Feed on

Sprawl is Bad

unless it is caused by green technology. This also ignores any serious consideration of the environmental impacts of “sprawl.” Take for example the case of many suburban subdivisions. I can imagine someone doing research to show that they are environmentally … friendly.

How so? For starters, the relevant comparison should not be with some nirvanic environmental condition, but with the alternatives. The “suburban” area where I now live is depicted below:

View Larger Map

In any case, in the 1950s when the area was developed, it was a large tract of farmland – I am told wheat and corn by the folks who “got in” at the beginning. Consider the environmental “costs” of farming – particularly in Bushnell’s Basin as opposed to a more appropriate place like Iowa. We have topsoil loss, we have leaching of waste and pesticides and other runoff into water supplies, we have no trees or other habitat for many animals, and we have very low population densities. Compare those conditions to what prevails in Bushnell’s Basin today. There are thousands of hardwood and softwood trees on the very land that used to be barren. The majority of the land is grass covered and shrub covered too – so soil erosion would seem to be far less of a problem now than in the past. There is an enormous array of flowers and fruit trees planted and other flora that are pleasant to look at and also provide food and shelter for myriad animals and lesser insects. The water supply is far less threatened by our homes than by cow dung or soil runoff. We have a sewer system to collect runoff, and our homes do not exactly spew out dangerous pollutants like some believe. Finally, population densities where I live are FAR LARGER than when that area was farmland. You might say that in the past all of these people lived in cities and now have “sprawled” out into the now developed farm land, but I am not so sure – more people live in cities today than at any point in human history.

The point is not that suburbia is a nirvana, it most certainly is not. But I would like to see a serious academic study of the relative environmental costs and benefits of suburbia with whatever else it has replaced. Finally, I’d remind folks that very little of what we construct in suburbia is “undoable” … just take a look at what would happen to your home if you paid no attention to it for 5 years. But we also have the ability to remove entire tracts of homes too … if “we” felt like it was more valuable to turn Bushnell’s Basin into a game farm, our current development does not take that option off the table forever.

One Response to “Sprawl is Bad”

  1. Harry says:

    Last time I was in Rochester was in 1962, so imagine my frustration manipulating the map to find the Rochester Yacht Club and Tiny’s Bengal Inn. Had they had satellite imaging back then, you might have made out the vertical profile of a woman walking in there, as well as the vertical profile of a Cadillac bumper.

    Sprawl is a loaded term, implying sloth, and it is commonly used by municipal planners. Although it may be unfair, I would suggest it goes back to the Walter Ulbricht School of Architecture and Social Engineering, which says that we should all live in apartments in big boxy buildings, ride the trolley or our bicycles, while the serfs toil in the field to help make the Gosplan’s target of wheat. It implies that land is something not to be owned by people, but by the planners.

    There are plenty of examples, especially to city planners, of how the aesthetically challenged move to the suburbs, buy a four-bedroom house on a half acre lot, and put up a prefab shed in the back to house the lawnmower and garden tools. To these people, it is the American Dream, to buy their own place where they can barbecue and let their dog run a few yards. To the planners, they are a problem.

    Now, the farmer who sold the developer that tract near Oak Hill did it for a reason and that was his business. My guess is that while he was farming he conserved as much cow manure as possible to plow under in the spring, and put the fertilizer next to the roots of the corn at the proper distance with his drill, not wanting it to wash away into Lake Ontario. Since the operating costs were coming out of his pocket, it was important not to follow East German farming practices.

    I’m all for anyone turning Bushnell’s basin into a game farm, a polo field, or whatever, as long as they do it with their own money.

Leave a Reply