Review: ‘The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream’

While its title sounds ominous enough, the news is bad for more than just 'burbanities -- for the entire world, actually -- in Gregory Greene's "The End of Suburbia." Already available on DVD, wakeup pic has been playing fest, fringe and educational gigs and could be nudged into wider rep-house circulation.

While its title sounds ominous enough, the news is bad for more than just ‘burbanities — for the entire world, actually — in Gregory Greene’s “The End of Suburbia.” Conveying no doubt whatsoever, docu’s myriad of experts foresees a very-near-future in which drastically reduced global oil and natural gas supplies have particularly disastrous consequences for a bedrock 20th-century American lifestyle dependent on their infinite, cheap availability. Already available on DVD, wakeup pic has been playing fest, fringe and educational gigs and could be nudged into wider rep-house circulation.

Instructional/promotional clips from the ’50s and ’60s trumpeting the “happy-go-spending world” of young families “in the age of the push-button” offer ironic contrast to one latter-day doomsayer’s take on suburban planning as “the greatest misallocation of wealth in the history of the world.”

Spreading out families in wastefully expansive lots and homes, leaving them entirely reliant on their cars to get access to basic goods, these subdivisions were promoted (even before the post-WWII building rush) as a return to graceful country life and an escape from the big, bad, polluted city.

But real country living is agriculturally self-sustaining, while urban life abets, at least theoretically, resource conservation. Designed to maximize consumerism, suburbia is by definition far from realizing either of those values.

Many foresee a rude awakening when the world’s long over-tapped fossil fuel supplies begin a downturn from the “peak” most scientists believe the world has passed, or is passing now.

One authority anticipates “a political, economic and social s–tstorm” ensuing when (in another’s words) North Americans’ presumed “birthright to the lifestyle” of their parents becomes a fight over “the table scraps of the 20th-century.” Home heating as well as gasoline will grow hugely expensive.

When reality hits, one can expect nations to start holding onto their natural resources, throwing off trade relations long anchored by the U.S.’s position as primary consumer/traffic-director. Military aggression for foreign oil will become (even more) commonplace.

On the home front, anger, violence and an increasing willingness to elect “any maniac” who fecklessly promises return to the good old days are predicted by pic’s most pessimistic scolds. They worry the suburbs will be “the slums of the future”–with multiple families huddling in monster homes like refugees — while offering hope that New Urbanism based on close-knit communal organization and values might become the lifestyle wave of the future.

While “End” may sound alarmist, it’s convincing in basic argument, and assembled with straightforward competence. The parade of eminently qualified academic, environmentalist and corporate talking heads is broken up by archival and recent news footage.

Only mistake is having veteran Canadian media critic Barrie Zwicker as on-screen host: His stilted, instructional presence periodically makes pic play like a local TV news special. Voiceover narration would have sufficed.

The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream

Canada

Production

An Electric Wallpaper Co. production. Produced by Barry Silverthorn. Directed by Gregory Greene.

Crew

Camera (color, video), Greene; editor, Barry Silverthorn; music, Ken Vandevrie; sound, Matthew Pavone. Reviewed at ATA, San Francisco, Oct. 8, 2005. Running time: 78 MIN.

With

Barrie Zwicker, James Howard Kunstler, Peter Calthorpe, Michael Klare, Richard Heinberg, Matthew Simmons, Michael C. Ruppert, Julian Darley, Colin Campbell, Kenneth Deffeyes, Ali Samsam Bakhtiari, Steve Andrews.

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