November 2013



Lot 2295 Townside

American Dreams: The Paradox of Failed Subdivisions in Georgia

These photographs document the realities of residential and commercial developments in Georgia that failed during the Great Recession of 2007-2010. The images show long-term ecological and social impacts of human actions, the fragility and resilience of nature, small acts of human reclamation and redemption, and the unfulfilled American Dreams that lie fallow in farm fields across America.

According to the American Farmland Trust, the United States converted 7,491,300 acres of its rural land – an area nearly the size of Maryland – to developed land between 2002 and 2007. During this period, developed land increased by 57 percent, while the population grew by only 30 percent. This overdevelopment left nearly 19 million vacant residential lots across the American landscape. In 2009, the Atlanta Journal-Constitutionreported that Georgia had approximately 150,000 of these idle spaces. Today, many of these developments remain unrealized and thus have created an alien aesthetic that is neither rural landscape nor suburban neighborhood.

The negative social and environmental effects of many unfinished subdivisions in Georgia and across the country have reverberated throughout the surrounding rural communities. These impacts remain unseen and unfelt by most urban and suburban dwellers. Physical access to the sites often is restricted by locked gates while visual access usually is limited by fences, walls, or a few trees on the “street face” of the development that disguise the devastated interior. Left in legal and political limbo, these areas continue to limit the ability of public and private planners and landscape architects to grapple with the implications of incomplete designs.

Through these photographs, I aim to educate others about the real changes that have occurred in our landscape and to inspire individuals to contemplate ways to prevent overdevelopment from happening again in the future.


Stephanie N. Bryan received a BA degree in Studio Arts and Art History from Oglethorpe University in May 2004. She earned a Master of Landscape Architecture degree at the University of Georgia’s College of Environment and Design in August 2011, with a focus in historic cultural landscape management. In 2012, the Royal Oak Foundation awarded her the Damaris Horan Prize in Landscape History and this year the Georgia Trust selected her for the J. Neel Reid Prize. Presently, she works as a landscape historian for The Jaeger Company in Athens, Georgia. Stephanie spends her free time traveling throughout Georgia to document change in rural and suburban landscapes through photography, drawing, and writing.