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Hayden, Dolores. Redesigning the American Dream: The Future of Housing, Work, and Family Life. W.W. Norton & Company: New York, 2002.


Redesigning the American Dream
Dolores Hayden, 1984 (updated in 2002)

Are Our Houses Helping or Hurting? A Summary of Dolores Hayden’s Redesigning the American Dream

The houses we build have an enormous impact on how we live – and they can have very different impacts based on gender. Dolores Hayden calls this the “architecture of gender;” the way housing creates a setting for women to be social status achievers, desirable sex objects, and domestic servants, while allowing for men to be breadwinners, home handy men, and car mechanics. In Redesigning the American Dream, Hayden argues that by continuing to build “dream houses” that perpetuate Victorian stereotypes of the home as a “woman’s place” and the city as a “man’s world” we are underscoring the conflicts of class, gender, and race that characterize our society.

Three models of home can be examined to look at the relationship between gender, public & private life, and housing:

  1. The Haven Strategy
    • Predominant in the US (and still popular today), the haven strategy created the detached, single-family suburban house; this strategy elevated domestic labour while denying women pay
  2. The Industrial Strategy
    • Predominant in the former USSR (but having lost credibility over the past few decades), the industrial strategy created high-rise mass housing, treated as an efficient machine for collective consumption; the women’s domestic sphere was abolished, replaced with factory work and paid services
  3. The Neighbourhood Strategy
    • Predominant in European social democracies, the neighbourhood strategy created low-rise, multi-family housing; these villages had shared commons, courtyards, arcades, and kitchens. A revival of the neighbourhood strategy has occurred in Europe as women campaign for better urban design

To achieve a city of equality, we need to reconstruct neighbourhoods to reflect the realities of life today; life has changed, especially as more women have become employed, but this has happened without spatial changes to provide new forms.

Architects and planners need to rethink the architecture of gender that has defined housing in the US. The two-earner family is the predominant American household type, with people working a “double day” both parenting and earning. The single-family homes that were built for returning veterans after WWII do not fit today’s families. We need new housing and neighbourhoods for the diverse households of this country.


Thought-Provoking Ideas

Rethinking Community Facilities
How do we decide what to build? Developers generally include “community facilities” in condominium buildings – but these tend to be tennis courts, swimming pools, or card rooms. What about child care, or other services related to people’s basic needs?

Housing for Diverse Needs
The elderly, single parents, battered wives, and single people are groups that have traditionally received little attention from planners, as the ideal of “normal family life” has generally shaped all housing. This often led to ghettoization – in elderly housing or retirement homes, public housing, and swinging singles complexes. Planning for these groups requires rethinking the standard apartment – spatially integrating it with support services like meals on wheels, part-time employment, day care, or counselling.

Overcoming Isolation
Access to the public domain is especially difficult for older women. After age 65, many women are left with the results of a lifetime of low earnings, limited mobility, and self-sacrifice. On top of that, the American car culture creates unique problems for elderly women, who are unlikely to have access to cars. In a society designed for auto-mobility, this makes getting around difficult. These circumstances can make already-existing isolation worse for aging women.

Mobility for Daily Life  
Transportation is a universal need. Yet, according to Ann Markusen, it is generally only the male “head of household” who is studied for statistics about transportation needs. This doubly overlooks women – it ignores unpaid work done in and around the home (and the transportation necessary for that), and overlooks the fact that many married women are in paid work (and travel to their job, as well as to and from places on their journey to work). Major decisions about investments in roads and public transit have been made based primarily on journey to work, yet females are more likely to be dependent on transit, and to travel for more than just work. If our transportation system is to meet everyone’s needs, it needs to recognize everyone’s needs.

Economics – Who Counts, and For What?
The way we measure the economy makes a big difference in how we perceive – and plan – our world. Economists over-emphasize wage work, and reject household work, in defining economic productivity, economic growth, and national product - definitions that go back to the 19th century idea of separate spheres for men and women. By excluding all household work for which no wage is paid, it is difficult to compare communities & classes with large variation in the proportion of women who work at home and women who work for wages. It also means that national income appears to grow when more women enter the workforce, even though there is a decline in quantity of goods and services produced (as fewer goods, like vegetables, food, and clothes, are produced at home and so the amount of useful goods not paid for with money shrinks). These figures can also hide a decline in quality, as things like homemade bread (not counted) are replaced with Wonderbread (fully counted).

Is New Urbanism the New Neighbourhood Strategy?
New Urbanism has been gaining popularity recently – could this be the new neighbourhood strategy for women? The neighbourhood strategy is based on a social and economic program of mutual accountability – it imvolves fundamental interdependencies, not just superficial symbols of community (like sidewalks and porches). If neighbourhoods are truly going to be improved for women, housing needs to be reconnected with social services and economic activity. The challenge is that real estate developers are often unwilling to do this, since it involves both market and nonmarket activities. The difference between New Urbanist projects and neighbourhood strategy projects often boils down to public services for women. To fill out the residential neighbourhood, New Urbanism needs to focus on and promote economic equality within it.