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On Sprawl

I’m on a listserve pioneered by Michael Strong, Chief Executive Officer of FLOW.  A recent posting caught my eye and impressed me with its wisdom.  Its author is Gary Hoover.  (I post with his permission.)

I was just yesterday thinking how much I hate even the conception of sprawl -- a bad word for a something that does not exist (at least not in the sense that is usually implied when that word is used, as this obvious evil that needs to be stopped or restrained).  What others call sprawl appears to me to be a longstanding and continually evolving desire of people to have land, privacy, and quiet.  The resort or rural retreat is well-entrenched, as is the countervailing desire for urbanism.  They vary by mood, by stage in the lifecycle, and by family structure.  Many of us have a love of the country and a love of the city in one self.  What has changed is that, in the old days, only the rich had options.  The poor -- there wasn't much middle class -- could neither leave the city nor leave the country.

The huge rise in the world's wealth has allowed a new fluidity, one that extends to more nations all the time.  Drive around the outskirts of Dubai or Bangkok or Jakarta or Monterrey and look at all the new housing developments springing up in the countryside.  Come to my neighborhood and see the mobile homes a mile away from the million dollar "McMansions" (another term that hurts more than it helps understanding).

To blame this on Wal-Mart or on developers is ridiculous.  Wal-Mart, like all retailers, has zero institutional preference for locations, all they want to know is, "where do our types of customers live and how can we be convenient to them?"  It is all about being of service to others.