica is used to describe buildings that could exist anywhere. Generica can often be seen in the large corporate businesses like Wall Mart, Lowes, and Home Depot. These buildings tend to look the same and be laid out the same so that if you randomly woke up inside one of them or in one of their parking lots you would have no idea were in the country you were, because all outward signs of location have been removed.  Buildings that display generica tend to display nothing of visual interest aside from the brand name labeled on the outside of the building. The standard style for generica is a large square building with a large square parking lot few trees and nothing interesting to look at. The intent seems to be to get the people inside to spend their money by boring them with their surroundings. 

In South Phoenix the generica style is highly desired by some of the new residents because it is familiar to them, and some people seem to believe that it will define the new image of South Mountain Village. Many people also seem to equate generica will community economic prosperity (?).    

Unicolour, Monochrome, One Brush Palette, Tan-on-Tan Color Blindness Test

The above terms are all useful in describing the tendency for new developments around Phoenix to paint homes only one color. Entire developments of houses are all painted the same color, generally a sandy colored shade of tan.  In these neighborhoods the owners are usually forbidden to paint their homes different colors than those approved by their Home Owners Association.  Ostensibly, the Home Owners Associations are attempting to maintain that resale value of the homes by not allowing any of the residents to do anything the might affect the resale value of their neighbor’s homes. The effect of trying to maintain resale values is that the neighborhoods lack the liveliness inspired  by colorful surroundings. 

South Phoenix has become a new hot bed for the creation of subdivisions that are painted in sterile colors here are some examples



A multi-tasker is a business that combines two seemingly unrelated businesses under one roof. A car wash where you can get your hair cut while you wait for your car is one example.  A coffeehouse that also contains a chiropractor and a masseuse, or movie house where you can get your taxes done are other multi-taskers. A multi-tasker may be set up so that two businesses can work together to cut down on overhead. Some multi-taskers just seem to defy explanation, but that is just part of their eclectic personality that makes multi-taskers appear to be the opposite of generica. The battle between a multi tasker’s uniqueness and generica’s blandness is being waged in South Phoenix: on one block you may see a very interesting or different store/home and less than a block away you may see a standard strip mall that appears to have been ripped out of the suburbs and dropped into the middle of the city.       


Hayden, Dolores, 2004 A Field Guide to Sprawl W.W. Norton and Company, New York

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