Elon Musk Reviving the Suburbs


Would you ever move to the suburbs? Why not? And what would make you change your mind?

Turns out, there is a remarkable new vision of suburban life around the bend. That’s the secret story hiding in plain sight behind today’s nascent energy revolution. In his bid to transform Tesla into a global—if not galactic—energy company, Elon Musk surprised market watchers with dramatic designs for solar power production that were, ironically enough, also hiding in plain sight. “The solar roofs that Musk showed off were installed on houses on Universal Studio’s famous back-lot, which recreates a suburban environment,” Business Insider recalled. “Musk has already said that it’s essential for the roof design to be beautiful, and the designs he touted were that, although it was odd to see a man who has revolutionized the automobile and, in his role as CEO of Space X, outlined a plan to colonize Mars slip into futuristic general contractor mode.”

Or is it? What could be more appealingly alien than a vision of suburbia that blasts away all the dispiriting vibes that have piled up around it over the past 25 years? Surely, solar roofs alone won’t do that. But Musk’s roofs are the access point to a new form of life, organized around an integrated, efficient, and highly adaptable mode of energy production and consumption—one that would allow young people, and especially young families, an unparalleled degree of effortless mobility around an affordable and capacious home base. In less time than you think, the American suburbs are very likely to become places remade with a sleek aesthetic that echoes today’s urban environments, but also explores possibilities beyond them: Suburban car culture, for instance, will be transformed by Tesla’s and other auto companies’ moves into self-driving zero-emissions vehicles, large and small. The suburbs are about to become a lot more glamorous, conscious, comfortable, and relevant.

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Again, even that kind of 21st-century makeover isn’t enough on its own to wipe out people’s feelings of interchangeable insignificance. Then again, we’re probably just stuck with those anxieties, unless we work together to do something to ameliorate them. And as cool as today’s and tomorrow’s cities may be, there’s probably going to be fertile ground for that work in our future suburbs. Get ready for them to give us a fresh chance to hop off the cultural conveyor belt and into territory as new as the new urbanism used to be.

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