As the economic recession marches on, it’s becoming more and more common to see so-called McMansions up for sale. It’s a trend that probably won’t stop any time soon. Even if the economy improves, gas prices will continue to rise as supplies tighten, and that means that suburban housing will become increasingly unaffordable. So what will happen to our built-up suburban areas? Designer Calvin Chiu imagines a future where abandoned McMansions have a second life as wetlands and water filtration systems for urban areas.
Chiu’s “Frog’s Dream” design, chosen today as the winner of Dwell and Inhabitat‘s REBURBIA competition, envisions a future where a sustainable relationship is established between dwindling suburban developments and city centers. According to Chiu, “The decline of Suburbia [isn’t] a problem that we need to solve,
but an excellent opportunity for us to rethink and transform our
attitude towards the relationship between man and land/nature”.
In Chiu’s vision, vacant McMansions become living machines that use a mini-ecosystem of algae, bacteria, plants, fish, and clams to purify water. Wetlands surrounding the mansions support animals and plants. At the same time, the highway system linking suburbia to the city forms a network to transport water and allow residents to move back and forth by car, train, or bike (Chiu doesn’t make it clear how trains, cars and bikes could travel along the same network).
Frog’s Dream is more than just a way to supply water to growing cities as droughts become more prevalent. It’s also a plan to restore abandoned suburban blight to its natural form. Anyone driving in the suburbs of New York City can see traces of wetlands scattered around highways. It will probably take decades before we acknowledge that suburbia needs to be completely overhauled. But maybe one day our driving-happy developments will become full-blown wetlands and the former suburban inhabitants will migrate into more sustainable city centers.