Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Five Myths About Sprawl: a review of "Sprawl: A Compact History"

by Michael Lewyn

Over the past several decades, metropolitan America has been transformed by “sprawl”: low-density, automobile-oriented, (usually) suburban development.1 Many central cities have lost population,2 while their suburbs have gained residents3 and jobs.4 Moreover, cities’ remaining residents are disproportionately poor: the average income of suburban households is nearly twice that of urban households,5 and the majority of America’s poor now live in central cities.6 Typically, new suburban devel-opment has been highly automobile dependent: the majority of suburban
jobs are not accessible through public transit.7 A wide variety of commentators8 assert that sprawl has a number of social, political, and economic repercussions. In particular, critics of the status quo assert that sprawl immobilizes Americans too young, old, or poor to drive;9 increases trafªc congestion and pollution by increasing driving; 10 makes Americans less healthy by discouraging walking;11 reduces the supply of farmland and open space by consuming more land than more compact development;12 and increases overall government spending, as governments spend money on roads and utilities for new suburbs while urban infrastructure becomes underutilized.13 In Sprawl: A Compact History, Robert Bruegmann, an art historian, has painted a supercially convincing case for the status quo, asserting that sprawl is “a natural result of afºuence that occurs in all urbanized societies.” 14 Bruegmann’s book has generated glowing media publicity15 and some favorable scholarly attention.16 The purpose of this Review is to use Bruegmann’s defense of the status
quo as a launching point for a broader discussion of the sprawl issue. In particular, this Review suggests that Bruegmann overestimates the universality of sprawl, by overlooking the differences between pedestrianfriendly cities with some sprawling development and cities in which automobile- dependent sprawl is the only choice available to most consumers. In addition, Bruegmann understates the harmful social effects of sprawl, especially the effect of automobile-dependent development upon nondrivers. Bruegmann also consistently underestimates the role of government spending and regulations in creating sprawl and, as a result, fails to adequately discuss the possibility that sprawl can be reduced by limiting, rather than increasing, the size and intrusiveness of government.

more about urban sprawl:

On defining "Sprawl"

Cleanliness from a car

New Urbanism: A Salve or Bane to Urban Wounds?

Suburban Immigrants Feel Arizona Heat


Real Estate Brokerage to Unfettered Development: A History of Sprawl

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