Sprawl: A Compact History

By Robert Bruegmann | Go to book overview

13
Anti-sprawl Remedies since the 1970s

The European Experience

As cities across Europe have become more affluent in the last decades of the twentieth century, they have witnessed a continuing decline in population densities in the historic core, a quickening of the pace of suburban and exurban development, a sharp rise in automobile ownership and use, and the proliferation of subdivisions of single-family houses and suburban shopping centers. All of these changes have been very beneficial for many urban inhabitants. But, predictably enough, for many highbrow observers, they are just more sprawl, and they need to be fought with every tool in the planner's arsenal.

At first glance it would appear that many of the cities in northern and western Europe had some success in stopping sprawl (fig. 15). In Hamburg, for example, a vibrant historic core still dominates the region. Much of the office space is still located there; there, as well, is the largest collection of retailers. Outside the core, residential neighborhoods are connected back to the center by an efficient transportation system. Beyond the contiguous built-up area, tidy farms and green forests are dotted with small, compact suburban settlements, often clustered around what used to be agricultural villages. Differences in wealth are much less obvious than in American cities. There is no widespread abandonment or urban decay and nothing resembling an American slum. To many American observers, a city like Hamburg, affluent but with a high level of car ownership, demonstrates that planning can accommodate a modern economy and still allow the preservation of an older urban pattern.

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