Sprawl

Greensboro has a apparently been deemed “sprawl city” once again. Now keep in mind that “sprawl” is one of those things which is defined in much the same way that Supreme Court justice many years ago defined pornography: no one can tell you exactly what it is, but by God, planners know it when they see it…

By “they”, in this case, I mean the “smart growth” and “new urbanism” Nazis, who define it as pretty much anything other than cute little overplanned neighborhood units which look nice in magazine articles and newspaper features, but where no one really wants to live. The idea, of course, is to transform suburbia into a cartoon-like version of a central city, whether it’s appropriate to the economics of the area and the lifestyles of its inhabitants or not. They’re like the historic preservation crowd but even worse…

To a one, these developments usually focus on the facts that the houses are closer together and that a few token small retail spaces are placed in some sort of pointless village common in the middle of it all. It would just be too unwieldy to add things like supermarkets and the like, and it wouldn’t be at all picturesque. Granted, the yards are easier to maintain, and it takes about five fewer seconds to walk to your next door neighbor’s house, but the greeting card shops and cute little juice joints are doomed to failure, both from lack of patronage and from lack of exposure (assuming anyone ever leases the space to begin with)…

I rather like this: “Both High Point and Greensboro are changing policies to require more sidewalks to be built and have written new laws permitting the construction of more-compact developments.”. That’s great, really, but what good are the sidewalks when there’s nothing to walk TO? In this case, “compact developments” still means little more than smaller yards in a neighborhood surrounded by a buffer zone of shrubbery and connected to some arterial which will take them to the closest shopping center a few miles away…

The problem, of course, is the stifling zoning in suburbia, which keeps the stores and businesses people would actually USE completely isolated from residences. Planners repeatedly claim they want “pedestrian environments”, but they don’t want shopping centers anywhere near anyone’s homes, although a few small shops which sell nothing that anyone needs or wants would be just dandy, thanks. Evidently, they’d just prefer that residents just walk in circles around the neighborhood, waving at all the people who will, of course, be sitting on their porches with pitchers of lemonade…

A few clues: people, especially people in the suburbs, like to shop in big, cheap stores with parking. The days of the corner greengrocer and butcher shop are over, and no amount of nagging and prodding by planners will change this fact. If people want to live in areas which have “pedestrian environments”, they will generally tend to move to larger cities, where these environments already exist and have developed over time. It is not possible to plan them into existence overnight, especially in areas where no one really wants them except the planners…

Most Americans live in wide open suburbs because they like it. Outside the few dense urban areas like New York and San Francisco, Americans have no intention of taking public transit anyplace, so living in an area clustered around a light rail station is not a priority. You and I may disagree, but our urban snobbery is lost on individuals who are quite happy with the way they live, and who — by and large — are willing to put up with a little extra driving to have the way of life they choose. And frankly, what business is it of ours to tell them they’re wrong?

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