Sprawl Is Not an Endangered Species

Today on the Streetsblog Network, member blog Sprawled Out takes on haters of New Urbanism — specifically, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist Patrick McIlheran, who wrote a piece lauding a designer of subdivisions named Rick Harrison.

McIlheran quotes Harrison saying, "People don’t want to walk five minutes to a park. They want to see it outside their window. And they don’t want to see
their neighbors and they don’t want to sit on their porch all day."

Sprawled Out’s John Michlig points out that there are already plenty of places where people can buy houses that offer just that neighbor-avoiding lifestyle (including much of his home turf in Franklin, Wisconsin). Denser development models aren’t taking that option away, as fear-mongering sprawl advocates like to imply:

3911008071_23f775a09f.jpgOld-fashioned suburbia: Space still available! Photo: Charlie Essers via Flickr

others who lobby for Sprawl, Inc., McIlheran conveys the ludicrous
notion that — in a region overrun with non-planned, non-sustainable
suburbs that have grown at the whims of developers and their desire for
increased and quicker profit (a condition that has created the need for
cuts in services while property taxes continue to climb) — creating
provisions for New Urbanist or Traditional Neighborhood Development
subdivisions somehow limits our choices rather than increasing them by adding another flavor to the mix.

You see, in McIlheran’s worldview, the appearance of a non-standard choice in some way magically eliminates countless existing subdivisions — and their ready-to-buy vacancies.

In other words, no one is going to make you sit on a porch if you don’t want to. But wouldn’t it be nice to have the choice?

More from around the network: Second Avenue Sagas on the subway’s din. Smart Growth Around America on how public transit creates more jobs for the stimulus dollar than highways. And Copenhagenize on the heart-warming story of a bicycle thief who stole a cargo bike with three sleeping children inside, then shepherded them home. Only in Denmark?

  • The old question used to be “Would you live in a town with no churches?” which was supposed to evoke the idea that even non-believers gained benefits from having some people of faith around them. Along with those churches, I’m assuming were post offices, retail stores, theaters, playgrounds and other public amenities.

    Obviously this effort to shame people into living in real communities with a solid civic life failed to a certain extent in the subdivisions.

  • No one wants to take your suburb away, either; we just want to stop subsidizing it. Left out of “quality of life” discussions is simple economics. The autosprawl system is heavily subsidized. Since transport is a system, a mode becomes a natural monopoly when it reaches critical mass. The difference is the autosprawl trillion-dollar subsidies [oil wars, pipeline wars, “stimulus laws”, loan guarantees, free parking, collision costs, low aquifers, carbon emissions, auto-only-accessible mcmansions, etc.) are unsustainable both economically and ecologically.
    Nice post as usual, Sarah.

  • Actually, in most sprawl-type subdivisions, you don’t “see the park from your window;” In every direction you see other oversized houses, just like your own. If you want to go to the park, you have to DRIVE 5-10 minutes, and it’s probably just as bleak and boring as your backyard.

    And you probably won’t see your neighbors all that much, but you’ll certainly HEAR from them if you paint your house the wrong color, or if you don’t maintain your lawn to neighborhood standards.

  • Phyllis Medvedow

    I always thought blogs were the writer’s opinions. Was interested in the facts the writer so clearly presented about the city’s contemplating changing some parking meters to meet bicyclists’ needs(blog, 1/5/10). This will certainly make it easier for people to bike to work, rather than using their cars.Would help polution and transportation problems. Thanks for the information and your writer’s interest in the complex transportation problems.


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