Anti-sprawl as boomer nostalgia | Bleader

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Anti-sprawl as boomer nostalgia

Posted By on 09.12.06 at 10:40 AM

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My friend Jim Krohe leaves no subdivision behind as he reviews UIC architectural historian Robert Bruegmann's contrarian Sprawl: A Compact History in the current Illinois Issues (review not online):

"Sprawl is nearly universally blamed on the post-World War II prosperity and its evils, such as expressways and general automobile ownership. This analysis certainly isn't buttressed by history; as Bruegmann notes,

"'Postwar suburbanization and sprawl were different in scale but not really different in kind from what had gone before . . . in American cities for more than a century, particularly in the boom periods of the 1880s and 1920s.'

"In Mayer and Wade's Chicago: Growth of a Metropolis is a photograph of the Austin neighborhood on Chicago's far west side--new houses here and there in a landscape festooned with scrawny trees and new streets as yet uncluttered by houses--is the very image of sprawl. It was taken around 1890.

"Why then this peculiar focus on the past 50 years? Because that was when the baby boomers were growing up. A generation who grew up in those postwar subdivisions preaching the need for change now recoil with dismay at seeing change invade the sacred precincts of their childhoods. [For example, Eben Fodor in his book Better Not Bigger.]  Thus the weirdly anachronistic cast of their criticisms. They castigate 'Ozzie and Harriet' suburbs as if it was still the 50s, notes Bruegmann . . . .

"Sure, the dispersed city causes problems--pollution, energy dependence, social exclusion, the built ugliness of the public realm--that merit attention. . . . However, if people of influence refuse to engage our new kind of city, thus never coming to understand it, they are unlikely to be able to solve its new kind of problems."

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