This is, of course, one of the most frustrating and difficult dilemmas facing environmental and urban planners today. I think that the suburban sprawl/urban decline relationship is much more complex than a simple cause and effect. The birth of the suburb, like the birth of the skyscraper, occured sometime at the end of the 19th century, and the former could well have been the result of the latter.The appeal of wide open spaces and low buildings was only palpable because of the relatively squalid conditions of the industrial urban landscape. Yet it was those cities that provided not only the economic structure of the community, but the political structure as well. As the citizens (note the root word civic) moved out of the city for the suburbs, the physical structure (urbs) was obviously abandoned, but more important was the abandonment of the political structure and the implementation of an unsuccessful and impotent political structure in the suburbs. As a result, the motivating imperatives of suburban form are almost entirely commercial. What's more, the predominence of the suburban lifestyle in our cultural identity has rendered us almost incapable of imagining a regime where other imperatives might be eminent. And so, commerce rules.So, among the factors that have lead us to our current sprawl one must include not only cheap land and the development of relatively efficient transportation systems (keep in mind that most sprawl is handsomly facilitated by generous tax-payer subsidies in the form of ever increasing road construction, next time you vote) but the remarkably screwed-up priorities that we have adopted. On the other hand, urban redevelopment will still be impossible without a sustainable economic foundation. After recently sitting in suburban Mall traffic, I believe we are getting very close to the kind of intolerable conditions that could result in a watershed of spirit. Just as the squalor of the industrial city highlighted the virtues of the rural, it's conceivable that the relentless grind of our overburdened and massively expensive transportation infrastructure (read: car culture) will become unbearable, and cities will be seen as a virtuous alternative. But that reordering of priorities will have to be manifest in a restructuring of the political landscape (read: systems of governance) before it will result in the successful restructuring of the physical landscape.bjd
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