SUBURBS; REVISING THE AMERICAN DREAM
Eden Prairie, Minn.
The name may suggest a community sprung from a novel or even a poem - pronouncing pastoral origins, promising organic growth. In fact, Eden Prairie, this town of 20,000 a 25-minute drive from Minneapolis, has been an act of careful calculation.
It all began around 1960, when fewer than 5,000 residents could be counted, randomly scattered over the 36 square miles of Eden Prairie. The New Town philosophy was very much the mood of the moment, deriving from the experimental communities developed in Great Britain and Scandinavia after World War II.
First came the planners. Then came the Map.
The Map, a lovely color-coded blueprint of a then nonexistent dream, can still be found on the walls of real estate offices and Eden Prairie planners. One of those planners, Chris Enger - sitting in his lower-level office in the shadow of his own updated Map - recalls: ''They tried to say on a map: Here's going to be a neighborhood. Here's going to be another kind of neighborhood.''
In 1968 the Map was translated into a Comprehensive Guide Plan. The operative phrase became ''planned unit development.'' The object: a ''balanced community.''
In theory, Eden Prairie is a planner's dream: a clean pastoral slate on which to draw the ideal late-20th-century suburb. It is an attempt to avoid the kind of unplanned suburban growth Margaret Mead described as ''designing at a distance, designing for a piece of an unknown whole, designing for people the planner never met who live in a way the designer never lived.''
Those 36 square miles of rolling countryside, once home to tribes of Dakota Indians, were laid out like grids: black and gray for commercial and industrial development, according to one map; yellow for single-family homes; and gold for multiple-unit housing. A place for everything, and everything in its place.
All this can give Eden Prairie a bit of the look of a board-game village. The schools, the libraries, the industrial complexes have a low flat profile, with plenty of glass. There is no town square. Even shopping is by unit - by malls, especially the 75-tenant Eden Prairie Center at the intersection of I-494 and Highways 169 and 212.
Part of the planning has gone into preserving the scenery. There are 14 lakes within the limits of Eden Prairie - color them blue - and 1,200 acres have been allotted to parks - color them green on the Map.
That park system has won an award as the best in the country for a community under 20,000.
''The Great American Dream is ALIVE AND WELL'' reads a real estate ad, offering single-family homes in a ''prime wooded location'' for $61,500 and up.
But keep a map-reading eye on the blacks and grays.
The thrust of Eden Prairie is to become a going concern, not a bedroom suburb like those one wit described as ''the vast dormitories where a man may sleep in comparatively pure air while his office is being cleaned.'' The ''reverse of a bedroom suburb,'' Chris Enger calls it. The proud slogan for some areas, headquarters for such high-tech firms as Eaton-CharLynn, Northern Telecom, and Rosemount Engineering, is: ''Silicon Prairie.'' Over 30 percent of the valuation of Eden Prairie is commercial and industrial, and that figure is growing.
In the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, as in other metropolitan areas, about 90 percent of all new jobs during the late '70s and early '80s have been generated in the suburbs. Eden Prairie figures show that there are as many jobs in town as residents. This is a balance unheard of in the traditional suburb, where the commute to the city still remains a primary fact of life.
Like most American ideas, the philosophy behind towns like Eden Prairie is a mix of idealism and pragmatism. That planner-of-planners, Robert Moses, once described the history of the suburbs as ''a collusion between inept politicians and hit-and-run speculators.'' The planners of towns like Eden Prairie are interested in creating a complete, well-rounded community where people work as well as play and consume - and where workers at all levels of income can afford to live. The suburban historian Scott Donaldson has described the democratic model as ''a substantial range of income and occupation, and a substantial number of nonwhite families.''
On the side of pragmatism, there is the matter of economic self-interest. Propositions, from 2 1/2 to 13, testify to the inability of most suburbs to support the services to which they have become accustomed without going broke on taxes.
This is where black and gray come in on the Map - the taxes from business and industry to relieve the residential property owner.
This is where the gold comes in too - as rental units to accommodate, among others, those members of the local work force who cannot afford the rising costs of single-family homeownership.
At the far end of the Eden Prairie shopping center, wedged between Morrow's Nut House and Casual Corner, a day-care center, New Horizon Child Care, is identified in large yellow letters. Nobody quite planned it this way, including the director, Mary Guggisberg, who wears a red-checked apron reading: ''For this I spent four years in college?''
A hand-printed card on the bulletin board reads: ''Today for art we fingerpainted with strawberry jello. It was good!''
While the 65 children here play in the Muscle Room or dabble in that jello - from 6:30 in the morning to 6 in the evening, if required - 90 percent of their mothers are at work. Their jobs, according to Miss Guggisberg, range from ''assembly-line workers and secretaries to almost-executives.'' More than one-third of the children come from single-parent homes, reflecting a dramatic shift in suburban demographics. According to 1980 census data, only 1 suburban household in 3 now consists of a married couple with children.
For all its planning, Eden Prairie has not come up with housing some of these working mothers can afford. Many of the women whose children fill the center do not work in Eden Prairie. Cross-suburban commuting has become so familiar a phenomenon that a weekly publication called Freeway News has sprung up in the area - ''the paper for people who work in the suburbs.''
''When a worker can't find housing near the work site, the job might as well not exist,'' John J. Tarrant wrote bluntly in ''The End of Exurbia.''
A 1982 Chamber of Commerce report identifies rental units as ''the single most important housing need in Eden Prairie'' - a need that ''will require a maximum of creativity to resolve.'' Across the country construction of new rental housing has become virtually impossible because of high interest rates and the threat of rent controls.
The report concludes: ''The lack of affordable housing and public transit options will diminish the availability of blue-collar and clerical employees. The result will be a slowing or perhaps, in extreme situations, loss of business and industrial growth . . . having a profound impact on all business development in Eden Prairie.''
The solution does not look simple from the third-floor offices in downtown St. Paul of the Metropolitan Council, which advises on growth and development in towns of the seven counties in the Twin Cities area. Michael Munson, program manager for research, says: ''There's much less money around for subsidized housing. I think this money will continue to decrease. Low-income housing depends on so many things - national politics, the strength of the economy'' - and a will on the part of the rest of the community.
Here, as in suburbs across the country, public opposition to alternative housing styles can be a major factor in maintaining low densities and increasing housing costs. The Chamber of Commerce report states:
''Neighborhood pressure groups can turn a simple land-use decision into a major political battleground. The public's increasing awareness and sophistication in political activism can be expected to have a long-term impact on the city's ability to develop affordable housing.''
Yet the need is urgent - everywhere. ''It still surprises many suburban people to find out how many welfare families live in their own communities,'' says Nancy Reeves, housing director of the Metropolitan Council. ''But census data have reaffirmed that roughly half of the low-income population resides in suburban areas.'' These people are often ''newly poor,'' she points out, because of divorce or unemployment.
What is it that resists the black-gray areas on the Map that represent industry and the gold that represents a multiple-unit area? Does the suburbanite see in this black and gold the city he or she has chosen to escape? In any case, even in a town like Eden Prairie, living for 20 years with the Map and the concept of perfect balance, the single-family house remains the dream.
''People here want the single-family home first and foremost,'' Mr. Munson admits with a certain chagrin. ''But there's going to be a difference. You have smaller families. In some suburbs you have a glut of oversize houses. I think we're going to see smaller, more energy-efficient housing, especially in places like this, where the cost of heating is concerned. Maybe there'll be a family-living-dining area - a number of things to make a house more affordable and bring it down from 1,500 square feet.''
Thirty-five years ago when another planned community, Levittown, rose on the potato fields of Long Island, the Cape Cod houses - $7,990, no money down, $ 60 a month - averaged 750 square feet, with an expansion attic.
Now we have come nearly full circle. ''People are more willing to accept a smaller home again,'' Chris Enger notes. ''The homes we're seeing come back first are expansion homes - about 960 square feet.''
Still, about half of the 500 new building permits in Eden Prairie in 1982 were for attached structures. If the New Town ideology has not brought Americans around, the changing facts of their lives seem to be slowly doing the job.
Liz Bieger, the sales manager for Northmark Homes, sits at the sales desk in a quadraminium model home in The Preserve section of Eden Prairie. A version of the Map - framed under glass, reverently lighted from behind, dazzling with all those colors like an abstract painting - hangs on the far wall, guaranteeing, it seems, that all this is part of the plan.Quadraminium is defined in an information kit titled ''Where Will Our Children Live?,'' produced by the housing division of the Metropolitan Council:''
Quadraminium: also called a quadplex or fourplex, a quadraminium contains four separate dwelling units attached in a manner that resembles an oversized house. Each unit has a separate entrance and private yard.''
The home of the future (possibly) takes some identifying. From the outside, with its earth-tone cedar shingles-and-glass appearance, it looks like a cozy public library that has gone in for sun decks and four chimneys.
Mrs. Bieger, a single parent with three children ranging in age from 19 to 23 , likes to use herself, as well as the quadraminium, as a symbol of the changing American suburb.
''When I first lived in the suburbs,'' she explains, ''you didn't fit if you weren't married with three children and a station wagon. I was married and had three children and fit perfectly.''
Now she lives in a town house like those she has been selling for six years.
''Who lives here?'' she asks. ''Couples starting out, both working. Or maybe young couples with one child. Single professionals. More and more divorcees with children. Some widows. Some couples about to retire. People in transition would cover it - really a cross-section of our society.''
Will the quadraminium, or something like it, finally shake the suburbs out of the single-family-home fixation? Will the zoning-in-the-head break down so that the suburbanite can give equal status to the rental unit and to the attached house? Will the single-family homeowner come to realize that neither his retired parents nor his just-married children can afford the suburbs unless he builds an accessory apartment for them in his own home?
''Our suburbs are still based on a family that doesn't exist anymore,'' explains Ruth Price, a planner with the Connecticut Department of Housing in Hartford - ''on a woman who chauffeured her kids around in a big station wagon to piano lessons'' with not an industry in sight.
The planned suburb, even the planners admit, has limitations. The neatest ideas go a little ragged at the edges in their execution. The unknown, and unanticipated, factor is always present. The Map, in the end, is only a map.
But there is a willingness to experiment - and a desire to bring more people into the experiment. ''I've seen some marvelous things happen between people because of the mix of housing,'' says Mrs. Bieger.
Before Liz Bieger experienced it, Margaret Mead stated the case for Eden Prairie and towns like it: ''We need to know whether providing a physical framework - one in which an income mix, and therefore a racial mix, and a full participation of women at every level of planning and execution - is enough.
''A lot of the bright ideas will turn out to be wrong,'' Dr. Mead concluded. ''But if we want to get human communities back again, we will have to experiment.''
It has taken a long time to get the New Towns - the new suburbs - this far. Some things have been lost for some things that have been gained. The new suburb may be less of a romantic dream, but it is, in practice, more fair and more workable for more people. And that, in the long run, can be worth a lot of picture windows and tract-house lawns.
Tomorrow: Cupertino, Calif. -- looking at the future