I read a lot of books, but only about once or twice a year do I come across a book that really makes me think about my most cherished views. Sprawl – A Compact History by Robert Bruegmann, a professor in the Dept. of Art History as well as the School of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Illinois, is just such a book. Bruegmann uses a well researched historical perspective to question some of the most closely held beliefs of the ‘anti sprawl’ movement. Its not a rabid right wing anti-environmental rave, but raises some very important issues, particularly for an area like Sullivan County that is confronting significant land use and development issues.
One of the most interesting threads throughout the book is the issue of ‘class’ among anti-sprawl campaigners, particularly upper middle class urban refugees who move to ‘exurban’ areas beyond the traditional suburban circles, and then want to stop development from encroaching on their rural idyll. Some very surprising statistics — that population movement into exurban areas actually consumes far more ‘undeveloped’ land than expansion of suburbs. Sullivan is a prime exurban area, with city dwellers moving out and ‘consuming’ 20 or 30 acres of land.
The arguments Bruegmann puts forth in the book are far too complex to distill into a pargagraph or two on this blog. But I’ll tell you, I can’t put the book down, and its really gotten me thinking about how ‘environmental’ I really am, and whether my cherished ideas about land use and conservation are actually just a reflection of elitism and self indulgence. I don’t know if I agree with everything he writes, but I think anyone interested in land use or conservation needs to read it. Click on the book at left and you can go right to Amazon to buy your own copy.