Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Much has been written in the past few years about the death of the suburbs. Nevertheless, they remain ubiquitous. Chief among the anti-suburb writers, James Howard Kunstler, author of The Geography of Nowhere, paints a depressing picture about the effects of sprawl, a condition that arguably destabilizes society by producing alienation and anxiety. Kunstler describes the problem in The Long Emergency 18-19 (2005) in even bleaker terms:
“As the suburbs disintegrate, we will be lucky if we can reconstitute our existing traditional towns and cities brick by brick and street by street[.] Our bigger cities will be in trouble, and some of them may not remain habitable . . . . If we return to a human scale of building, there’s a good chance that our new urban quarters will be humane, which is to say beautiful. The automobile era proved that people easily tolerated ugly, utilitarian buildings and horrible streetscapes as long as they were compensated by being able to quickly escape the vicinity in cars luxuriously appointed with the finest digital stereo sound, air conditioning, and cup holders for iced beverages. This will change radically.”
The smart growth movement is one attempt, among others, to address the negative effects of sprawl reported by Kunstler. New Urbanist communities like Playa Vista near Los Angeles, California; I’On in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina; and Rosemary Beach, Florida, illustrate this trend. Without variances in single use zones, however, most smart growth communities could not be built. I’On faced years of litigation, for example. As many cities start to re-evaluate their comprehensive plans, smart growth concepts will likely be embraced, due in part to the success of these projects. Whether these communities will ultimately solve the problems Kunstler identifies, however, remains to be seen, even as they indicate a good start.
Will Cook, Charleston School of Law
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