Thackara on urban sprawl: "it just happens—or so it appears"

While we were participating with Alex Manu in building a thinkmap on car-driven cities, I thought about this great quotation from John Thakara's In the Bubble (Thackara, 2005, 5 or here

"We’re being swept into unknown and dangerous waters by accelerating economic growth.... Our natural, human, and industrial systems, which evolve slowly, are struggling to adapt. Laws and institutions that we might expect to regulate these flows have not been able to keep up.

"A good example is what is inaccurately described as mindless sprawl in our physical environment. We deplore the relentless spread of low-density suburbs over millions of acres of formerly virgin land. We worry about its environmental impact, about the obesity in people that it fosters, and about the other social problems that come in its wake. But nobody seems to have designed urban sprawl, it just happens—or so it appears. On closer inspection, however, urban sprawl is not mindless at all. There is nothing inevitable about its development. Sprawl is the result of zoning laws designed by legislators, low-density buildings designed by developers, marketing strategies designed by ad agencies, tax breaks designed by economists, credit lines designed by banks, geomatics designed by retailers, data-mining software designed by hamburger chains, and automobiles designed by car designers. The interactions between all these systems and human behavior are complicated and hard to understand—but the policies themselves are not the result of chance. “Out of control” is an ideology, not a fact."


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