Saturday, March 18, 2006


A few days ago I left a comment on a post whose author bemoaned sprawl in the Atlanta area. I wrote:
How awful. Tasteless people want to live in the exurbs of Atlanta in houses that may be faux mansions but are probably good value, compared with the prices they’d pay for the same space and features in or near Atlanta. The developers have the county commissioners in their pockets, eh? How awful that owners of land are “allowed” to build houses on that land to meet the needs of consumers. If you and the crunchy cons don’t want to live amongst the “unwashed” don’t. I wouldn’t want to live amongst them either, but I don’t begrudge their their right to live where it suits them. I certainly don’t begrudge them the right to flee the big city, even if it’s for a McMansion. What’s your alternative? Force people to live cheek-to-jowl in the “friendly confines” of Atlanta — just so you drive through the countryside without being offended by their abysmal taste in architecture? Or perhaps you’d like to make birth control and abortion mandatory so the population stops growing. There’s lots of countryside out there. If you don’t like what you see in one spot, go to another spot. Better yet, buy some for yourself and set up covenants that will preserve it in its natural state, for your enjoyment and that of your heirs. Nothing wrong with that, either.
Today, at The Weekly Standard, I find a review by Vincent J. Cannato of Robert Bruegmann's Sprawl: A Compact History. Toward the end of the review, Cannato says this:

While suburban sprawl might not be everyone's cup of tea, (including mine) sprawl-like communities seem to afford a large number of people the kinds of lives they wish to lead. Sprawl critics have yet to convince large numbers of Americans that their solutions for engineering private choices about how and where to live and work will result in greater social benefits or happiness.

Sprawl is messy, chaotic, and sometimes annoying. In short, it is everything one expects from a free and democratic society. Leave the neat and clean societies for totalitarian regimes. Sprawl creates problems, just like every other social trend; but to damn it for its problems is akin to outlawing the sun for causing skin cancer.

Robert Bruegmann reminds us that much of the anti-sprawl crusade is a result of a rising level of prosperity, and the complexity of millions of individual decisions made on a daily basis by millions of citizens. Better to have to deal with long commutes and strained infrastructure than malaria, cholera, or declining life expectancy.

In terms of problems, I'd take sprawl any day.

Me, too.