The Buell Hypothesis, at its most basic, argues as follows: Change the dream and you change the city. The private house and the city or suburb in which it is situated share a common destiny. Hence, if you change the narratives guiding suburban housing (such as that of the American Dream) and the priorities they imply—including spatial arrangements, ownership patterns, the balance between public and private interests, and the mixtures of activities and services that any town or city entails—then you begin the process of redirecting suburban sprawl.
Reinhold Martin and his colleagues at Columbia University's Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture presented this hypothesis to the Foreclosed design teams in the form of a "screenplay" that treats the American Dream metaphorically, as a film with a familiar plot, characters, and setting.
The five American suburbs identified by The Buell Hypothesis as study sites—located in different regions, but all along existing or proposed high-speed rail routes—were selected through a process called multi-criteria decision analysis. Based on data from February 2009, the date of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the so-called federal stimulus package), the analysis considered a wide range of quantitative and qualitative factors, including foreclosure rates, poverty rates, population trends, average commute times, amounts of publicly held land, and other relevant criteria. Each selected suburb exhibits particular needs and potentials in relation to the wider economic crisis.