Sunday, June 24, 2007

One Man's Sprawl is Another Man's Castle

We often hear people complaining about "sprawl." We know it's not supposed to be a good thing. But when a negative word is used to describe a positive reality, what do you believe? The word or the reality?

Robert Bruegmann, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the author of Sprawl: A Compact History, does a nice job clarifying the issue. In his article "In Defense of Sprawl" on, he says complaints about sprawl "are built on an extremely shaky foundation of class-based aesthetic assumptions and misinformation." In other words, ignorance and snobbery.

Bruegmann concludes:

"Sprawl in itself is not a bad thing. What is bad is the concept of 'sprawl' itself, which by lumping together all kinds of issues, some real and important and some trivial or irrelevant, has distracted us from many real and pressing urban issues. It also provides the dangerous illusion that there is a silver bullet solution to many of the discontents created by the fast and chaotic change that has always characterized city life.

Sprawl, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. All the more reason we should be skeptical of planning boards that claim to speak with final authority on either subject.

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