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Thread: Differences

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Emeritus Perry Norton's avatar
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    Differences

    Every newspaper going has a common enemy - SPRAWL. But the definition of sprawl is different, from Metr-0-Big to Burg-0-Small. And this is especially true when considering the Man in the Street, including The Planner. Personal definitions are widely different. Lots Sized X in one place are Sized 10.X elsewhere. Busses are mandatory in one place and not in another. Can we get common defintions or can we
    take the city one place at a time?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Earl Finkler's avatar
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    Good thinking Perry. You are always on point as you
    attempt to get us to focus.

    I would agree that one community's sprawl might be another's logical, lower density development.

    But maybe the rate and amount of growth should also be considered. There is only so much a community can do to cluster, provide mass transit and try to keep enough open space, especially public open space.

    But if growth is very rapid, things will fill up fast, often with inadequate comprehensive planning. Systems will get overloaded, including traffic systems. And there will often be overwhelming pressure on open spaces.

    Enter the concept (long mentioned in planning texts) of carrying capacity. Gosh, maybe we could also dust off terms like "optimum city, or town size." All I am saying at 10 pm, in the far north land of the midnight sun, is that we should be truly comprehensive as planners, not too overly focused on geographic sprawl.

    Cheers. (and how about those 1st place Cubs ----you heard it here first on this message board that the Cubs are going to go to the World Series this year, and win it for the first time since 1908. Hey Hey!

    Earl Finkler

  3. #3
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Sprawl is not new. We could go back and read Planning Advisory Service Report No 283 (1972) on non-growth, right Earl?

    But I prefer to go back even further. The earliest mention I have found of "sprawl" thus far is in a chapter title of Lewis Mumford's The City in History (1961). And it hasn't changed much. Let us know if there are earlier citations.

    The answer to control of rapid growth is, well, control. As Earl mentioned, comprehensive planning should be the focus for such discussion. But where are the local Chambers of Commerce and governing bodies that are willing to say there is an optimum city size? Few and far between. My town of 30,000 wants to become 50,000. And when that is reached, more and more. Fortunately, we are growing slowly, and can plan for rather than merely accommodate the expansion. My former community is declining in population, but the hinterland is full of 2-5 acre homesites. Those newcomers are now asking for leash laws and public garbage service in the unincorporated county.

    Perry is right. Sprawl needs to be defined into measurable terms--if sprawl in itself is a malady to be reckoned with. I am not certain that it is. Sprawl may be better thought of as an effect, and we should focus on the causes.

    Working on optimum sizes and spreading the wealth around might be better routes. The Soviet Union with strong centralized economic planning worked on this issue, creating new cities, dispersing factories and populations. From all reports, they are not very pretty places to live

  4. #4
         
    Registered
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    Connecticut
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    Differences

    Hi Guys! Sorry to have been away for so long. Busy spending the County's money (Budget time).

    Good topic as always, Perry.

    I always had a particular fondness for the optimum size idea. Utopia and all that. Probably an occupational hazard among planners. What I've seen over the year's is what Mike alludes to (Where are the Chamber's of Commerce etc). They're out beating the bushes for more industry to beef up the tax base.

    I think until we redefine and revamp our local taxing systems, we're going to continue to fight the fight of growth being encouraged for fiscal reasons, with little regard for aesthetic and environmental consequences.

    As to the original question, how do we define sprawl, I must admit I'm at a loss. But that's never stopped me before from sharing some thoughts.

    Open Space: We used to have standards in the parks and rcreation business - so many acres of this or that type of park per thousand people. Problem is in its own way this could encourage sprawl by taking land out of use for housing or commercial buildings and just making people move further out in the ring.

    Commuting distance: I don't think I'm wrong when I say that the length of the acceptable commute to work has grown over the years. (Except for Earl). We tried to remedy that with location of corporate parks out in the suburbs. So we just moved further out as housing prices increased and traffic got more congested.

    Lot size: I like my two acres. I don't want to live in an attached house just to be ten minutes from work. Should some some planner take that choice away? Maybe I need re-education. (Probably a lot).

    First Planning course I ever took, Prof. Herman Berkman said, "At some point you'll have to ansewr the question of whether or not you believe planning is possible in a democratic society". I believe it is. Its just very hard.

    Glad to be back.

    Cheers,

    John

  5. #5
    I think that we, planners, media, people, etcs; have created the word sprawl becuase we needed and enemy.

    We need an enemy becuase we do not like something about the places we live and work. These places can be big or small, does not matter, there is still something about them we do not like.

    It may be traffic, or pollution, or not enough open space, bad schools, bad water, flooding, and the list goes on. It is human nature to dislike change. Our genetics tell us change is dangerous and at one time that was VERY true. So things have changed, we do not like it, and we searched for a cause, and enemy, and naturally in our "places" we saw physical change, we blamed this for what we do not like, it is the enemy, and we gave it a name that discribes it and demeans it at the same time. It was true in 1961 and it is true today.

    What we are really feeling, is something we are having a hard time describing. We sense that our places are out of balance.

    This is understandable. Have you every tried to verbally tell a child how to ride a bicycle? Is it easy? It is actually a pretty complex act. But most of us can do it with out much thought. What would happen if suddenly you got on your bike and started pedaling as always, but the bike just fell over?

    Balance is not an issue of big or small. There is NOT an optimum size, there is balance.

    This balance is not simple. It is very complex and is becoming more complex as we advance socially and technologically. Getting to and maintaining a balance is a complex act.

    Likely achieving balance in smaller places is easier. Though even small places can be out of balance, as witnessed by a LOT of modern rural places.

    However, we do ourselves and our communities a disservice if we suggest that balance can be achieved easily with simple actions. This is what concerns me most about the new urbanism movement. It is sold a simple solution.
    Even more stray thoughts ....

    Ray

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Earl Finkler's avatar
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    Nothing like a good-natured, spirited planning discussion to keep us all alive and kicking! Thanks everyone.

    But I have my doubts whether we should chuck the optimum city size (and carrying capacity)and rely on balance.

    It is great when planners and energetic citizens can balance off rapid growth in an area, but keep it up and it can be a matter of trading off and trading off. And people can get used to a diminishing quality of life as it creeps up on them. Something like "Hey honey, if I cut through three alleys and beat the light at Maple and Vine, I can get to work almost as quickly as I did back in 1995."

    Or, "well that big box store blocks my view of the river, but if I stand on my toes upstairs, and look off to the side, yes, that is water down there."

    Or, one of my favorites from living in Arizona at one point "well you can't really hear the traffic at night. The police helicopter drowns out other noise."

    I hope the planning profession continues to be a force in facilitating quality development. But would it hurt if someone also researches carrying capacity, and optimum size for our communities? I think not. But then I am a die-hard Chicago Cub fan. So what do I know?

    Hey Hey!

    Earl

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Emeritus Perry Norton's avatar
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    Tucson, Arizona
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    So where do we go from here? We can't blame transportation for the automobile, the housing, or the workplace for the "problems of the city" because all of these together form a whole which works for some and not for others. I think that what you and John and in fact all of you write about it is on the right track. You talk about Balance combined with Education. John talks about reforming the taxing situation. This is a turning point in my thinking. Although this reformation will take as much heartache as does any other reformation. It's a big Hello for all of us.I think we can get a sense of what Professor Birkman meant when he suggested that his students better decide whether city planning can be achieved under the present system.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Earl Finkler's avatar
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    Maybe Mike is right. We have to find more innovative ways to understand and define sprawl. How about poetry:

    Sprawl comes to the neighborhood
    Early in the morning
    With resounding front end loaders
    Which beep, beep, beep as they back up
    And trucks which bring concrete
    Ever swirling
    Covering up home plate
    In our private baseball park
    A Field of Weeds
    But we hit .600 there
    and the days never ended
    Or sometimes we'd sneak over there
    in the dark of night
    and scare each other
    with supernatural stories
    and discoveries.
    Once we turned our ballpark
    into a circus and carnival
    With coaster wagon rides, and
    hoops and rings
    and different tasting lemonaide.

    Now there is a temporary fence
    around our field---with barbed wire

    Maybe we can find another vacant lot
    somewhere
    Or rather just play video games
    Down at the Mall
    That sounds cool
    We were getting too old for that
    Field of Weeds anyway.
    What's Up?
    **********
    Earl
    (remember that I am a full-time Chicago Cub fan, and only
    do poetry as a sideline)

  9. #9
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    I think it's easier to define what's _not_ sprawl. For instance, European cities with a very well-defined edge somehow aren't considered as "sprawling." Cities like Las Vegas, Phoenix and El Paso, on the other hand -- they have very well defined boundaries compared to most other North American cities, but they're seen as victims of sprawl. Sure, their growth pattern is less planned than that of Portland or European cities, but single family homes on 5,000 square foot lots make up sprawl, while rowhouses don't sprawl.

    All cities are growing outward -- but is the direction of growth planned?

  10. #10
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    I was with a person yesterday. Owns 80 acres in the fast growing area of town. Wants to place his single family house in one corner, and re-create a prairie on the remainder. Perhaps at some time donate the prairie to a nature conservative. An ideal situation to create and preserve open space in the midst of suburbia.

    But is it sprawl? Development has to leap frog over this acreage. We just built an arterial at his north boundary. Utilities will only serve the north side. We would allow him to cluster homes on a portion of this property, but he only wants one house. It will all work out in the end, but this is an example of why sprawl will probably never be defined in measurable terms: only by anecdote.

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