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Sprawl: A Compact History annotated edition Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0226076904
ISBN-10: 0226076903
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Editorial Reviews

From 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.
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Review

"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."--Publishers Weekly


(Publishers Weekly)

"Almost compulsively contrarian."
(Alan Ehrenhalt Governing Magazine)

"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 Slate 2005-11-07)

"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 National Post 2005-11-12)

"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 Wall Street Journal 2005-12-10)

"Controversial and gleefully contrarian."
(Kevin Nance Chicago Sun-Times 2005-12-27)

"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 Chicago Tribune 2005-12-16)

“[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 Commonwealth)

“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 London Review of Books 2006-04-06)

"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 Urban Design Review)

"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."
(Richard Harris Annals of the Association of American Geographers)

"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 Preservation)

"[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 Harvard Design Magazine)

"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 Architectual Review)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 306 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; annotated edition edition (November 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226076903
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226076904
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #904,690 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert Bruegmann is an historian of architecture, landscape and the built environment. He received his BA from Principia College in 1970 and his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 1976. In 1977 he joined the faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he is currently University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Art History, Architecture and Urban Planning. He has also taught at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia College of the Arts, MIT and Columbia University.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 51 people found the following review helpful By A. Pagano on March 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I suppose I am one of those "elites" that Robert Bruegmann writes about in "Sprawl: A Compact History." I was born and raised in New York City. I grew up riding public transit and shopping at local mom n' pop stores. I watched many of my relatives leave the big city for greener pastures, and I noticed what a pain it was to go visit them on holidays because of the traffic. My parents refused to buy into the suburban lifestyle and stayed in the city. Even though my life and career path took me away from my beloved city, I have always tried to reside in the more urban parts of whatever area I happened to live. The suburbs never appealed to me, so naturally I was drawn to all of the anti-sprawl rhetoric and it all seemed perfectly reasonable to me. Bruegmann's book has changed that.

"Sprawl: A Compact History" might appear to be "pro-sprawl," but to dismiss the book out of hand because of this is to miss much of the point. Bruegmann does a great job explaining some things that probably should be obvious: sprawl is not new, there are lots of appealing aspects of sprawl (even for city dwellers) and it's not going away. He discusses the history of what most people would consider sprawl in places as far flung as Chicago, Paris and Tokyo and demonstrates that it was going on for a long time before anybody called it "sprawl" and decided it was bad. He notes that the existence of sprawl does not necessarily mean the death of great cities. He tackles many of the prevailing anti-sprawl arguments including the idea that sprawl causes congestion and ruins the environment.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Junius Gunaratne on May 29, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Anyone who embraces a progressive stance towards urban development is likely to strongly disagree with the fundamental premise of this book. Bruegmann claims that sprawl is inevitable and changing policy will do little to truly curb suburban development over time. As societies become more affluent, people demand more space and move away from a city's core. Whether a city's population density is high or low, it will ultimately reach an equilibrium point that humans tend to prefer. While Bruegmann's arguments are strong and well supported, fundamentally the problem with his interpretation of sprawl is it's too broad. He considers any development outside of a city to be sprawl -- loosely based on population density. Development outside of Houston is considered the same as that outside of Paris or Portland.

Bruegmann discusses at length several cities natural inclinations towards sprawl. London serves as the historical archetype that failed to stop sprawl despite various development restrictions through the centuries. Portland, Oregon is the modern day archetype, which Bruegmann also claims has failed in its efforts to curb sprawl. Portland's urban growth ring has driven sprawl to smaller surrounding communities and across state lines into Washington state.

This book is well written and the author is relatively straightforward in his dialog. The author claims he takes a neutral stance on debated issues in urban development, but to anyone who is familiar with Jane Jacobs or new urbanism, Bruegmann could easily be construed as being pro-sprawl. Bruegmann spends little time questioning the sustainability of sprawl -- and his book predates the recent spikes in oil prices, which alone would bring into question his reasoning. That said, I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in urban studies. It's great to see someone articulate points that counter conventionally accepted progressive thinking in the field.
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89 of 121 people found the following review helpful By Michael Lewyn VINE VOICE on June 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The most seemingly innovative part of Bruegmann's book is his attempt to create a history of sprawl. His basic argument runs as follows: something vaguely resembling sprawl happened in ancient Rome and 18th-century Europe, therefore sprawl will forever be with us, therefore sprawl is unstoppable.

Bruegmann's argument fails because is that it totally ignores differences of degree. There is an enormous difference between

(1) a region where sprawl is just one lifestyle option among many and you can live an auto-free life in a city or a streetcar suburb (e.g. most of the United States in the 1920s, the NYC region today, and much of the rest of the world today)

and

(2) a place where buses stop running at rush hour and you need a car to be a functional member of society (e.g. some Sun Belt cities and most small towns).

It seems to me that situation (1) is indeed normal in an affluent society; situation (2) requires decades of bad public policies.

Moreover, Bruegmann makes concessions that eviscerate his argument. On the one hand, he implies that sprawl is inevitable in an affluent society. On the other, he admits that many metro areas have grown more compact in recent decades, and that cities are beginning to gentrify. (I suspect that he was not quite sure whether he wanted to be balanced or to write a pro-sprawl polemic; sometimes he leans in one direction, other times not).

His attempt to deny government's involvement in sprawl is sometimes a bit silly.
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