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A Field Guide to Sprawl

4.3 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393731255
ISBN-10: 0393731251
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Editorial Reviews

From 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


[A] landmark contribution to this literature. (The Nation)

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 inform and entertain readers who are disturbed by the wastefulness and disconnection of conventional development. (Philip Langdon - New Urban News)

Zooming alligators! This is a handy introduction to some curious ways of using the land. (landartnet.org)

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. (American Scientist)

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. (Jacqueline Tatom - Journal of Architectural Education)

A wonderful guide to the terrible things being done to the American landscape. (Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (July 17, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393731251
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393731255
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 0.9 x 7.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,450,784 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dolores Hayden teaches popular courses on the American landscape at Yale University and has been the subject of features in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and on The Diane Rehm Show. A leading historian of American places and the politics of design, she has written six award-winning books that engage readers interested in how Americans have shaped their landscapes, towns, and buildings. Redesigning the American Dream received an American Library Association Notable Book Award for nonfiction.

Hayden is also a widely published poet. Her newest poetry collection is Nymph, Dun, and Spinner, published in November 2010.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you have ever wondered what to call those cul-de-sacs that took the place of the dairy farm down the road, this field guide will finally give you the language to express yourself. With fascinating aerial photographs of all sorts of American sprawl, and interesting, to-the-point accompanying paragraphs, this field guide is a must to share with those neighbors of yours who lack the imagination to envision what will happen in their part of the woods (if the woods still exist) when subdividers come to town. (Naw, it's not happily ever after because the property taxes will increase revenue for the town.) Read this guide and you will never be content to leave the future of God's green earth in the hands of suburban planners again.
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Format: Hardcover
Dolores Hayden's intriguing book visually decodes fifty-one examples of bad building in the landscape and the use of aerial photography to do this was a good idea, sprawl by its nature stretches off into the horizon but when seen at ground-level could seem pretty ordinary. Some of the differences though, especially with domestic dwellings, seem a bit arbitrary, there are seven examples of housing shown which, to me, don't seem that different. With commercial sprawl it is easy to understand the visual differences, from 'Rural slammer' (Soledad) to 'Tank farm' (part of the port of Houston)

Though the book is primarily visual, with seventy-five well chosen aerial photos used to illustrate the categories, I thought the essay on the first ten pages was first class in explaining the reasons behind sprawl, basically the fault of those folk in Washington allowing commercial interests to favor suburban white populations and male-headed households during the last few decades. The back of the book has a useful bibliography, list of websites and index.

Jim Wark's aerial photos were used by the author to carefully explain the categories and you can see several hundred other examples of his work in 'America' (ISBN 8854400033). If you like aerial photos have a look at Alex MacLean's book 'Designs on the Land' (ISBN 0500284148) with over four hundred stunning color photos of what is happening commercially on the ground.

Though a large number of Americans live in the sprawl environment (and by choice, too) it is worth remembering that over ninety percent of the US is still open land. This fascinating book is a useful visual guide to how bad things can get.

***FOR AN INSIDE LOOK click 'customer images' under the cover.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The numerous color aerial photos in this book do a wonderful job of putting US development patterns into a whole new perspective. This isn't intended to be the end all be all of commentary about sprawl. For that, there are plenty of other great books that emphasize analysis and critique rather than a visual approach (A Better Way to Live is an example of a terrific book in the former category). This book is a great introduction to the different kinds of sprawl and what they look like. Sure, Dolores Hayden puts a fairly cynical touch on what commentary there is, but when you see the pictures of how developers have ruined our open spaces, you'll understand why. In short, a great little book that achieves its purpose very well.
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Format: Hardcover
I agree with both the positive and negative reviews: I loved the pictures (as did the positive reviews)- they definitely gave me a better feel for concepts like "pods" that I am used to seeing from ground level. But I also think that some of Hayden's language was unclear, needlessly polemical, or both. For example, she writes that ducks (buildings that serve as advertisements) "are always out of context and do little to unify neighborhoods." But what does it mean for a building to be "out of context"? How does a cheese shop "unify a neighborhood", whether it is ugly or pretty? Also, Hayden's points sometimes have little to do with sprawl- for example, she has an entry on "Export Garbage" but she does not explain why she thinks suburbs generate more garbage than cities.

But on balance I liked this book, mainly because she spends only a paragraph or two on each concept, so even the text entries I would have written differently did not take up a lot of my time.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a fun little book that defines 51 different aspects of urban sprawl. The author, Dolores Hayden, replaces the technical jargon of architects and urban planners with common terms like "snout house" "zoomburb" and "duck." She suggests that by using these simple terms people can identify sprawl in their own communities and thus better understand what causes it. While the terms in the book are unique and novel we doubt that we will be using them any time soon. While the terms are a bit difficult to put into use the ideas behind each term are great. This book introduced us to many aspects of sprawl that we may not otherwise have recognized. The book is a quick, easy read. Just as one would expect of a "field guide" each spread of pages defines a single term in alphabetical order, in one or two small paragraphs. Amazing aerial photographs compliment each term and paints a clear picture on each specific definition. The author wishes that everybody keep a copy of this book in their glove department (no doubt trying to bolster her sales) so that they next time you are experiencing "gridlock" you will quickly be able to find which aspect of sprawl is to blame. We do not see a need for everyone to buy this book although it is nice reference material. Our official recommendation is READ.
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