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There were no train stations. There were no downtowns. Hey, ho, nowhere to go: Ohio.
March 16, 2011 11:07 AM   Subscribe

What are your favorite interesting or telling U.S. pop culture references to urban planning issues, including the image of city/suburb/exurban/rural areas as places to live and the process of creating community?

I'm interested in songs, TV shows, movies, video/MMO games, art, slang, etc. If you think current events (e.g., disaster planning in Japan or public squares as democracy tool in Egypt) will affect pop culture expression of and attitudes towards planning, feel free to expound. As this is for a talk (to professional urban planners), links to visual depictions are especially welcome. They can be funny or serious, cursory or technical. See, for example:

Monorail! or
Seinfeld or
Chinatown or
Chrysler's Superbowl Ad Referencing Detroit.

The more, the better; thanks for your help, MeFites!
posted by carmicha to Society & Culture (32 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
The Suburbs by The Arcade Fire.
posted by schmod at 11:12 AM on March 16, 2011


Petula Clark - Downtown

Talking Heads - Don't Worry about the Government (lyrics)
posted by hydrophonic at 11:23 AM on March 16, 2011


Charlie on the M.T.A.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:24 AM on March 16, 2011


Not sure if this is too broad, but parts of L.A. Plays Itself talk about the landscape of the city itself. The segment about the urban renewal of the Bunker Hill neighborhood are probably the closest it gets to directly addressing urban planning.
posted by usonian at 11:24 AM on March 16, 2011


I read an article somewhere (AV Club?) about the landscape in Office Space, but am not able to find it. It addressed, specifically, the long scenes of the guys walking thruogh drainage ditches to get to the lunch restaurant.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 11:25 AM on March 16, 2011


Sesame Street. It's a very specific kind of street.
posted by GuyZero at 11:34 AM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think Ideal Impulse is talking about this:

For my money, the signature shot in Office Space finds four employees at Initech—a technologies firm with the vaguest of mission statements—trudging across the lot at an industrial park. As they chatter anxiously about the company bringing in efficiency experts to clean house, they walk down and stumble back up a drainage trench dug out between the parking areas. Judge catches the moment from a medium-to-long distance, and the effect is like an anthropologist observing his subjects from afar, trying to get a feel for how they interact with their habitat. The shot underlines how unnatural their occupations are: Here are four of today's hunter-gatherers, each in a dress shirt and a bad tie (no jacket required), trudging through this banal piece of sculpted landscape in order to get back to a job that yields nothing of tangible value. There's no dignity to it.
posted by Jorus at 11:36 AM on March 16, 2011


The song "Little Boxes" by Malvina Reynolds
posted by jgirl at 11:55 AM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


The movie "True Stories" By David Byrne. David Byrne of Talking Heads fame visits a typical (and fictional) Texas town, on the eve of the town's celebration of the state's sesquicentennial.
posted by Gungho at 12:16 PM on March 16, 2011


Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer" - ...In the quiet of the railway station, running scared / laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters where the ragged people go / looking for the places only they would know.
posted by Jon_Evil at 12:49 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Rent, the musical, is set against the gentrification boom in New York City. The Wire (third season especially) takes a dark look at urban renewal/reform.
posted by General Malaise at 1:06 PM on March 16, 2011


Laurie Anderson has some great meditations on these issues in "United States" Private Property is one of my favorites, but the whole suite is really great.

One additional thought you might consider: Point out to people who want a small plot in the wilderness that urban living can be much more big picture eco-friendly. Jared Diamond has some interesting written works on these issues. His predictions on transportation and water in Los Angeles have been really surprisingly insightful.
posted by effluvia at 1:40 PM on March 16, 2011


"Meet Me Down the Alley" by Paul Westerberg is all about moving to the Minneapolis suburbs, and includes the line Where I live now, there's no sidewalks, only small talk
posted by Judith Butlerian Jihad at 1:49 PM on March 16, 2011


The Beatles' Penny Lane, of course, and its knockoff by the Monkees, Pleasant Valley Sunday.

Very strange!
posted by Sublimity at 2:11 PM on March 16, 2011


Though on review only the Monkees would refer to the US--
posted by Sublimity at 2:12 PM on March 16, 2011


Also the Talking Heads song Don't Worry About The Government seems to have a fairly explicit urban planning focus. I linked to the first thing that turned up on YouTube, no clue if there's an actual video.
posted by Sublimity at 2:15 PM on March 16, 2011


RoboCop!!! It's the wet dream of an urban planning and policy type who's also into dystopian sci-fi who can also get all geeky about neoliberalism.

Chinatown (for allusions to real-life LA water politics) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which is a spoof of the former (which was originally planned to be a trilogy, with other films dealing with transportation, a la Roger Rabbit; "The Two Jakes," which dealt with energy, finally came out in 1990). Both are discussed in "Los Angeles Plays Itself."

See also: I Heart Huckabees.
posted by raysmj at 2:16 PM on March 16, 2011


Also Talking Heads' "The Big Country."
posted by raysmj at 2:17 PM on March 16, 2011


This older question will probably include a lot of things that aren't relevant, but might include some that are.
posted by dizziest at 2:30 PM on March 16, 2011


Synchronicity II
posted by goethean at 2:35 PM on March 16, 2011


A Short History of America by Robert Crumb
posted by hydrophonic at 2:49 PM on March 16, 2011


The Kinks - Shangri-La, The Village Green Preservation Society
posted by hydrophonic at 2:54 PM on March 16, 2011


Thanks all; I'm enjoying your suggestions; keep 'em coming!
posted by carmicha at 5:23 PM on March 16, 2011


Back to the Future - for how it depicts Hill Valley's changes over time and in alternate timelines

The Onion - Urban Planner Stuck in Traffic of Own Design

Mister Rogers opened each show with a song about being a good neighbor, and a model of a prototypical small town
posted by lsemel at 6:09 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just remembered Bob Mould's Surveyors and Cranes. Lyrics linked, unfortunately I couldn't find audio/video anywhere online. It's on the bonus disc of the limited edition version of 'Body of Song'. MeMail me if you'd like to hear it, it's one of his best songs from the last 10 years (IMHO).
posted by usonian at 6:58 PM on March 16, 2011


Modest Mouse - Convenient Parking

More Talking Heads - Cities

Is it any surprise David Byrne spoke at last year's Congress for the New Urbanism?
posted by hydrophonic at 8:25 PM on March 16, 2011


Suburban Home - The Descendents
posted by SisterHavana at 10:22 PM on March 16, 2011


Missing Persons - Walking in L.A.
posted by needled at 1:13 PM on March 17, 2011


Subdivision, by Ani DiFranco:

and i'm wondering what it will take
for my city to rise
first we admit our mistakes
then we open our eyes
the ghosts of old buildings are haunting parking lots
in the city of good neighbors that history forgot
posted by kristi at 9:23 AM on March 18, 2011


Well, it's not from the US, but there's Rush's Subdivisions.
posted by GuyZero at 10:27 AM on March 18, 2011


The Dowisetrepla episode of How I Met Your Mother
posted by knile at 10:44 AM on March 21, 2011


Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi". AKA Paved Paradise. From the wiki: "The song is known for its environmental concern (from the lyrics "They paved paradise to put up a parking lot", "Hey farmer, farmer, put away that DDT now") ".
posted by Gungho at 11:30 AM on March 21, 2011


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