From Alligator to Zoomburb
In the new book “A Field Guide
to Sprawl” (excerpts, D2-3),
architectural historian Dolores
Hayden and photographer Jim
Wark offer a visual vocabulary
of sprawl, from “alligators” and
“zoomburbs” to “privatopias”
and “LULUs.” What does this new
American landscape reveal about
us? And what, if anything, should
be done about it?
Hayden's suggestion to get rid of the mortgage deduction won't change much because it only saves homeowners around 15%, so they're still paying the lion's share out of pocket. The Founders set up a system where the people are pretty much free to do what they want without interference from control freaks on either the left or the right. So there's nothing that can be done about it. As Walter Cronkite used to say, "that's the way it is." The Founders' brilliance was to break up the system into manageable chunks, thus maintaining a balance of power ensuring the success of the country as a whole. To try to change this is an exercise in futility. An old high school friend of mine once complained to the guidance counselor about some minor annoyance. The guidance counselor gave him some wise advice: live with it.
What this says about us as Americans is not 'gee, look how prosperous they are in America', but sends a message more accurate that we are struggling to find happiness unless we are accumulating more and more material possessions. The concept of living in the 'burbs and constantly moving further out could be interpreted as Americans being 'pioneering' like our earlier ancestors. My feeling is we are just constantly seeking more and more of everything, which is tremedously egocentric. Living in a suburban-sprawl-oversized house that is continously being packed with Pottery Barn and Target items, driving a Cadillac Escalade and getting caught up in your neighborhood 'competition' is a recipe for becoming boring, dull and unintelligent. Furthermore, studies show that relationships deteriorate under these 'lost-focus' conditions (divorce rate at 50%). I'm not surprised other countries look at us like we're idiots. People need to sit down and define what it is they really 'need'. For most of us a decent home with no more than 1500 sq feet, food on our table, clothes on our back, fulfiling work and loved ones around us with whom we have positive relationships should do the trick. Beyond that, it's recipe for the wrong values. I say take your extra money and put it into education for you and/or your family. Travel. Donate. Help the less fortunate. Do something useful. You'll leave this place feeling like you did more than drive the best SUV on the block.
Sprawl says that the American Dream has become too expensive. People have to move out if they want a decent home at a decent price. Sprawl also says that more urban areas only work for upper and lower classes. Sprawl will not go away: so it must be re-engineered to be as effective for everyone involved, and strident zoning is the only way to do it because it's such a great opportunity for developers otherwise.
Zoning is the CAUSE of sprawl. Larger lot sizes, larger setbacks, parking requirements. Everyone hates strip malls, but WE created them. [maximum height regulation, minimum setback, minimum parking per unit] Zoning is not the solution, it is the problem
Like the dot com bubble, we are going through a real estate bubble. There will be a very painful correction in housing prices once the mortgage interest rates hit 7.5-8%. We should learn from these boom and bust cycles. The government has a lot to say about the supply of housing. The quicker we increase it, especially near mass transportation and in core city areas, the better. Sprawl is an example of the lack of sensible government.
It don't mean a thing! If anything instead of these wacky diets we are on we should give most of our food abundance to people starving in other countries. That'll slim down America!
Tim, Somerville, MA
While the new vocabulary and everything is amusing, sprawl is a serious problem. No one wants to really look at the reason for it and do something about it though. Zoning and house prices are just symptoms. The real cause is overpopulation. That is the problem that needs to be targeted. We can not let the overpopulation of the US and the world go unchecked. What this book says about americans to me is that we never tackle the tough problems head on. We'd rather fix the symptoms.
I'm struggling to see the problem here. Are we supposed to jam ourselves into already overpopulated urban areas where noise and air pollution are the way of life?? And pay a million dollars for 800 feet of living space?? Sorry, not for me, never will be. And I'm apparently not alone as evidenced by the demand for this way of life.
At one point, America as we know it was no bigger than the colonies in New England and Virginia. Imagine if the country never grew from those roots. We'd have250 million people living in Boston in "affordable housing" for everyone. You may not like it, but growing nations need to spread their wings. West coast sprawl is by far the worst in the country, but then, of course we need to make room for the millions of illegal aliens who come over the border each year. Want to control sprawl?...Stop giving every law-breaking border crosser amnesty! BTW, Bush has this election locked up!!!
If you allow unbridled immigration and people to have has many kids as they want, Sprawl is a natural by-product. People have to live somewhere, and they are not making land anymore. Sprawl is because we all want a home of our own, with a yard. We don't want to share a building.