Page B3.1 . 30 May 2007                     
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    Field Guide to Sprawl

    by Dolores Hayden

    Words such as "city," "suburb," and "countryside" no longer capture the reality of real estate development in the United States. Most Americans inhabit complex metropolitan landscapes layered with tracts, strips, malls, office parks, and highways. Widespread dissatisfaction with speculative building has provoked many critiques, but precise terms to define the physical elements of sprawl are often missing.

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    While art historians write illustrated dictionaries of architecture and planners frame land use with legal terminology, real estate developers wield lively slang to discuss their projects. The essential vocabulary for debating common building patterns includes not only familiar words such as "subdivision," "highway," and "parking lot," but also the more exotic "leapfrog," "mall glut," and "privatopia."

    Built space expresses a society's material and political priorities. Scattered across the landscape, typical American automobile-oriented residential and commercial real estate patterns are often termed "sprawl." Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, tenth edition, defines "sprawl" as a verb, transitive, "to cause to spread out carelessly or awkwardly." This is a good general definition because it focuses on process.

    Sprawl is unregulated growth expressed as careless new use of land and other resources as well as abandonment of older built areas. While policy analysts debate the causes and consequences of sprawl, many planners and environmentalists use a working definition of sprawl as a process of large-scale real estate development resulting in low-density, scattered, discontinuous, car-dependent construction, usually on the periphery of declining older suburbs and shrinking city centers.   >>>

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    This article is excerpted from A Field Guide to Sprawl by Dolores Hayden, with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton.



    ArchWeek Image

    The Colorado Springs "Motor City" area is an edge node taking the form of a "pig-in-a-python."
    Photo: Airphoto-Jim Wark

    ArchWeek Image

    The Colorado Springs "Motor City" edge node.
    Photo: Airphoto-Jim Wark


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