A Field Guide to Sprawl

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A visual lexicon of the colorful slang, from alligator investment to zoomburb, that defines sprawl in America.A Field Guide to Sprawl was selected by the urban web site Planetizen for its list of "Top Ten Books in Urban Studies" and by Discover magazine for its list of "Top 20 Books in Science." Features on the book appeared in The New York Times and the Boston Globe.Duck, ruburb, tower farm, big box, and pig-in-a-python are among the dozens of zany terms invented by real estate developers and designers today to characterize land-use practices and the physical elements of sprawl. Sprawl in the environment, based on the metaphor of a person spread out, is hard to define. This concise book engages its meaning, explains common building patterns, and illustrates the visual culture of sprawl. Seventy-five stunning color aerial photographs, each paired with a definition, convey the impact of excessive development. This "engagingly organized and splendidly photographed" (Wall Street Journal) book provides the verbal and visual vocabulary needed by professionals, public officials, and citizens to critique uncontrolled growth in the American landscape.

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Editorial Reviews

Eric Schlosser
“A wonderful guide to the terrible things being done to the American landscape.”
Boston Globe
“A landmark contribution to this literature.”
The Statement
“[P]rovides a great hawk’s-eye overview of exactly what uncontrolled growth has done to the American landscape…a must-read.”
New Urban News
“A flair for words and a collection of stunning photographs. . . . Captivating.”
New York Times
“May well establish Ms. Hayden as the Roger Tory Peterson of Sprawl.”
Ben Brain - Amateur Photographer
“[T]he images are fascinating and, in many cases, a frightening testament to human impact on the landscape.”
Civic Focus Magazine
“You have to know what to call something before you can do anything about it. So if you really hate the way urban blight is despoiling virgin landscapes, take a look at this snappy pictorial guide to developer slang, US-style, which could rival Dr Seuss for verbal inventiveness.”
Village Books Newsletter
“Educational as well as humorous…a great stocking stuffer for the environmentalist in the family.”
Nicholas A. Phelps - Environment & Planning B: Planning & Design
“[T]he often beguiling beauty of sprawl photographed from the air.”
Publishers Weekly
A mere glance through the pages of this book offers a quick education about the excesses of the recently built environment. By its very nature, sprawl is hard to identify and track, but Hayden, a Yale professor of architecture and American studies, provides a combination of informed but breezy text and 75 large, crisp color images that greatly simplify the task of "decoding everyday American landscapes." Organized alphabetically, with a big two-page spread for each entry, the book moves from "alligator" (an investment that "eats" cash flow, represented here by the vast and ghostly grid of an unbuilt New Mexico suburb) to "zoomburb" (a suburb on steroids, illustrated here by Arizona's spiraling Sun City). Along the way, the reader comes to the depressing understanding that troubling phenomena one might have thought strictly local or temporary-for instance, houses where the garage is the dominant projecting feature-are common enough to have acquired names, in this case "snout house." But more than a set of colorful terms-all of which, from "ball pork" to "parsley round the pig" are carefully sourced-this book is a concise guide to not only sprawl itself but to the powerful political and financial forces that sustain it. If the book has one problematic aspect, it is that Wark's aerial photographs are often so vividly beautiful that they risk aestheticizing their often grim subjects-but their seductive quality serves to draw the viewer into Hayden's passionately sustained argument. (June) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Feminist, architect, and urban historian Hayden (Building Suburbia) skims over territory previously well trod in her other writings to assemble this compact, quirky, self-styled "devil's dictionary." Not nearly as scathingly aphoristic as Ambrose Bierce's original, this collection of 75 terms with illustrated definitions includes standard jargon, such as greenfield; buzzwords made popular by prominent critics of sprawl, such as gridlock; and politically charged slang, such as mansion subsidy. An introductory chapter encapsulates the economic and political history of 20th-century land development, emphasizing that an understanding of the unseen forces that drive sprawl is essential for combating its tragically all-too-visible manifestations. The brief definitions that follow are little more than captions for the book's real attraction: fascinating color aerial photos. Unfortunately, the novel "field guide" approach to defining sprawl for a general audience could backfire, for its allure may be limited to anti-sprawl activists who share Hayden's political leanings and appreciate her irony. James Howard Kunstler's Geography of Nowhere remains a solid introduction to the subject for newcomers. This is a worthy but optional purchase.-David Soltesz, Cuyahoga Cty. P.L., Parma, OH Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
“The book's tongue-in-cheek tone makes the weighty subject matter go down easy.”
“In their illustrated 'devil's dictionary' of land development gone amok, Hayden and Wark highlight such blights as the LULU ( a locally unwanted land use, such as anuclear waste dump) and the TOAD (Temporary, obsolete, abandoned, or derelict site).”
The Nation
“[A] landmark contribution to this literature.”
Jennifer Schuessler - Boston Globe
“An eye-popping compendium of 51 'built conditions' and the memorable terms that describe them.”
Philip Langdon - New Urban News
“A flair for words and a collection of stunning photographs. . . Captivating . . . Hayden packs a lot of information and a wealth of clever coinages into a brief, quick-moving text. The Field Guide will both informa nd entertain readers who are disturbed by the wastefulness and disconnection of conventional development.”
“Zooming alligators! This is a handy introduction to some curious ways of using the land.”
American Scientist
“Field guides to plants abound, but where can an amateur (un)naturalist find something to lead him or her through the jungle of terms used in modern land development? A Field Guide to Sprawl provides such a resource.”
Tia Blassingame - New York Arts Magazine
“With Hayden's informative text and Wark's beautiful photographs, Sprawl is infinitely easier to digest than the actual examples of sprawl presently surrounding us.”
Ann Jarmusch - San Diego Union-Tribune
“Americans do not have to tolerate sprawl…but act now, or forever clutch a survivor's copy of A Field Guide to Sprawl.”
Dale White - Sarasota Herald-Tribune
“Introduces an array of fresh and frequently funny expressions to descrive what's happening to our urban and suburban landscapes.”
Jacqueline Tatom - Journal of Architectural Education
“Hayden argues that, in its vividness, slang fuses description and critique, mobilizing the imagination in a way that expert speech cannot. . . . Once again, Hayden has chosen to look where others had not thought to look, and it is to our benefit. Armed with more knowledge of what came before us and with what stands before us, we are better prepared to take position within the contested landscape of sprawl.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393731989
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/19/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 128
  • Product dimensions: 8.10 (w) x 7.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Dolores Hayden, professor of architecture and American studies at Yale, writes about the politics of design.

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Table of Contents

Foreword 5
I Decoding everyday American landscapes 7
A field guide to sprawl? 7
Sprawl talk 8
What causes sprawl? 10
The war on sprawl 12
Reading the landscape from an airplane 13
From sprawl to sustainable landscapes 16
II An illustrated vocabulary of sprawl 17
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