... drive[s] home Americans’ broad familiarity with the ethos of comfort-in-conformity and liberty-in-land-ownership that has made mass-produced suburbs so attractive from their inception ... Using pop culture as a lens through which to view the suburbs is a revealing tactic ... To Diamond’s credit, The Sprawl includes the stories of African American rappers moving into majority-white neighborhoods in the North Side of Chicago and techno music’s origins in Detroit, among others. These illustrate not only the hardships faced by these individuals at the hands of their neighbors, but the contributions they made to American pop culture alongside them...Additionally, underlying the book’s journey through various Midwestern, Floridian, and Northeastern suburbs is the author’s personal experiences of life in those places. Coupled with the narrative’s focus on films and music, this geographical diversity makes a book about suburbia, and the 'most boring places' in America, a far more interesting read ... As a person of color who grew up in the suburbs, there’s much in Diamond’s writing that I can relate to. However, there is much about the suburbs today that is fundamentally at odds with the perceptions pop culture perpetuates ... We need more books by authors of color about the intent, lived experiences, and cultural products of suburban America ... for the average reader who wants an introduction to the suburbs, how they came to be, and why they have such a deep physical and psychological hold on America, I would happily recommend The Sprawl. With that said, the black and brown fists raised up across housing developments and small towns today reflect a wealth of cultural vitality that is significantly underexplored in books such as Diamond’s ... One looks at those fists today and can’t help but wonder: Where are the books written by those same hands? They do exist, though they often receive far less attention and critical acclaim than they deserve. However, just as often, future authors, artists, filmmakers, and cultural icons are never given a chance at a platform in the first place as their experiences are deemed 'not representative enough.' Yet it seems, now more than ever thanks to anti-racism reading lists, that we are still searching for the authors who grew up in Marty McFly’s America but witnessed a vastly different side of it.
... fascinating ... Diamond presents readers with a new way of viewing this ubiquitous environment ... Diamond is clear that no matter the intentions of early suburban founders, too often, minority groups were deliberately kept out. Looking at the culture of the suburbs from the 1980s to the present, Diamond shows how much of our country’s worst violence takes place in suburban areas (school shootings, police brutality), and how the suburbs are seen as stifling to creativity despite the array of music, film, literature, and art that has been produced by suburbanites. Diamond points out that by pigeonholing the suburbs as devoid of energy, Americans could be missing out on the vast potential of the people who live there. As to whether or not suburban areas will have to evolve in order to attract younger generations in droves, there is some evidence that suburban nostalgia is comforting enough to soothe a high-strung, internet-raised population. A humble and curious must-read.
Diamond dives deep into a cultural analysis rich with literary, musical, and Hollywood references and examines the historical, social context of suburban sprawl, from post-war Levittowns to the contemporary decline of shopping malls. The Sprawl offers an insightful examination of the type of places the majority of Americans call home ... Diamond is more focused on situating suburbs in our culture than the history of urban planning, but he does jump headfirst into one essential historical element — racism ... In some moments, Diamond slides towards film criticism rather than focusing on suburban experience, but he always brings it back to the sprawl ... The Sprawl is a uniquely American look at the suburban phenomenon. And Diamond is right. If the American suburb fails, so fails the American way of life ... The Sprawl leads us on a journey through the promise of suburbia while expertly peeling back the curtain.
Diamond stumbles by taking the definition of his own topic for granted. Though he presents strong arguments in The Sprawl, he neglects to describe in detail the suburbs he thinks of as universally familiar. I left the book not knowing much about what Diamond’s suburbs feel like on the granular level and how the discontent he describes among people of his generation connects to such detail ... Diamond is curiously modest, to the point of uncertainty, when he makes his observations. He is interested in power, money, and exclusion, and the way these invisible forces have created the visible environment of modern America. His self-deprecating attitudes, as well as his use of first-person perspectives, seem designed to avoid causing offense. Perhaps he's cognizant of the optics of speaking too loudly about his own comfortable white life.
...an idiosyncratic road trip through America’s suburbs ... Like all road trips, The Sprawl has its lolling moments. Diamond’s suburbs are lonely and boring places in need of a sense of community or at least a trip to the mall. Our attention wanders, and we focus on what Diamond reveals about himself ... The very blandness of these burbs is at the root of an ongoing restless, creative explosion.
For those wondering precisely where to move, Jason Diamond’s The Sprawl, a conversational, at times personal, cultural history of the US suburbs, promises to be of help ... happy to affirm the stereotype of suburbia as a place of anxiety, boredom and alienation ... While Diamond gestures to the limits of constantly showing the suburbs as a place of homogeneity and stagnation, he doesn’t move beyond them ... Perhaps this book’s most insightful contribution, whether intentional or not, is the way in which it embodies a suburban mindset: Diamond’s first points of reference and main focus are on wellknown films, music, books – pop stuff made in places other than the suburbs ... ‘The future is still in suburbia. We just need to reclaim it,’ The Sprawl blandly concludes. Why not start by trying to find those stories and songs, dreamed up in some quiet, poster-lined basement, we haven’t already heard?
Diamond is interested in demographics but not exclusively. As the narrative progresses, the author becomes increasingly eloquent about such things as pop music, literature as written by the likes of Dave Eggers and Jonathan Lethem, and film such as, yes, John Hughes’ oeuvre and Sofia Coppola’s interpretation of The Virgin Suicides. Clearly, Diamond has given a lot of thought to the 'faux-pastoral' nature of the suburbs and their tendency to resist the formation of true communities. If the cultural aspects of his narrative tend to be a touch repetitive, the point is well taken, as is his thought that now-dying shopping malls across North America might well be converted to community centers, 'making the ones that remain into places that serve a greater purpose' .. A literate meditation on clipped-lawn places easily taken for granted but that well deserve such reflection.
... insightful ... Though Diamond occasionally strays into repetition with his personal reflections—such as repeated observations that he now lives in New York City and views the suburbs as an outsider—his cultural criticism is consistently astute. This is a smart, enjoyable study that will be particularly appreciated by other suburban expats.