Tear Down This Sprawl! (Not!)


Writing in The American Enterprise, architectural historian Robert Bruegmann dopes out "How Sprawl Got a Bad Name" in an interesting and provocative essay adapted from his recent (and most excellent) Sprawl: A Compact History:

What explains the power of today's anti-sprawl crusade? How is it possible that a prominent lawyer could open a recent book with the unqualified assertion that "sprawl is America's most lethal disease"? Worse than drug use, crime, unemployment, and poverty? Why has a campaign against sprawl expanded into a major political force across America and much of the economically advanced world?

I would argue that worries about sprawl have become so vivid not because conditions are really as bad as the critics suggest, but precisely because conditions are so good. … A fast-rising economy often produces a revolution of expectations. I believe these soaring expectations are responsible for many contemporary panics….

Class-based aesthetic objections to sprawl have always been the most important force motivating critics. It seems that as society becomes richer and the resources devoted to securing basics like food and shelter diminish, aesthetic issues loom larger. Certainly the number of people complaining about the visual impact of sprawl, and the vehemence of their rhetoric, have increased with each successive campaign against it.

Whole thing here.

Over the past decade and more, Reason has been all over the sprawl issue like, well, a Wal-Mart on a big chunk of land located just outside a traditional downtown shopping area. Some past highlights that anticipate Bruegmann's notions:

Horizontal Cities: Suburbia is finally getting its due from social critics

Commuter Virus: Is American literature too soft on the suburbs?

One-Shop Stopping: Do Wal-Mart and Home Deport spell the end of "community"? A report on the superstore wars