Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Of course, my ox is relatively ungored...[Re-post from 2006]

Elitist whiners decrying "sprawl" have met their debating match in Robert Bruegmann, an art historian from the University of Chicago. Far from being the blight harrumphers continuously claim, sprawl is a rational response of people who finally get a chance to choose.

If history is any guide, the current revolt of the "sensitive minority" against sprawl will soon seem a quaint product of a bygone era. Highbrow critics loudly castigated the landscape created by "vulgar masses" fed by "greedy speculators" in cookie-cutter postwar American suburbs like Daly City, California. But now that their landscapes have matured and their original plastic-shaded floor lamps have become collectible, many of these vintage neighborhoods have become trendy. In like manner, as hard as it is to imagine today, by the time the landscape around the now-treeless subdivisions of look-alike stucco boxes at the edge of suburban Las Vegas fully matures, these subdivisions will likely be candidates for historic landmark designation. Most urban change, no matter how wrenching for one generation, tends to be the accepted norm of the next, and the cherished heritage of the one after that. [emphasis mine]

Bruegmann's excellent book "Sprawl "will be reviewed in an upcoming Top Producer, but this essay from The American Enterprise magazine encapsulates many of his key arguments, such as:

Another misunderstanding grows out of the provincialism of critics living in fast-growing urban areas. Many such people have the impression that the entire country is fast being paved over. But in truth, cities and suburbs occupy only a small percentage of our country's land. The entire urban and suburban population of the United States could fit comfortably into Wisconsin at suburban densities. Moreover, the amount of land set aside permanently for parks and wildlife areas has grown faster than urban land. [emphasis mine - I love to emphasize]

The issue also contains another thoughtful interview on urban planning as well.

One key for me in this never-ending debate is that despite near-universal agreement on the disagreeable nature of urban expansion, it continues unabated. Which usually means people are saying one thing and doing another.

Update: TP dropped the "Required Reading" page, so the full review is posted here on JWorld - On the Coffee Table.

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