The Third Anti-sprawl Campaign: Since the 1970s
In many reform movements, by the time opinion coalesces around a given set of diagnoses and prescriptions, the conditions that caused the discontent in the first place may well have been transformed beyond recognition. So it is with the campaign against sprawl. Although the sheer volume of new construction since the 1970s at the periphery of American urban areas has exceeded in size anything that has gone before, this has been due primarily to the fact that the population of urban America has become so much larger. The same could have been said of urban dispersal in the 1950s or the 1920s or the 1890s. In fact, as we have seen, the actual rate of urban and suburban sprawl in the United States already reached its peak in the years between World War I and the end of the 1950s and since then has been declining, as an increasing number of urbanized areas have become denser rather than less dense. Nevertheless, the anti-sprawl campaign has, if anything intensified. In fact, in this campaign, the older antisprawl groups have been joined by a new set of reform activists. The anti-sprawl movement has achieved a great deal more public attention than any of the efforts in the past, not just in the United States and Europe but also in many other places worldwide.
The anti-sprawl reformers have undoubtedly been successful in getting their message across. Whenever the word “sprawl” is mentioned today, it triggers in the mind of most listeners an entire litany of alleged woes, ranging from objective ones, such as the loss of cropland, to highly subjective ones like the supposed ugliness of suburban subdivisions. The complaints against sprawl,