Sprawl: A Compact History
Robert Bruegmann talks about his path-breaking book Sprawl: A Compact History, lauded as the “first major book to strip urban sprawl of its pejorative connotations.” What in the world – or at least in the suburbs – possessed him?
“Virtually overnight,” he writes, “the anti-sprawl reformers’ new catchphrase ‘smart growth’ seemed to be everywhere. It appeared as though every right-minded individual and organization in the country was convinced that sprawl was economically inefficient, environmentally detrimental, socially deplorable, and aesthetically ugly – in short, an unmitigated disaster. In fact, so many ‘right-minded’ people were so vociferous on the subject that I began to suspect that there must be something suspicious about the argument itself.”
In contrast to “cramped tenements” and “pollution-choked streets” of pre-sprawl yore, this is how Professor Bruegmann describes the communities where increasing legions of people around the world now live: Not only are they “much cleaner, greener, and safer,” but they also feature much more “privacy, mobility, and choice.” At the very least, he concludes, “our highly dispersed urban regions deserve some respectful attention before we jump to the conclusion that they are terrible places that need to be totally transformed.”
Robert Bruegmann is professor of art history, architecture, and urban planning at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
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