Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Book Looks at History of Suburbs

A great review on the Slate website last week, where Witold Rybczynski reviews Robert Bruegmann's new book, Sprawl: A Compact History. I gotta get this book, as it seems to cover some of the topics that I think ring true on our experience with planning today.

Rybczynski wraps up his review with this: "What this iconoclastic little book demonstrates is that sprawl is not the anamalous result of American zoning laws, or mortgage interest tax deductions, or cheap gas, or subsidized highway construction, or culturual antipathy toward cities. Nor is it an aberration. Bruegmann shows that asking whether sprawl is 'good' or 'bad' is the wrong question. Sprawl is and always has been inherent to urbanization. It is driven less by the regulation of legislators, the actions of developers, and the theories of city planners, than by the decisions of millions of individuals... . This makes altering it very complicated, indeed. There are scores of books offering 'solutions' to sprawl. Their authors would do well to read this book. To find solutions -- or, rather, better ways to manage sprawl, which is not the same thing -- it helps to get the problem right."



At 2:30 PM, Blogger Student-Builder said...

Don't you think chalking sprawl up to the "decisions of millions of individuals" is a bit of a cop-out? Isn't that how many corporations diffuse accountability for not acting morally?

I believe that the negative effects of sprawl are self evident. Development is not like some mindless natural process that just creeps up over time. We make choices on how our communities develop. Shouldn’t all of us take responsibility for the condition of our cities and neighborhoods? Shouldn’t planners also shoulder a chunk of that accountability?

At 6:08 PM, Blogger Former Centerville Citizen said...

Student-builder, your points are so refreshing.

Can you imagine a world where schools were both aethetically pleasing and functional, but most importantly were placed where a great deal of the students could walk to them? A world where all of the streets were laid out on an orderly, functional grid system? A world where high density developments are designed so well (aesthetically, functionally and location-wise) that people actually want to live in them? A world where you don't have to get in your car to go most places?

Call me a naive idealist who sees through rose-colored glasses, but there has to be a better way than the currently popular cul-de-sac/stucco & pink brick house/big box store model.

And how functional are our communities going to be when "peak oil" arrives?

These are some things that weigh heavily on my mind.

At 6:17 PM, Blogger oussan said...

We just like our personal space so much here in the states, and especially the west. I was in Korea over the summer and I remember one occasion where a friend and I went into a restaurant whose only other diners were another couple. There were plenty of available tables, but we were seated right next to this other couple - literally three or four feet distant. That would never happen here in Utah, and I think that mentality has also guided the development of our cities. I agree with centerville citizen that there has to be a better way. I think if we all gave up a little "personal space" not only would our cities be more functional, but also more attractive, and I think we'd all be a bit friendlier, too.


At 6:26 PM, Blogger oussan said...

I just read the book review (should have done that before I fired off my post) and I have to admit that we tend to romanticize and exaggerate the past a bit much.

I enjoyed this line, "Those compact little cities bounded by bucolic landscapes, portrayed in innumerable idealized paintings, were surrounded by extensive suburbs." In a way, as an American I almost feel vindicated to know that "sprawl" is not our invention.

At 6:56 AM, Blogger Wilf said...


I think you miss the point. I'm not saying we shouldn't make communities better through planning. I think absolutely we can and should do that. If I didn't believe that, I really should get out of this profession.

The point of the book is, suburbanization is a common phenomenon that has many complex roots. What we as planners may need to focus on is how to make the suburbs better -- more walkable, more job friendly, with cultural centers, activity centers, etc.

By all means, let's take responsibility as planners and citizens and make the places we CHOOSE to live better.

At 3:06 AM, Blogger Smokey said...

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At 11:16 AM, Blogger Aleksey said...

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At 2:09 AM, Blogger Howard said...

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