The hot-selling new album by Arcade Fire, The Suburbs, has caught the attention of the urban-design community. (The title song is the video above.) It’s a series of anthemic explorations of the complications suburbs are for most of us: not just a near-universal living experience, but a state of mind: nostalgia and freedom mixed with paralysis and decay. On the negative side, songs such as “Wasted Hours” explain: “First they built the road, then they built the town / That’s why we’re all driving around and around.” Or even more frighteningly, in “City With No Children,” singer Win Butler despairs of privatization: “I feel like I’ve been living in / a city with no children in it, / a garden left for ruin by a millionaire inside a private prison.”
But this isn’t a smug mocking of suburbia, as is found in Hollywood movies such as American Beauty. Urbanist Scott Doyon, in the Placeshakers and Newsmakers blog, detects Arcade Fire’s sadness for a childhood paradise lost, writing, “This conflict… is more than just the anxiety that accompanies change. It’s that the changes, almost universally, have been for the worse.” Colleen McHugh at SPUR tracks themes of sprawl and urban planning among other pop and rock artists. And Arcade Fire itself launched The Suburbs with an innovative, interactive video that incorporates Google Earth and Street View images of one’s own hometown.