Sprawl: A Compact History / Edition 1

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Overview

"As anyone who has flown into Los Angeles at dusk or London at midday knows, urban areas today defy traditional notions of what a city is. Our old definitions of urban, suburban, and rural fail to capture the complexity of these vast regions with their superhighways, subdivisions, industrial areas, office parks, and resorts pushing far out into the countryside. Detractors call it sprawl and assert that it is economically inefficient, socially inequitable, environmentally irresponsible - and ugly. Robert Bruegmann calls it a logical consequence of economic growth and the democratization of society, with benefits that urban planners have failed to recognize." "In his history of the expanded city, Bruegmann overturns every assumption we have about sprawl. Taking a long view of urban development, he demonstrates that sprawl is neither recent nor particularly American but as old as cities themselves, just as characteristic of ancient Rome and eighteenth-century Paris as it is of Atlanta or Los Angeles. Nor is sprawl the disaster claimed by many contemporary observers. Although sprawl, like any settlement pattern, has undoubtedly produced problems that must be addressed, it has also provided millions of people with the kinds of mobility, privacy, and choice that were once the exclusive prerogatives of the rich and powerful." The first major book to strip urban sprawl of its pejorative connotations, Sprawl offers a completely new vision of the city and its growth. Bruegmann provides readers with many provocative insights that confound received opinion about what urban life has been and could be.
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Editorial Reviews

Governing Magazine
Almost compulsively contrarian.

— Alan Ehrenhalt

Slate
There are scores of books offering 'solutions' to sprawl. Their authors would do well to read this book. To find solutions—or, rather, better ways to manage sprawl, which is not the same thing—it helps to get the problem right.—Witold Rybczynski, Slate

— Witold Rybczynski

National Post
Urban elites and the left have for decades savaged the suburb, arguing that the suburb is environmentally unsustainable, an aesthetic blight on the landscape, homogeneously white bread and morally defective. A backlash is now well underway, with a slew of pro-suburb writers and policy wonks . . . attacking these politically correct views and defending the homes of what has become the majority of Americans. The latest defence—an engaging and non-ideological book entitled Sprawl . . . promises to become the most influential of the lot.—Lawrence Solomon, National Post

— Lawrence Solomon

Wall Street Journal
Largely missing from this debate [over sprawl] has been a sound and reasoned history of this pattern of living. With Robert Bruegmann's Sprawl: A Compact History, we now have one. What a pleasure it is: well-written, accessible and eager to challenge the current cant about sprawl.

— Joel Kotkin

Chicago Sun-Times
Controversial and gleefully contrarian.

— Kevin Nance

Chicago Tribune
Sure to become a flash point in the debate over sprawl and is therefore well worth reading—even if the book tempts you to toss it out the window.

— Blair Kamin

Commonwealth
[Sprawl] is a good and timely book, and I recommend it to anyone interested in cities or general patterns of human settlement. The book is meticulously researched, ambitious in scope, well reasoned, and enjoyable to read. It offers a carefully balanced, non-polemical overview of a subject much polemicized in recent times.—Alex Krieger, Commonwealth

— Alex Krieger

London Review of Books
To judge whether sprawl is a symptom of global capitalism at its most rampant and wasteful . . . technical arguments must be addressed. Bruegmann takes us through them lucidly and economically, neither flinching from nor getting mired in detail, and steering deftly between neo-con smugness and liberal anguish. These qualities make Sprawl a textbook for our times.”

— Andrew Saint

Urban Design Review
If you have not read Sprawl: A Compact History, drop everything, obtain a copy and read it. It is the most important book on the American landscape since Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Do not be deceived. Sprawl is as much about cities as it is about suburbs; as much about England, France, Germany, and Russia as it is about the United States; and as much about the early 21st century exurb as it is about 19th century slums or ancient Rome. It succeeds as a deeply illuminating work because of Robert Bruegmann's unique position among urbanists: He combines an insistence on looking at what is actually on the landscape with an encyclopedic knowledge with the literature on cities. The result is a keen observer able to identify striking relationships. . . . . You may think you know this material. Be assured—once you read this book you will be amazed how little you truly understood about the subject.

— Alexander Garvin

Annals of the Association of American Geographers
This is a book that a geographer should have written. Scholarly, yet acces
— Richard Harris
Preservation
By asking tough questions, postulating rational responses, and trying to separate fact from fiction, Sprawl may be the most intelligent critique of antisprawl reform in print. It is unquestionably a book to be read and debated.

— Martin Zimmerman

Harvard Design Magazine
[Sprawl] is a very good and timely book, and I recommend it to anyone interested in cities or general patterns of human settlement. The book is meticulously researched, ambitious in historic scope, well reasoned, and enjoyable to read. It offers a carefully balanced, non-polemical overview of a subject much polemicized in recent times.

— Alex Krieger

Architectual Review
The clarity of writing . . . makes the book a pleasure to read. [Bruegmann] is tough on ecologists, public trnsportation supporters, planners . . . critics of capitalism, and anyone who cannot accept that suburbs are where most people want to live.

— David Dunster

Governing Magazine - Alan Ehrenhalt

"Almost compulsively contrarian."
Slate - Witold Rybczynski

"There are scores of books offering 'solutions' to sprawl. Their authors would do well to read this book. To find solutions--or, rather, better ways to manage sprawl, which is not the same thing--it helps to get the problem right."--Witold Rybczynski, Slate
National Post - Lawrence Solomon

"Urban elites and the left have for decades savaged the suburb, arguing that the suburb is environmentally unsustainable, an aesthetic blight on the landscape, homogeneously white bread and morally defective. A backlash is now well underway, with a slew of pro-suburb writers and policy wonks . . . attacking these politically correct views and defending the homes of what has become the majority of Americans. The latest defence--an engaging and non-ideological book entitled Sprawl . . . promises to become the most influential of the lot."--Lawrence Solomon, National Post
Wall Street Journal - Joel Kotkin

"Largely missing from this debate [over sprawl] has been a sound and reasoned history of this pattern of living. With Robert Bruegmann's Sprawl: A Compact History, we now have one. What a pleasure it is: well-written, accessible and eager to challenge the current cant about sprawl."
Chicago Sun-Times - Kevin Nance

"Controversial and gleefully contrarian."
Chicago Tribune - Blair Kamin

"Sure to become a flash point in the debate over sprawl and is therefore well worth reading--even if the book tempts you to toss it out the window."
Commonwealth - Alex Krieger

"[Sprawl] is a very good and timely book, and I recommend it to anyone interested in cities or general patterns of human settlement. The book is meticulously researched, ambitious in historic scope, well reasoned, and enjoyable to read. It offers a carefully balanced, non-polemical overview of a subject much polemicized in recent times."
London Review of Books - Andrew Saint

“To judge whether sprawl is a symptom of global capitalism at its most rampant and wasteful . . . technical arguments must be addressed. Bruegmann takes us through them lucidly and economically, neither flinching from nor getting mired in detail, and steering deftly between neo-con smugness and liberal anguish. These qualities make Sprawl a textbook for our times.”
Urban Design Review - Alexander Garvin

"If you have not read Sprawl: A Compact History, drop everything, obtain a copy and read it. It is the most important book on the American landscape since Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Do not be deceived. Sprawl is as much about cities as it is about suburbs; as much about England, France, Germany, and Russia as it is about the United States; and as much about the early 21st century exurb as it is about 19th century slums or ancient Rome. It succeeds as a deeply illuminating work because of Robert Bruegmann's unique position among urbanists: He combines an insistence on looking at what is actually on the landscape with an encyclopedic knowledge with the literature on cities. The result is a keen observer able to identify striking relationships. . . . . You may think you know this material. Be assured--once you read this book you will be amazed how little you truly understood about the subject."
Annals of the Association of American Geographers - Richard Harris

"This is a book that a geographer should have written. Scholarly, yet accessible to a wide audience, it treats an important subject that is both controversial and inherently spatial. . . . Subtle and well-informed, [Sprawl] mounts a sustained critique of a set of assumptions and arguments that dominate public and academic debate. For anyone with an interest in, or a practical engagement with, urban development issues, Sprawl is indispensable reading."
Preservation - Martin Zimmerman

"By asking tough questions, postulating rational responses, and trying to separate fact from fiction, Sprawl may be the most intelligent critique of antisprawl reform in print. It is unquestionably a book to be read and debated."
Architectual Review - David Dunster

"The clarity of writing . . . makes the book a pleasure to read. [Bruegmann] is tough on ecologists, public trnsportation supporters, planners . . . critics of capitalism, and anyone who cannot accept that suburbs are where most people want to live."
Publishers Weekly
After 70 years of suffering the slings and arrows of academic criticism, suburban life finally finds a compelling defender in Bruegmann. A professor of art history and urban planning at the University of Illinois-Chicago, Bruegmann demonstrates that urban sprawl is a natural process as old as the world's oldest cities, wherein large metropolises reach a point of maturity and those with financial means escape the congestion and high prices of city life. What has changed over the past century, the author says, is that an increasing number of citizens have achieved the financial means to participate in what was once an exclusive luxury of the wealthy. Bruegmann acknowledges that the effects on cities are not always positive, but he also demonstrates that many of the criticisms of suburban sprawl e.g., that it is culturally deficient and environmentally noxious are greatly exaggerated and ignore the very real benefits sprawl offers in terms of privacy, mobility and choice. With his disdain for doomsday predictions and his disregard for the academic consensus, Bruegmann's thorough analysis is sure to be controversial, but a shot of controversy ought to do the field, and public dialogue about it, some good. 25 b&w illus., 5 maps. Agent, Carl Brandt. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226076904
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/2005
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 306
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author


Robert Bruegmann is chair of and professor in the Department of Art History at the University of Illinois at Chicago as well as professor in the School of Architecture and the Program in Urban Planning. His many books include The Architects and the City: Holabird & Roche of Chicago, 1880-1918, also published by the University of Chicago Press.
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Read an Excerpt

Sprawl

A Compact History
By Robert Bruegmann

University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2005 University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-226-07690-3


Chapter One

Early Sprawl

One of the most important facts about cities from the beginning of recorded history until the fairly recent past was the sharp distinction between urban and rural ways of life. Within the city wall of most early cities, a visitor would see a dense mass of buildings, congested streets, and a rich and highly dynamic urban life offering many choices, at least for those able to afford them. A few miles outside the walls, however, the same visitor might see nothing but croplands and rural villages. The pace of daily activities would be slower, the environment less quick to change, and social and political life completely different.

In almost every era in urban history, however, there was a transitional zone between the two, a region just outside the city that housed activities and individuals that were still intimately connected with the social and economic life of the city but that couldn't be accommodated easily within the walls. This zone provided space for burial grounds, pottery works, or other industries that were either too space consuming or too noxious to be tolerated within the city itself. It also housed marginal social or political groups and families too poor to afford dwellings inside thewalls. In a great many cities, however, this zone also supported activities of a very different sort. Here were the houses of affluent or powerful families who had the means to build and maintain working farms or villas or second houses where they could escape the congestion, noise, contagion, and social unrest that have characterized the center of large cities from the beginning of time until our own day. Sometimes these settlements were permanent, sometimes for seasonal or occasional use. Sometimes they were fairly compact, composed, for example, of small villas surrounded by gardens in a pattern we would today call suburban. In other cases they were very dispersed with imposing houses set on a large acreage, often with a conscious attempt to maintain a rural appearance. These we would call today exurban.

Although this pattern apparently characterized Babylon and Ur and many of the earliest large cities known to us, the best evidence we have comes from ancient Rome. At the beginning of the Christian era, this great city had an estimated population of about 1 million people piled up within city walls that enclosed a little more than six square miles. In other words it had a population of a city like Dallas today but in less than one-fiftieth of the space. This created densities of something like 150,000 per square mile. This kind of density, which would translate to more than two hundred people per acre, seems to have characterized most large, thriving cities up until the beginning of the twentieth century. It is hard for us today even to imagine the consequences of crowding of this order in cities that had, by today's standards, primitive water delivery, waste removal, and transportation services.

In Rome, as in most other cities until quite recently, this crowding was even worse than the figures suggest because social and economic inequalities were much greater than they are today. A small group of wealthy Romans lived in splendor in spacious palaces that, together with nonresidential facilities, took up most of the space within the walls. This left relatively little acreage for the neighborhoods that housed the vast majority of families. In these neighborhoods apartment blocks were built so densely that they allowed little direct sunlight or ventilation into living quarters. Human wastes disgorged from the apartments into the streets contaminated the soil and water; a vast number of fires used for heating and industrial uses polluted the air. It is not surprising that periodic epidemics wiped out large segments of the urban population. These urban plagues continued in the Western world until well into the twentieth century, and they continue to this day in some large cities in the developing world.

Despite the obvious problems, several factors made high densities in cities a necessary evil. One was the fact that most cities owed their existence to some specific geographical feature: a site along a trade route, a safe harbor, a good location for a bridge, a piece of ground that could be easily defended, a rapids that could be harnessed to provide water power. The cities that developed around these strategic points could not spread very far because of the limits of accessibility. For the wealthy, accessibility was usually not a problem because they had horses and carriages; for the poor there was only walking. This meant that until the widespread availability of inexpensive public transportation, which was a development of the late nineteenth century, most urban functions had to be located in close proximity to one another. Residential, commercial, and industrial facilities often mingled indiscriminately along the crowded streets with little consideration for the health or safety of the inhabitants. Crowding was reinforced by military considerations as well. Most large cities, at least until the nineteenth century, were walled for security reasons, and the crushing expense of building and maintaining the wall guaranteed that cities remained as compact as possible. They expanded only when the lack of space for essential urban activities became truly intolerable.

Outside the walls of Rome was what citizens called suburbium, meaning what was literally below or outside the walls. Here were land uses that couldn't be accommodated in the city. Along the roads that led out of town grew up settlements that clustered around industrial facilities, cemeteries, and businesses catering to travelers entering and leaving the city. For many suburbanites, the reason for living in the suburbs was a matter of cost. They could not afford to live in the city and so had to forgo urban services and the protection of the walls. These residents often lived in poorly built dwellings that could be even worse than those within the walls because of the lack of municipal services and the pollution generated by brick kilns, slaughterhouses, and other industries. At the opposite end of the spectrum were some of the wealthiest Romans, who could afford to maintain, in addition to their city residences, elegant villas near the sea or in the cool hills east of Rome near places like Tivoli and Frascati.

Sometimes these suburban or exurban dwellings served only as weekend houses, but for those who could afford to do so, these weekend houses often became much more than that. Ancient, medieval and early modern literature is filled with stories of the elegant life of a privileged aristocracy living for large parts of the year in villas and hunting lodges at the periphery of large cities. Nor was the preference for living quarters outside the center restricted to the Western world. Exactly the same sentiments in favor of low-density living outside the city were voiced by the gentry in China at least as early as the Ming dynasty. High density, from the time of Babylon until recently, was the great urban evil, and many of the wealthiest or most powerful citizens found ways to escape it at least temporarily.

It appears that the forces that work toward increased concentration and those fueling a drive toward decentralization are, like so many other aspects of urban life, related to economic cycles. Although little is known about these cycles, it appears that throughout history, at least until recently, as most cities went through their most intense phase of early economic growth, the process of concentration tended to dominate over that of decentralization as residents from outlying areas were drawn into the city center. Then, as the economy matured, the balance shifted as the number of residents who were able to move outward to the suburbs and exurbs exceeded the number coming from the agricultural hinterland to the center.

We can use modern London as a good exemplar of these processes. Because London was the largest and economically most dynamic city in the Western world in the early modern period, it was here that these trends were most apparent. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, for example, there was a vast influx of new residents both because changes in agricultural production forced thousands of families off the land and because an expanding urban job market based on new modes of industrial production lured others in. The piling up of population and commercial activities at constantly higher densities in the center, however, tended to produce a countervailing move of people out to the urban periphery.

During this period an entire new class of Londoners, flush with the profits earned in an expanding economy, was able to build or lease houses well beyond the walls of the city of London. The most important direction for affluent suburban growth was to the west, stretching in the direction of the leafy gardens of the royal palaces at Westminster and Whitehall. In this area, in what is now London's Central West End, several of the great aristocratic families developed their land as private, sometimes gated, communities with townhouses laid out around landscaped squares. Life here would have been remarkably calm, quiet, and orderly compared to that along the teeming streets of the walled city of London a mile and a half to the east. For many residents it involved what was then a long-distance commute back into the city by private carriage.

There was also suburban development to the east of the London walls but of a vastly different kind. This area accommodated large-scale warehouses and industrial facilities near the great London docklands. These industrial activities drew working-class families attached to them. The densities of these districts sometimes rivaled those within the walls. As a consequence they, like the least affluent quarters of the city of London itself, were congested, unpleasant, and unhealthy. Observers increasingly spoke of two entirely different Londons, the affluent, airy one to the west and the dark and congested one to the east. Clearly, from the beginning of modern urban history, and contrary to much accepted wisdom, suburban development was very diverse and catered to all kinds of people and activities.

Beyond suburbia there was also a significant development in what we would now call exurbia, in thinly settled areas beyond the regularly built-up city and suburbs. Although much of this exurban territory often looked purely rural and agricultural, this appearance, often maintained at great expense, belied the fact that the primary economic, social, and cultural ties of the inhabitants were back to the city. Daniel Defoe, in his descriptions of Surrey in the early eighteenth century, was struck by the number of houses of "gentlemen of quality" in the villages around the city. These men were neither farmers nor members of the landed gentry. Instead their houses were "citizen's country houses whither they retire from the hurries of business and getting money, to draw their breath in a clear air, and to divert themselves and their families in the hot weather."

This world, familiar to us from the works of authors like Jane Austen, represented a vast change in urban society. The amount of wealth required to build, staff, and maintain a country house in the Renaissance would have been beyond the reach of any but the wealthiest families in any society. These houses often required entire villages to house all of the workers needed to provide the necessities of everyday life. Already by the eighteenth century, in affluent countries like Britain, a highly developed transportation and communications system made it possible for a much larger group of citizens to enjoy the pleasures of living at different times in both city and country.

The exodus of families from central London to suburbia and exurbia was offset by the continued arrival of poor newcomers from the countryside. The result was a great churning of population as both centralization and decentralization exerted their influence. Already by the seventeenth century, however, the processes of decentralization were clearly the more important. As a result, London's density curve started to drop and flatten significantly as the center started to lose population and the periphery started to fill up (fig. 1). London had a long head start in this development over rivals like Paris or Naples not only because of its size and booming economy but because of the fact that England was an island and relatively peaceful. This had allowed it to dispense with the defensive walls that constrained outward development much earlier than most continental cities. As a result the London area soon boasted one of the lowest densities of any large cities in the world, a distinction it maintains to this day.

As cities throughout the Western world experienced the full impact of the industrial revolution in the nineteenth century they followed the lead of London both in the process of piling up of density at the center and in the move of people and activities away from it (fig. 2). The two phenomena were, in fact, closely linked. The same factories that helped create wealth for a rapidly expanding middle class also created pollution and overcrowding. The same railroads that brought goods and people to the great factories also provided the means for the affluent to escape these industrial districts every evening.

Because of new building technologies and infrastructure in the nineteenth century, it was possible for real estate speculators to develop the industrial quarters of some large cities more densely than anything seen before. The central arrondissements of the city of Paris topped 200,000 people per square mile in the mid-nineteenth century. Cities in North America, because they reached the peak of industrial activity even later than their counterparts in Europe, attained even higher densities and did so somewhat later. New York City, for example, saw its apogee of density only in the early years of the twentieth century when parts of the Lower East Side of Manhattan peaked at more than 400,000 people per square mile or more than six hundred people per acre. These were probably the highest densities recorded to that date and rival those of some of the densest districts in cities today, notably certain neighborhoods with vast numbers of new immigrants in Hong Kong, Manila, Cairo, or Mumbai (Bombay).

In the case of the affluent cities of the Western world, this crowding was short-lived. By the late nineteenth century, almost all affluent northern European cities were decanting rapidly. A map of virtually any northern European city in the late nineteenth century would have shown a tightly knit pattern of streets in the historic core surrounded by broad boulevards where the outer walls had been removed, usually earlier in the century, then widely spaced villa districts to one side of the city and industrial suburbs to the other. Beyond were the small commuter suburbs and finally the exurban villages with their surrounding estates.

The process was even more rapid in American cities. The Lower East Side of New York, for example, began emptying out rapidly after 1900 as soon as immigrants accumulated enough money to allow them to get better housing in less dense neighborhoods farther afield. At first they walked over the East River bridges to nearby communities like Williamsburg and Greenpoint in Brooklyn. Eventually, inexpensive public transportation allowed them to live much farther from their place of employment, for example, in northern Manhattan and the outlying boroughs. After several decades of outward movement, there were not enough tenants left to fill the oldest and least sanitary tenements on the Lower East Side. In response to the outward migration, together with new, tighter building laws, many building owners boarded up their properties above the first floor or abandoned them altogether. Densities plummeted. Manufacturing firms dispersed along with the residents, sometimes in advance and sometimes trailing, as they required larger and more up-to-date facilities. Along with the factories, many retail establishments dispersed as well. Both the residential and the employment density curves in the New York area flattened rapidly.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Sprawl by Robert Bruegmann Copyright © 2005 by University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

1 Defining sprawl 17
2 Early sprawl 21
3 Sprawl in the interwar boom years 33
4 Sprawl in the postwar boom years 42
5 Sprawl since the 1970s 51
6 The causes of sprawl 96
7 Early anti-sprawl arguments 115
8 The first anti-sprawl campaign : Britain in the 1920s 117
9 The second anti-sprawl campaign : the United States in the postwar years 121
10 The third anti-sprawl campaign : since the 1970s 137
11 Early remedies : from anti-blight to anti-sprawl 169
12 Postwar anti-sprawl remedies 173
13 Anti-sprawl remedies since the 1970s 199
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