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Eclectic Pedestrian

Did journalism create sprawl?

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When I went to college in the 1970s to study journalism, covering meetings was among the first things we learned. When we got out of college, we cut our teeth on zoning board and planning board meetings -- indeed, covering a town meant covering every meeting in town. Meanwhile, the seasoned reporters often got the glamorous jobs of covering politics, the county board and other high-profile beats.
So, sprawl was left to the rookies and others still pretty unseasoned. While we did a good job of covering the meetings and reporting on what happened -- the board OK'd a developement, the master plan was amended -- I'm not so sure we really did the best we could do, or perhaps we wouldn't be in this sprawled mess today. We were enamored with the big blueprints (this was before PowerPoint, after all), and overwhelmed with just the idea of getting the details right, that I don't think many of us really understood the impact of what was happening. This was before such terms as "loss of habitat," or mixed use, or even "sprawl" became commonplace.
Oftentimes, this occurred with only a few hardy souls even in the room, besides the board members and developers.
And this was still when we as a society thought that all of this growth and development was a good idea. When the new bunch of homes or the new, big retail center meant money for the town coffers.
So, did journalism create sprawl? Or, perhaps more correctly, did our ignoranance of the issues help foster a climate in which sprawl went unchecked? Much in the way that the finance media failed to spot the banking collapse, or the real estate media were slow to see the housing bubble burst, what role did journalism play in setting the sprawl agenda or in ignoring what the sprawl agenda was unleashing?
Tags: journalism , sprawl


  1. D Green's avatar
    I'm a little hard-pressed to put the two together. Sprawl came from a natural tendency of city planners and developers to expand a city via the easiest means.

    Journalism, on the other hand, can influence events when an unnatural occurrence is exposed (economic bubble, fiscal cliff, nature encroachment, poverty spikes, etc). But does it change the fact of the event? Not really. Concerning city development, journalism has a tendency to react to events, not influence them.

    Concerning efficient urban planning, we (North Americans) are still way behind in comparison to metropolitan centers in Asia and quite a few European ones. The one thing we can't completely come to terms with yet is "density is our friend." We should always strive to build up, not outwards.

    Transportation costs, fuel expenditure, nature encroachment, environmental impact, and that thing urban planners like called "vibrancy" depend on density, not sprawl. Yet we continue to move towards building more and more single family homes. The crisis is when we overbuild SFH and surbubia's that continue to inflate sprawl and devastate nature and encroach on wildlife habitats, we need to do what people without cars learned to do thousands of years ago: bring communities closer together. Build on commonly-shared resources. Being geologically conservationalist. Saving resources by building and sharing together. In this sense, journalism will probably never react fast enough to bring this kind of change. So, to answer your question, journalism doesn't influence urban planning, and we've got a long way to go to create a larger migration towards city centers and away from the suburbs.