Friday, December 16, 2005

Sprawl has always been good

My recent posts on sprawl and how good it is have offended people. Good. 'Sprawl' is simply a reflection of letting people live free, in the manner of their own choosing. Allowing cities to sprawl does not preclude those who wish to live in higher densities from doing so, it simply removes restrictions on all those who don't.

The manner of the sprawl will naturally differ from city to city and from country to country depending upon differing geographies, cultures, architectural talents, the period in which sprawl happened, and how much everyone has to spend. But as a new book points out, "sprawl isn't recent... Rich people have always wanted to sprawl:"
Ancient, medieval, and early modern literature is filled with stories of the elegant life of a privileged aristocracy living for large parts of the year in villas and hunting lodges at the periphery of large cities. . . . High density, from the time of Babylon until recently, was the great urban evil, and many of the wealthiest or most powerful citizens found ways to escape it at least temporarily...

He also notes, in reports that remind me of similar discussions in James Scott's 'Seeing Like A State,' that most efforts on the part of urban planners to reduce sprawl seem to make things worse, and to enrich incumbent landowners at the expense of the poor and the middle class.
The book is called Sprawl, a Compact History, and it points out that "sprawl didn't become a problem until the wealthy and powerful were joined by the hoi polloi." You might say that those opposed to sprawl are often those who already have their own country house -- it's not they and their friends who can afford them they're excluding, it's just 'all the other riff raff' cluttering up the place. Glenn Reynolds reviews the book at TechCentralStation. [Hat tip Commons Blog.] He concludes:
"It ain't so much the things we don't know that get us into trouble. It's the things we do know that just ain't so." Bruegmann's book makes a strong case that a lot of the things we think we know about sprawl just ain't so. I hope that it gets the attention it deserves.
Sprawl is good -- it's just the recognition of choice, and letting people exercise it. There are some still not convinced of course. Here's one of the less, ahem, reasonable objectors giving his predictions for the future if sprawl is allowed to continue. File under humour:
Feudal middle age style villages will begin emerging in rural areas, heavily protected and defended by those that heed the warnings early. Hoards of people will blame the government, totalitarianism will begin to emerge in place of democracy, law and order will become the primary occupation of the Government. Military coups are entirely possible.

Civil disorder, confusion, crime, rape, looting and fear will reign over wide sectors of society. . . unless we begin preparing now this is what life in NZ will be like in 15 years - and that's probably an optimistic view.
Hilarious. He should write for The Onion, who have the report of "A study released Monday by the American Public Transportation Association [that] reveals that 98 percent of Americans support the use of mass transit by others."

"With traffic congestion, pollution, and oil shortages all getting worse, now is the time to shift to affordable, efficient public transportation," APTA director Howard Collier said. "Fortunately, as this report shows, Americans have finally recognized the need for everyone else to do exactly that."

Of the study's 5,200 participants, 44 percent cited faster commutes as the primary reason to expand public transportation, followed closely by shorter lines at the gas station. Environmental and energy concerns ranked a distant third and fourth, respectively.

Linked Review: Learning to Love Sprawl
Book Excerpt from Sprawl - A Compact History
Linked Report: 98 Percent Of U.S. Commuters Favor Public Transportation For Others
Related: Urban_Design, History, Politics

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