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Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism 1st Edition
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"I've studied a lot of books on New Urbanism. Every once and a long while one of them opens my eyes to an entirely new way of thinking. Such is Dead End." --Robert Steuteville, Better! Cities & Towns
"Ben Ross' Dead End is a highly personal account of a larger journey that we are embarked on as a nation -- from sprawl to walkable communities, from anoxic, sterile neighborhoods to vibrant, transit-served urban areas that are the wellspring of innovation, economic development and cultural richness." --John Porcari, Former Deputy Secretary, United States Department of Transportation
"Ben Ross paints the big picture of the battle between sprawl and community from the historic perspective, to the current conflicts to a vision of better land use process. Always focused on the human perspective with subjects as diverse as Jane Jacobs and Pete Seeger to Snob Zoning and Agenda 21, Dead End is an exciting, easy read." --Parris N. Glendening, President, Smart Growth America's Leadership Institute, and former Governor of Maryland (1995-2003)
"This impressively researched and documented history explains the huge pressures for maintaining a status quo that supports sprawl and is unfriendly to walkable cities. Ross argues convincingly that rail transit is 'the political and mental key that opens the door to urban change.'" --Ross Capon, President & CEO, National Association of Railroad Passengers
"...exceedingly readable and thoroughly engaging. This fantastic book effectively channels the spirit of Jane Jacobs in both erudition and dedication to the life of cities in the US. Highly recommended." --CHOICE
About the Author
Benjamin Ross was president of Maryland's Action Committee for Transit for 15 years, which grew under his leadership into the nation's largest grass-roots transit advocacy group. He is a consultant on environmental problems and served on committees of the National Academy of Sciences and EPA Science Advisory Board. He writes frequently on political and social topics in Dissent Magazine and is the author of The Polluters: The Making of Our Chemically Altered Environment.
Top Customer Reviews
First, Mr. Ross's knowledge base is encyclopedic, and he deftly integrates insights from many leading thinkers in the field. He is able to build on the large body of literature thanks to years of study.
The book is also informed by his own experiences here in Maryland, promoting rail transportation. I have met many of the people he acknowledges at the end of the book, including Action Committee for Transit's Harry Sanders (although I didn't know he had sadly passed away). These activists, and others across the nation, inform the narrative. Development rules that restrict freedom (e.g., exclusionary zoning) and put a heavy thumb-on-the-scale in favor of a "windshield" view of planning (e.g., parking minimums) won't disappear without effort by coalitions and communities interested in a bigger picture.
In short, Mr. Ross knows that good policy can only prevail when undergirded by good politics. That means achieving smarter community development isn't just an inside game for planners and engineers, it must be complemented by an outside game which involves a larger circle of citizens (e.g., tenants and not just landowners).
This is what breathes life into a narrative that also contains plenty of wonkery for those of us who are really into that kind of thing. It adds warmth to the light he sheds.
I would have given it more stars but for the fact that I think it could have benefited from some trimming, and that I am not wholly convinced by the argument in his last chapter that rail belongs at the center of any smart growth renaissance (although I am a big fan too).
1. Unlike other books focusing on suburbia, this book discusses NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) resistance to infill development. NIMBYism creates an artificial shortage of urban housing, thus forcing the middle class into suburbia and raising rents for the poor. Ross suggests that NIMBYism is not always motivated by purely tangible concerns such as traffic and property values. Instead, homeowners crave social status- which can be retained not only by excluding the poor, but also through a collective belief that their neighborhood has a unique "brand." So where people believe their neighborhood is unique and unconventional, they will preserve their social status by objecting to development even if it is manifestly harmless or raises property values.
2. Ross discusses the essential dishonesty of zoning law. In theory, zoning is supposed to involve neutral regulation for the public good. But in heavily regulated places, it is really "tollbooth zoning"- a developer has to pay off NIMBYs to get anything built, thus ensuring that only the deepest-pocketed landowners can build anything. Perhaps the best chapter in the book is Chapter 12, which unmasks the essential fraudulence of most public discussion of land use regulation. For example, cities claim that zoning is designed to keep out "incompatible" land uses. But as Ross points out, reliance on compatibility creates a circular argument- whatever cities keep out is by definition incompatible. NIMBYs claim to be keeping out undesirable impacts- but this word conflates "purely psychological desires, among them the wish to keep away from people with lower incomes, with physical detriments like smell and shade."
Of course, if you are not one of these people, and especially if you live in a suburban community, the outrageous comments and snide insults of the author might make you more than a bit upset. I'd advise checking it out at the library first before buying a copy.
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