Suburbia on sale

Our week-long excursion to Washington, DC that occurred in the context of our tandem-seminar „Berlin-Washington: Visionen und die historische Konstruktion von Hauptstädten im transatlantischen Vergleich” I had the opportunity to learn about both, Washington as the capital of the United States as well as Washington as a neighbourhood for their citizens.

The program organized by our hosts, guided us through these neighbourhoods, through the main areas of representation and policy exercise and gave us an interesting and insightful perspective of these parts of the town. Unfortunately, due bad weather conditions, we had to adjourn our walk eventually. Nevertheless, we got ample opportunities to discover more. Interesting and noticeable for me was the coexistence of the Seat of Government and the everyday life in one city which at this point describes best the major difference between Washington, DC and Berlin.

In Berlin a number of administration buildings are widely scattered throughout the city as a result of the cities history of department and reunification. Since then the government tries hard to centralize the power but still struggles with remotely located administration buildings.

Nevertheless, the government district in Berlin seems more connected to the city then in Washington. Maybe it is because the neighbourhoods are literally interweaved due to it’s centuries-old grown structure.

In Washington, in contrast, the city centre is defined by the Mall with the slightly elevated White House, the Capitol and the Library of Congress. The inhabited neighbourhoods were developed one after the other around the centre.

In one of the numerous discussions we had, our hosts confirmed our impression of the separation between Washington as a city and Washington as the capital of the United States. Those who are living in the adjacent periphery sense mostly the special feeling of the capital city when visiting places like the Mall for certain occasions or with friends and visitors.

The most exciting day for me personally was the visit in Suburbia. Although the issue of this topic wasn’t exactly the comparison of capitals itself, it was part of our program and gave me a great opportunity to look deeper into this subject.

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The night before we watched the US-Documentary Radiant City (2006) what was well scheduled. The documentation offered an insight of suburban structures. Structures we heard and knew about but weren’t able to visit entirely.

However, two of these settlements in the closer perimeter we visited the next day to see the as-is state: Greenbelt, a new type of living developed in the 1930s and Kentlands, an example of a „better“ suburbia. Kentlands was planned as one of the first projects by architect named Duany Plater-Zyberk. Duany Plater-Zyberk (DPZ) also formed the term New Urbanism due to the fact of their work in the 1980s.

I for myself wouldn’t consider this backward directed stage architecture as an architectural movement; even though the tour with a young unimpressive architect could not convince me of a „better“ suburbia.

Topics I connect with the term „new“ should be represented in far-reaching ideas for suburban living that meets requirements in a contemporary context. What we have seen was green living in vinyl. New Urbanism should be more honest to itself. Otherwise it is nothing more than a dress to sell something just „more pricey“ as Marina Khoury herself said. At least Mrs Khoury, from DPZ, was honest enough to explain that DPZ builds what the investor wishes. In my opinion a planer carries a high level of creative, social and environmental responsibility. It is by far not enough just helping to develop a homogenous and ideal world for the market.

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Interestingly appeared an edition of the magazine City Bauwelt, (No. 181, 12.09), an article entitled Abschied von Suburbia (Farewell to Suburbia). Some articles describe very well and with a careful consideration the history of development and the links to urban sprawls which made the magazine a valuable literature for my following weeks of vacation.

Even though I mentioned only a few peaks of our visit in Washington this does not mean I haven’t had plenty other enjoyable and exciting days, evenings and nights. It is, however, a need to thank Renee, Brad and their friends again. Monday night was a most relaxing event and the nicest in DC and it was a great pleasure to do this trip at the end of my studies. Thank you,  Alexandra.

Mando Diao-Video “Gloria”: scenes are taken in the ‘Kino International’

Some of Julia’s one thousand pics

Firsts

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It wasn’t the first time that I came to the United States, it wasn’t even my first visit to Washington, DC, but this visit to the United States was a journey of firsts, some firsts too petty to mention, some more important. My first burrito is one example, the first time I listened to old music another one. First time I bought cigarettes in the States, the first American suburb, the first time I saw a Mormon Temple as well as a church of Freemasons. The first time I saw a majority African American neighborhood and the first time a police officer told me he was going to Helsinki for vacation. The first time a built-in screen in a wall of someone’s house told me how the weather is going to be the next day and the first time I realised how late we go out in Berlin, and that that’s not entirely normal. First American BBQ and my first vegetarian BBQ too. First Taco. First time I had a healthy oatmeal breakfast (I imported that habit to Berlin and am still doing it). First time I lost weight instead of gaining it in the United States because I love all the amazing stuff that you can make out of fat and simple carbohydrates. First time I paid seven Dollars for a beer. First time I took the Chinatown Bus. First time I had Ethiopian food and the first time I wished I could drink beer in public and didn’t take that for granted. But also the first time I didn’t miss Berlin. Because one thing was not a first for me – my thirst of knowledge that led me to studying American studies for my first degree, the search for answers to my many questions that draw me to this country like moths to a flame. But it is also the first time I can’t put into words the feelings I had when I walked around, saw and experienced the land of the free and its people. I am out of words but one, and it’s only the lowest common factor:

«ambivalence»

Sixteen years after my first visit to Washington, my first impression of DC as an adult was a very powerful one, one I’ll probably never forget. I left the metro station escalator and saw a sign directing me to the White House, under which around six or seven homeless people had made themselves a bed for the night. I don’t know if others agree with me or agree to disagree, but what stayed with me most were the contrasts that I saw, the ambivalence of it all, which made my journey such a rewarding experience, enriching in every possible way. Be it this first glimpse of Washington, DC that I don’t get out of my mind. Or the fact that public life in the land of the free seems more restricted than would absolutely be necessary from my point of view. Nancy Pelosi’s tasteful and quiet office where I wanted to take off my shoes to keep it tidy and the theme park for the masses in the Capitol’s basement. The massive buildings and huge museums around the National Mall and the cute little houses in the historic district of Capitol Hill. The sleek V-shaped Vietnam Memorial and the World War II memorial. The elegant Union Station and the house of columns, the national Building Museum. The White House on TV and in reality. The rich and clean buildings and surroundings of DC’s downtown and the poor or homeless people struggling to get by without a safety net. Anacostia and Georgetown. Anacostia and Greenbelt. Anacostia and Kentlands. We in Anacostia. Being in the Capital of the most powerful state of the world and personally not being able to really see and grasp it in the entirety of its material and its conveyed importance.
And that’s where I run out of words. I only have one more thing to say:

Thank you.

Thank you for all the firsts of my two American weeks. Thank you for my speechlessness, because it’s also very inspiring. And thank you for everything we saw off the beaten path, your openness, the conversations we had and meeting all of you.

Pics of Washington taken by Alexandra

 

Pics of D.C. – by Dominique

A choice of the pics I shot in D.C. – a bit too compressed, maybe…

XXL

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So this is my first little article on the blog. I started drawing my “XXL-impression” when I was still in Washington and now continued being at home in Berlin. It’s pretty much what I remember or what I first think of when I gather pictures/images in my head about either the United States in general or Washington more particularly. As I already mentionned during our discussion on Pete’s roof terrasse, each of these images can be interpreted in a positve and negative way. Your interpretation! :). Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures because I had left my camera at home, but I’m really looking forward to re-meeting my fellow students and remember this fabulous journey! THANK YOU!