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Sprawl: A Compact History

3.0 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226076911
ISBN-10: 0226076911
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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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 306 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (November 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226076911
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226076911
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #917,968 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Nice production values for this book. The cover materials and paper feel good while you read it.

The concept of "sprawl" is class-based and rests on narrow minded assumptions about the "correct" way to live. What drives the anti-sprawl activists is aesthetics.

Sprawl is not recent (high density sprawl is the great urban evil since ancient Babylon and China.) This section includes a nice density gradient chart of London over time (p. 19), a good map of 1700's Paris (Versailles and surroundings were "sprawl"), and includes early industrial Americans (H D Thoreau and John Muir were ex-urban sprawlers.) The author successfully shows that gentrification always follows sprawl in a predictable, cyclical way.

Sprawl is not particularly American. Most large cities in the world follow similar patterns of development and growth.

Sprawl is not caused by greed, but by a normal human longing for privacy, mobility, and choice.

For anti-sprawl activists, the problem is their ethnocentrism. For them, the real problem is change itself. Their aesthetic concerns are supposed to trump the natural human tendency to get away from the crowds, crime, and communists that infest the cities. Breugmann also demonstrates the anti-suburban orientation of most social science. Anti-sprawl is anti-change, and it is pro-privilege.Government agencies don't plan well. (p. 158) And the environmental movement is a scam to corral the population and control them. The book points out the self-interest of the "anti-sprawlers", who consider sprawl to be what "other people" do. They seek the beauty of being surrounded by lots of open, green space without having to purchase it.
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