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Is there such a thing as good sprawl?


Lately I've been torn. First and foremost, I am a strong proponent of infill development. It can help revitalize the inner city, uses existing infrastructure, and can be surrounded by relatively high population densities. However, that being the case, I don't think that there is any way that many people will be convinced that living in the city is an option. The market has shown that there is still strong demand for the "bedroom communities", the new cul-de-sac developments, etc.

My question is whether, knowing the market realities, should "good" greenfield development be encouraged? I'm talking about the Seasides, the Celebrations, etc. As much density and "traditional design" as they have, they are after all, sprawl. We have another one going up near where I live that's going to be over 1,200 acres on pristine farm land. At a certain point, is it better to work with these developers, educate about "good" suburban sprawl, or should I still say that sprawl is sprawl, no matter how good it looks?

My vacillation lies in the fact that if I work with some of these developers on the "traditional" development, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. However, I also know that by working with them I can help prevent further bad examples of typical suburban developments. Again, I realize market realities, as well as my commitment to my employer. I also realize that not all infill projects are easy or successful and depend on many factors. I guess my question is how does one justify being a proponent of high-density mixed-use development, but then watch it occur on 1,000 acres of greenfield? I'm still trying to figure it out.


Is it a question of how we define sprawl? Subdivisions with no open space, disconnected street networks, snout houses, etc. are what I define as sprawl, along with most new commercial development. I would not consider a good New Urban neighborhood (compact, well designed, environmentally friendly, contiguous to a city, etc.) to be sprawl, even though it may be on farmland.

You are right to recognize the market realities. Let me add another. The world's population is growing. They need a place to live, and new neighborhoods are the place. Infill and redevelopment, though important, can only make a dent in the need for new housing unless we again propose to warehouse people as we did with the HUD projects of the 60's and 70's.

Density is good, but experience shows that at some point it becomes a problem. The same is true of the suburban model of the last fifty years. I believe the New Urbanism, or New Community Design models offer the best alternative so far. Responsible growth. Smart growth.