Sprawl: A Compact History

By Robert Bruegmann | Go to book overview

5
Sprawl since the 1970s

During the last several decades of the twentieth century, cities across the world have had a prodigious growth both in population and land area. Where historically only a few cities anywhere reached a population of a million people, by the end of the twentieth century, China alone had more than thirty cities with a million people—many of them places that few people in the Western world have ever heard of. The largest metropolitan areas today, places like Tokyo-Yokohama, New York City, and Mexico City now number over 20 million people and sprawl across vast territories, incorporating in their urbanized area freeways, shopping centers, industrial parks, subdivisions, airports, and many previously separate urban entities. The most affluent of these, for example, the region from Tijuana in Mexico to Santa Barbara in Southern California, can extend for over one hundred miles, contain more inhabitants, and boast a larger economy than all but a few nations.1

In the affluent industrialized world since the economic upturn of the 1970s a great many cities have been turned inside out in certain respects as the traditional commercial and industrial functions of the central city have been decanted to the edges while the central city and close-in neighborhoods have come to be home to an increasingly affluent residential population and a high-end service economy. With the penetration of urban functions far into the countryside, the old distinctions between urban, suburban, and rural have collapsed. It is often difficult to explain or even characterize change when it is happening all around us all the time, and it appears that we have only begun to scratch the surface in understanding the urban transformations since the 1970s.2 In what follows I

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