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Thread: A radical proposal: ban the word "sprawl"

  1. #1

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    A radical proposal: ban the word "sprawl"

    I would like to challenge Cyburbanites to pursue their discussions of land use and community development without use of the word "sprawl" for the next 6 months. I think it would be both refreshing and enlightening to see if it is possible to address the issues and tools without constant reference to an overused and pejorative, but ill-defined buzzword that stimulates debate in which there is often heat, but seldom light, and which defines us in opposition to something (even though we struggle constantly to define what it is we oppose) rather than as supporters of something.

    NOTE: Moderators, feel free to place this challenge in every forum, if you like.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    I'm up for it. Overuse of the term does lead to a dilution of its meaning. Should we use more specific, descriptive terms like "large-lot residential" and "Highway strip centers"?
    Adrift in a sea of beige

  3. #3

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    People canuse any specific, reasonably definable terms they like. What I am really interested in is what we are FOR, not what we are against.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    I am FOR the elimination of Sprawl!

    I am not too sure that I am on board with this. True it is a buzzword, but it is a needed one. Sprawl has a serious impact on what we are working for with Urban Development, rural preservation, alternative transportation, and other major goals.

    It would be like us not using the words Urban or Community.
    Not my monkey, not my circus. - Old Polish Proverb

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    Good idea (although no one should jump all over new members for saying "sprawl").

    Lets also try not to use "the land development pattern formerly known as sprawl."

  6. #6
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Seabishop
    Good idea (although no one should jump all over new members for saying "sprawl").

    Lets also try not to use "the land development pattern formerly known as sprawl."
    I'm with Lee on banning this word. After all, isn't all development sprawl in the truest sense of the word? I'd prefer more descriptive terms.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Where I work in the private sector, we hardly ever use the word "sprawl." Most of our clients are suburban or rural townships that surround a small rust-belt city. In fact, a large portion of my work tends to facilitate sprawl. Professionally, that's my job, to help my clients plan for growth, and I try my darndest to write goals and objectives that encourage less driving and more walking. Of course, the planning commissions can reject or revise anything that I write. And that's okay, that's their perogative. Lee's challenge is a good one, and I don't think it will be that difficult for me to follow-through with it.

  8. #8
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    As I sprawl my next development proposal of sprawl across my sprawling desk and thinking of how I wish I were sprawled out asleep in my bed right now, I believe I am all for eliminating the use of that word for the next few months.

    This will probably be good because it will force discussions to look at a particular aspect of that development pattern.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  9. #9

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    I hardly ever use the word in my private sector job. Most of my projects are neighborhood-based, large-city projects where the issue of "unmanaged low-density growth" hardly ever comes up. So not using the word in a work context will be easy for me.

    Another caveat -- let's refrain from using the phrase "the 's' word", too.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    What I am really interested in is what we are FOR, not what we are against.
    That is my problem with the way most land development ordinances are written. They are heavy on the language of negation, but offer little in the way of a clear vision of what they'd like their town to look like. Planning boards often respond to situations that they did not like, rather than developing ideas of what they are for. "Well, that Costco they built didn't have any trees in the parking lot, and the glare from the lights was terrible. We can't allow that to happen again." So they make an ordinance requiring trees in parking lots and cutoff fixtures for lighting. The somebody builds a lot with trees and cutoff fixtures, but they decide they don't like the daytime appearance of the fixtures, so they make an ordinance requiring a certain type of historically styled lamp post and luminaire. You end up with ridiculous mishmashes of styles.
    Adrift in a sea of beige

  11. #11
    Cyburbian jread's avatar
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    Fine... from now on I will call it: "L-warps"

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Amen! Let's be specific. Talk about large lot single family residences. Talk about linear strip commercial behind a sea of asphalt. Sprawl is one of thes words that is just not defined well enough for us to constantly throw it around and expect even ourselves to know what we are talking about, much less somebody else. We might consider bans on terms like suburb and big box while we are at it.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  13. #13
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    Sprawl: the scattered, unplanned, and unchecked expansion of a town or city into the surrounding countryside/urbanized areas on the edge of a town or city that have developed as a result of unplanned and unchecked expansion

    That wasn't so hard was it? I plan on continuing to use the word, negative connotations or not. After all, sprawl is rather negative in the broad scheme of things. Further, the modern definition makes sense... another definition of sprawl is to sit or lie with the arms and legs spread awkwardly in different directions which relates and makes sense to why the trend that occurs is labeled as such.

    There are other words with negative connotations. For instance, people automatically think that a punishment is going to be served or something bad will happen when they hear the word consequences, yet really it is something that follows as a result.

    For these reasons I will therefore continue to call it what it is: SPRAWL.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by The Shadoe
    Sprawl: the scattered, unplanned, and unchecked expansion of a town or city into the surrounding countryside/urbanized areas on the edge of a town or city that have developed as a result of unplanned and unchecked expansion

    Scattered? Look everywhere and there it is.
    Unplanned? Most of it has been planned.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  15. #15
    Cyburbian cmd uw's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by The Shadoe
    Sprawl: the scattered, unplanned, and unchecked expansion of a town or city into the surrounding countryside/urbanized areas on the edge of a town or city that have developed as a result of unplanned and unchecked expansion]
    /\ One could even challenge that definition. I think it is apparent to many of us that most low density (suburban) development takes place within an area of land that has been 'designated' by the local/city government to accommodate future urban expansion. So, technically, all growth/expansion is planned and checked by the planning department and approval authority. The definition really should remove the words 'unplanned' and 'unchecked' as it does skew the true meaning.
    Last edited by cmd uw; 13 Jan 2005 at 2:42 AM.
    "First we shape our buildings, and then our buildings start shaping us." - Sir Winston Churchill

  16. #16
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    I gotta agree with Cardinal. Most cities are unplanned, and the prephery has always been disjointed. "Sprawl" has more to do with low-density and hostility to the pedestrian, imho.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal
    Scattered? Look everywhere and there it is.
    Unplanned? Most of it has been planned.
    Scattered by the fact that it generally is quite uneven with certain areas developing more than others, sometimes large pockets, etc.

    Unplanned because it often happens as the result of a massive boom and has little regard for the question how will this benefit the entire region rather than focusing on the specific development.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    I already seldomly use the 'S-word' in my posts. That said, I will try my darndest to use terms like 'premature development', 'unsewered development', 'country-living ring', etc, as necessary.

    Note, the adjective 'sprawling' is not the same thing. A developing area can be 'sprawling' (as in fast growing) with few, if any, of the attributes that commonly define the root 'S-word' itself.

    Mike

  19. #19
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    Well, as it stands, I use the term sprawl not when talking about specific cases but as a general term applying to all of it's attributes collectively. I don't plan on stopping my use of the word.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian IlliniPlanner's avatar
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    Looks like I need to revise my signature line (or not). In my case, I'm always referencing "that term" when developers just don't want to redevelop an existing site, especially when all infrastructure is in place and is sufficient. What is happening with our downtown (post-shopping malls) and lakefront (post-industry) is very promising. I believe the recreational and housing components will drive commercial development back into the downtown. Redevelopment is what makes the job challenging and rewarding.
    One lot of redevelopment prevents a block of sprawl.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian munibulldog's avatar
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    I think there are two reasons to be more descriptive than "sprawl".

    1. Low density automobile based development on the fringe metro area, and urban disinvestment in the old core city are part of one and the same process, and the word "sprawl" identifies only part of the process.

    2. Different writers may be thinking of different things when they use the word sprawl, so there may be confusion and misunderstanding: for example, "was he referring to large lot development, or development outside of the area served by mass transit?"

  22. #22

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    I wonder if those who routinely use the term have ever thought about how its use, which is unavoidably negative, helps them communicate with the people who build it and live in it?

  23. #23
    Cyburbian Greenescapist's avatar
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    I know most economists talk about "sprawl" as urban decentralization which I've gotten into the habit since I've been in school. It's not loaded with the negative connotations of "sprawl."

  24. #24
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    When trying to define what they mean by "sprawl", most will make reference to development that is low density, but it seems like the segregation of land uses, which is so antithetical to good urbanism, always gets short thrift.

  25. #25
    The main problem is the definition of sprawl. My community is a rural area within 20 miles of a major city so any development we have can be called sprawl be most definitions. Being a rural area, most if not all residential building will be so called large lot development. There are some mixed use developments on the board but not started as yet. These will include some townhouse type buildings but will still consist of the typical large lot homes for the most part. Is sprawl good? Probably not in most cases. Is sprawl always something evil? Not if you are a small town with no discernable downtown area that is trying to establish their own identy.

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