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Causes of Urban Sprawl, Book Review Example

Pages: 2

Words: 593

Book Review

Following Robert Brugeman’s narrative in Sprawl: A Compact History, arguably the key precondition according to which the phenomenon of urban sprawl cannot be properly contextualized is that of its re-configuration of the urban-rural distinction. As Brugeman makes clear, historically, there was a clear division between the urban and the rural, the former implying the cosmopolitan life of the city with its markets and centralized locations of political power, and the latter, with its more traditional, isolated and agricultural based form of life, suggesting a pole of contrast. The phenomenon of urban sprawl, therefore, conceptually develops according to the blurring of historical lines between the urban and the rural environments. Urban sprawl, in a sense, does not develop vertically one could say, for example, in the context of cities and metropolises, where building space goes upward, as evidenced by office buildings and skyscrapers. Instead, urban sprawl now spreads out horizontally, dispersing the traditional city into rural environments. From another perspective, urban environments use rural building and architectural perspectives so as to create urban sprawl.

However, as Brugeman also stresses in the work, this is only the conceptual analysis of urban sprawl, namely, a theoretical analysis of the concept that is placed in relation to historical precedents. As the book carefully details, there are also more practical sociological and geographical decisions that shape the process. For example, in so far as urban sprawl is characteristic of North American life, the development of the phenomenon can be associated with sociological phenomena, such as the so-called movement of “white flight”, whereby American whites, who had previously lived in urban centers, now moved to the suburbs for reasons such as the increasing presence of non-white communities in urban environments. This form of exodus required the corresponding infrastructure of urban environments so as to serve these new suburban communities.

Such a demographic change simultaneously also relates to the second crucial point of the geography of urban sprawl: namely, because of the vast available land spaces of the North American continent, there is a practical decision to utilize these open spaces for development. In other words, the urban style of building is premised in a sense on a lack or restriction of space, which does not exist in the rural environment. This explains, therefore, why urban sprawl ultimately develops in a type of rural manner, as determined by the resources made available by the geography of the North American continent.

Arguably, however, another key factor which influences the development of urban sprawl is that of the automobile. Urban environments rely more heavily on other forms of transportation, in so far as the high concentration of population together the restriction of spaces means that public forms of transportation are needed. The American promotion of the automobile as the preferred mode of transportation for the American corresponds perfectly to the concept of urban sprawl: the automobile encourages a mobile lifestyle in which space is not something restrictive, but rather inviting and manageable. The development of urban sprawl could only occur if the various sites that occupy the sprawl are made easily accessible and this is precisely achieved by the ubiquitous availability of the automobile in American capitalist and consumerist culture.

Accordingly, urban sprawl must be regarded as the result of a confluence of different effects, which are not entirely related, but nevertheless produce a logical conclusion. At the same time, from the perspective of the urban and rural perspective, despite the criticisms of urban sprawl, it is a revolutionary phenomenon, since it has refigured these classical social distinctions regarding where and, by extension, how people live.

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