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Thread: National Geographic Magazine

  1. #1

    National Geographic Magazine

    Any chance any of you might have picked up the latest issue of National Geographic, cover date July 2001?

    There is an article in there called "Urban Sprawl" that might be of interest to planners. I have a subscription and it came in my mailbox last week. I thought the article was a rather innocuous, over-worked rehash of the issues that have become the staple of our everyday work-lives. But of course, that's just MY opinion. And thanks to planetizen.com, their news section points you toward an editorial for an Athens, GA paper regarding the NatGeo article. The URL is:


    I have no idea who the author is (I live in Michigan and have been to Athens once, almost ten years ago), but he writes:

    "By the power of the printed word, I now declare the July 2001 issue of National Geographic magazine required reading for all elected officials and community planners."

    Of course, his declaration will probably have no real impact on planning; his intent is probably more bent toward getting your attention to read his editorial about an issue that he feels strongly about. Along those lines, has anyone else out there in the Cyburbia comminity read the latest issue of NatGeo? I would love to hear your reactions. These types of magazines (the types with heavy advertising and pretty pictures aimed for mass consumption) do tend to influence public opinion and can percolate through the minds of decision makers and I was wondering what affect, if any, this article could have for planning and development.

    Personally, I thought the article was rather worthless. Lots of pretty pictures; images we planners readily understand. Plenty of statistics are peppered throughout the text with loose, if any at all, references to a solid quantitative basis other than the length of the audience's heart-strings.

    Though this presentation is acceptable for a magazine of this type, I did find the two-page "Sprawl at Night" map/diagram unexcusable. For some reason, the editors allowed the map to show a distinction between development prior to 1993 and development after 1993. What's so special about 1993? As I read the article, no reason was stated; in fact, the 1993 division was never addressed. As a publisher that prides itself on map making (or perhaps cartography, or perhaps not), why would they overlook that important detail? But of course, as a land use planner, details like that are quite important to me.

    Anyone have thoughts?

  2. #2

    Nov 2001
    coffee county, ga
    Having just read the NG article and sharing it with my elected officials and laypersons (I am a County Administrator and planner by "profession"), I find that the article was good for arousal. Yes, to planners the article holds the same jargon and propaganda we're used to. I say share it with your Planning Commission and elected officials and trump it up for all its worth. NG sits by every porclean throne and in every medical office waiting room in the land (I'm merely suggesting NG's convenience and availability, not its intrinsic value, I subscribe myself!). With regard to the author from Athens, he is not prominent as far as I know. However, like most college towns, there are some planner wanna-be's in the press corps and more in the letter to the editor sections. Have you read the Ann Arbor News? The Athens editorial is lightweight in comparison.

    As for the map, I think it was a good illustration. I pointed out our own yellow flume within our county. I can't explain the 1993 significance.

    PS Given my recent rants about the NU in JTS and elsewhere, did you notice the spoof about it in the article and the picture of the upper-crust NU neighborhood in Charleston SC? Why aren't private developers using the movement to revitalize the in-town neighborhoods to make them more amenable? I guess the movement would have to be called Old Urbanism, or tradiional neighborhood "redevelopment".


  3. #3
    peachy: Hey, I loved that South Carolina pic!!! Check out the sidewalk in the background- it looks like they planted a tree right in the middle of the concrete. There's no way around it, unless you step in the street or walk on the landscaping of the adjacent yard. Hilarious stuff! And if you are into rants about NU, check out the "Can New Urbanism Survive Today?" thread in the traditional neighborhood folder. I have many rants (perhaps too long-winded) about NU, most of it negative, and mostly about how planners try to use NU as a formula for instant community. (They are sadly mistaken.)

  4. #4
    It's good to see others out are thinking along the same lines as me. Check out these following links. Special thanks to Planetizen!



    "National Geographic magazine published a detailed review of sprawl in the United States in the July, 2001 issue. Several journalists have called the issue a must-read for planners. However, Randal O'Toole of the Thoreau Institute presents a scathing review of the the data used by National Geographic in assembling the article and maps: "The National Geographic Society is famed for its maps. So it must be downright embarrassed at the map that it published on pages 56 and 57 of the July 2001 issue of National Geographic magazine. The map purports to show the extent of urban sprawl in the United States. In fact, it exaggerates the extent of U.S. urban development by nearly ten times. Take, for example, Vermont, nearly a third of which is covered by urban sprawl on National Geographic's map. Yet USDA's 1997 Natural Resources Inventory says that only 3 percent of Vermont has been urbanized."

    And for the real deal:


    Vanishing Automobile update #17
    The "National Deceptivegraphic"

    Read and enjoy. And of course, please discuss!!

  5. #5

    May 1997
    Williston, VT
    Without defending National Geographic -- the sprawl article was about what one would expect for popular consumption -- I will say that the use of the US at night map to show the spread of urbanization (let's use a more neutral word) is not as inappropriate as is being alleged. Faint light sources (try finding Baker, Nevada) do NOT show up. The map reflects my experience in dealing with land use change in the West. I should also point out that the definition of "urbanized"used in the NRI omits extensive areas of rural residential development, ski areas, and a lot of other uses that are not open lands. In fact, the critique quoted here is doing precisely what it alleges NG is doing

    As for Randal O'Toole's story. He is among the most interesting "cash is the only value society should honor" writers, but his saying that NG has a slight environmental bias (which is true) should remind us that he operates from a bias that is not slight at all.

  6. #6
    My biggest problem with the July 2001 issue is the map on pages 56 & 57, as mentioned above by me and as O'Toole mentions. I agree with the criticisms with that map and go further and wonder why 1993 was the date that they used to distinguish between two different colors in the extent of sprawl. It seems to me that NatGeo got lazy and had to fill the magazine up with some filler, and it's always fun to use satellite data, I would imagine. That map is pointless and conveys no useful information; a watse of ink if you ask me.

  7. #7
    Oct 2001
    1993 was the first time a US at night aerial was created. There is no statistical significance to the date. To bad they forgot to identify their sources.

  8. #8
    Martin: Yeah, I tend to think the same. I believe it's rather sloppy of NG to not state the reasons for choosing 1993. I would think that if they had a good reason for the 1993 division, they would state, but since they didn't, they chose not to mention it all.

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