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Suburbanization

“The future is going to be boring. The suburbanization of the planet will continue, and the suburbanization of the soul will follow soon after.” — J.G. Ballard

We’ve lived in downtown Fargo since 1985 in a homeI bought there five years before, when the center-city was collapsing, that is, when it was in a natural cycle of renewal which required the phoenix-like act of being reborn from its own ashes. You couldn’t give downtown property away in 1980.]; I bought mine for $15.5K. The Agincourt CBD hasn’t experience quite the same scale of pressure to redevelop, but surely there has been some evidence of this biological cycle.

Expansion beyond the original mile-square townsite followed paths of minimum resistance: eastward beyond the burial grounds, and northward across the probable route of State Highway #7.¹ In the latter case, continuity of the grid was more likely, though it is just as likely the dimension of blocks increased. What forces might have introduced streets that weren’t orthogonal? Comparable Iowa towns may offer new patterns, like Oskaloosa, for example (shown here about 1938):

Oskaloosa, Iowa / aerial perspective circa 1938 drawn by Charles Bradbury and James Paul for Fortune magazine

South of the creek and west of the river, the likely uses would have been, respectively, a golf course–country club and an industrial zone. But there was one narrow band between the west city limit and the Muskrat — a strip of outlots and river bank — that had been the site of an orchard (an experiment that failed) and the gardens of neighbors living adjacent along N.W. 6th Street (squatters). That six-block strip provided one of Agincourt’s earliest and most logical expansions: generous single-family-home sites eighty-five feet wide and between four and six hundred feet deep, much of it flood plain — a perfect setting for the city’s first Mid-century Modern homes. It seemed an ideal location for the Iowa entry in Your Solar House,

California home designed by Harwell Hamilton Harris (1947) / Your Solar House

except that house is grotesquely unworkable, as far as I can tell, on virtually any site I could have proposed. So we used the Minnesota design — sorry, Iowa — as the pioneer home in 1948.

It was also an opportunity for me to design an MCM home, an uncomfortable exercise in understanding the years of my own birth. So I’m working on the 1960-ish home of Bill and Susan Bendix on the southernmost lot of Riverside Addition. More to follow.

¹ Prior to 1900, the half-section line road bisecting the O.T. served Agincourt as an east-west axis with its hinterlands.  As the state established its highway infrastructure, full section-line routes were preferred; so the north edge of the O.T. was chosen because it conflicted less with the course of Crispin Creek.


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