Sprawl, Justice, and Citizenship: The Civic Costs of the American Way of Life

Sprawl, Justice, and Citizenship: The Civic Costs of the American Way of Life

Sprawl, Justice, and Citizenship: The Civic Costs of the American Way of Life

Sprawl, Justice, and Citizenship: The Civic Costs of the American Way of Life

Synopsis

Must the strip mall and the eight-lane highway define 21st century American life? That is a central question posed by critics of suburban and exurban living in America. Yet despite the ubiquity of the critique, it never sticks--Americans by the scores of millions have willingly moved into sprawling developments over the past few decades. Americans find many of the more substantial criticisms of sprawl easy to ignore because they often come across as snobbish in tone. Yet as Thad Williamson explains, sprawl does create real, measurable social problems. Williamson's work is unique in two important ways. First, while he highlights the deleterious effects of sprawl on civic life in America, he is also evenhanded. He does not dismiss the pastoral, homeowning ideal that is at theroot of sprawl, and is sympathetic to the vast numbers of Americans who very clearly prefer it. Secondly, his critique is neither aesthetic nor moralistic in tone, but based on social science. Utilizing a landmark 30,000-person survey, he shows that sprawl fosters civic disengagement, diminishes social trust, accentuates inequality, and negatively impacts the environment. Sprawl, Justice, and Citizenship will not only be the most comprehensive work in print on the subject, it will bethe first to offer a empirically rigorous critique of the most popular form of living in America today.

Excerpt

Must the strip mall and the eight-lane highway define twentyfirst-century U.S. life? the possibility that they might is depressing to many concerned Americans. the sight of yet another new subdivision on the fringe of a metropolitan area, the opening of another big-box store, and the prospect of another roadconstruction project raise little enthusiasm among either academic critics of sprawl or ordinary Americans worn out by growing traffic congestion and long automobile commutes.

Yet the anti-sprawl movement, one of the most striking recent developments in both environmental and urban politics, finds itself at an impasse. Local and state initiatives aimed at combating sprawl have thus far failed to generate either political momentum or broad public consensus on behalf of sustained, comprehensive policy action. Nearly two decades after the formation of the Congress for the New Urbanism and Vice President Al Gore’s failed proposal for a carbon tax, federal policy continues to promote suburbanization while Hummers and SUVs overrun the nation’s roadways, doing their part (and then some) to contribute to the nation’s prodigious greenhouse-gas emissions. the anti-sprawl movement has reshaped the debate and spurred some constructive policy steps at the local and state levels, and criticism of urban sprawl is a regular feature of numerous politicians’ speeches on urban policy, including the current president of the United States. Yet while the recent economic crisis in the United States has slowed suburban growth in many areas, decentralized, automobile-driven expansion of the . . .

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