Winter is clinging on to the state like unwanted guest and it was incredibly dreary in Minneapolis last Sunday.
So, instead of sitting around the house cleaning and wishing I could ride my bike around Lake Nokomis, I took a trip with my friend and fellow independent journalist Todd Melby to Wright County to discover the charms of outer ring suburban living.
Why would we do this? Well, it’s all to promote our upcoming panel Next Exit: The Shifting Landscape of Suburbia where we will explore the changing dynamics of the suburbs in the culture, green open spaces, and why people live there rather than a city. This is all in conjunction with the Walker exhibit Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes.
Why would people live where there might not be easy access to shopping and the commute may be longer? We attempted to answer some of these questions when we went on the Parade of Homes tour. Across the greater metro area, folks can go in search of the home of their dreams by driving around cul-de-sacs, lanes, and avenues to visit semi-finished and finished units. Some of these are staged to give the potential buyer a warmer feeling for the house in question. It also helps the realtors chance of unloading the house. And what realtor doesn’t need help in todays housing slump!
Our journey began on a long drive on I-94, but we finally arrived at our first home, selling for a mere $179,900. We decided to pose as a married couple to see exactly what that would get us. Not much really. We were greeted by a young man of 25 who was watching golf and eating cheezits. We would have to purchase our own sod and finish the garage. This house was not staged and as I walked around, I felt an overwhelming sense of boredom and gloom. It was so small and so plain looking. Even with staging I wouldn’t have bought it. It felt a little too slapped together. We moved on, thanked the young gentleman, and let him get back to the golf channel.
Our next stop was 76th and Larabee in another development with lots of new looking units around piles of dirt. It was almost complete. This house was totally staged. Complete with faux family photos, plates on a well dressed table, and even a pretty pink dress in the girls room. We met a nice family walking their dog. They said they like the quiet, and the fact that they could walk around without the fear of crime.
We were also fortunate to meet another young family of five who were looking to purchase another home. They currently live in Elk River and were wanting a place with more space than they currently had. This development seemed nice to them. They could let their kids run around without being hit by a car or falling into a pond. Below is a complete interview.
Our last stop was Oakland Homes, where we met the enthusiastic Randy Straus. He almost sold me the house he was so nice. I could picture myself laying on the couch watching cable, my waisteline expanding. He echoed what other folks had said about living here: a quiet place to raise kids, shop in nearby Maple Grove, but then return to the sanctity of your own four bedroom home.
We saw a lot of empty homes in our trek. People are staying put, hoping to hold on to the house that they’re already in. In 2001, Wright County ranked 44th in the nation of fastest growing suburbs, but today that figured has lagged to 169th. Yesterday’s Star Tribune article, “Dash to the Suburbs Slows to a Jog” explains why. Home foreclosures are also a problem in the suburbs. With that brings vandalism, some crime, and the potential of other homes losing value in a development that is slumping in sales. The Atlantic Monthly has a great article on that called “Suburbs: The Next Slum”.
Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes comes at a critical point when art making is responding to the shifts in the culture, and identity of the suburbs. Surely anyone who ventures out to the houses in Otsego and Wright County can feel that.
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