Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Sprawl: A Compact History

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Sprawl: A Compact History

Article excerpt

Sprawl: A Compact History, by Robert Bruegmann. Chicago, November 2005. $27.50

Sprawl, defined as "unplanned, scattered, low density, automobile-dependent development at the urban periphery" has become a bogeyman for many politicians, planners, environmentalists, and so-called "new urbanist" architects and planners. This book is presented as "the first major book to strip urban sprawl of its pejorative connotations." Bruegmann, an urban historian, takes some of the polemical wind out of the anti-sprawl forces and that is a useful corrective. He demonstrates with historical evidence that suburbanization, if not sprawl, has been a tendency for centuries, and in many nations. As he argues, suburbanization is not necessarily destructive, but a positive response to affluence and to a love for pastoral settings. Bruegman also shows how a superficial understanding of the forces of sprawl will lead to inadequate responses to it.

But Bruegmann spends more time debunking the contemporary anti-sprawl movement on grounds that are less historically than ideologically based. Sprawl, especially in the US is the result of deep-seated desires to escape the city, of mythical notions of property rights, and of the misguided belief that expansive growth is necessary for economic vitality and human progress. …

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