novel geometry of sprawl

MoccasinSeptember 19, 2010

Thomas Pynchon has out a novel about this topic. Not sure about the name, but in the NYT they had online a picture of a subdivision which so much reminded me of the Chinese megacity which was being shaped like a jungle animal.

And here we now have a novel where the protagonist is living in a geometrical environment. Too close to reality, too near to the old home town.

I thought I'd mention it for the sake of discussion. To me, I think it may appeal to folks interested in science fiction. Sort of like Brave New World did to another generation.

In my college days I took a literature course called UTOPIAS AND DYSTOPIAS IN LITERATURE. I was young and naive then myself and it was like scifi....but afraid not any more. I might have to read the book. I'll look up the other Chinese thread later and link it back.

Here is the image that the NYT published with the review.

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The novel is THE CRYING OF LOT 49

As part of the review, there is a slideshow of images taken in Arizona and Nevada probably over the course of the last five years.

Is it cancerous?

Here is a link that might be useful: Urban Sprawl SlideShow from the air

    Bookmark   September 19, 2010 at 7:22PM
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Ok, try again.

Here is a link that might be useful: slideshow

    Bookmark   September 19, 2010 at 7:24PM
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WOWOWOWOW And I thought Midvale had problems.

I have an internet friend in Alabama. Actually not to far from you ML. She said she is in a 700 house subdivision. I googled her address and panning out it looks very much like your picture.

Several years ago I googled my aunts house in San Diego, CA and it also looked a lot like one part of this picture. Shocking to me. Remembering back our lots in Calif were 1/3 acre and I thought then it was crowded.

Neat looking lay out. At first quick glance I thought it was a mosaic pattern. LOL

    Bookmark   September 19, 2010 at 10:33PM
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There are of course developments and sub developments in the Cleveland area where I live, but nothing like this. The developments are usually small (10-30 houses). And it isn't one monolithic sprawl.

Of course in a lot of places in the North we already have tightly packed houses like you see there around the core city and inner suburbs so I don't think this phenomenon is unusual. What is unusual is that they are so far from the city center.

Most developments here are of small to medium size and nestled in woods or hills. Of course there is almost no growth in this area so that contributes to the small size but oh well!

    Bookmark   September 20, 2010 at 1:18PM
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mama goose_gw zn6OH

moccasin, interesting slideshow--the wide shots remind me of Pre-Columbian(?) Art--Aztec, Toltec, Mayan.

Columbus, Ohio is laid out in a (loose) Maltese cross pattern, but of course in our area of the country we are more constrained by geographical/topographical features.

BTW, pic #4 should have a 'Start Here' sign somewhere, just like the mazes on the cereal boxes!

    Bookmark   September 20, 2010 at 1:36PM
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Americans LOVE SFRs, no matter how small, and most retirees don't want to cut lawns. Slide #6 says "The retirement community is large enough to disrupt Phoenix�s secondary street design..." I don't get that at ALL... there's clearly at least TWO major arteries bisecting the development--one in each axis. This is plenty. Are they implying that the residential side streets--childless or otherwise--should be "open flow" to the larger urban grid, so that cranky NON-carpooling commuters can zip through at will, endangering pedestrians, destroying ambience? Sod that! Sounds like NYC, lol!

My ONLY potential problem--at this prima facie reading--with the pics shown, would be WATER CONSUMPTION, and in that regard there doesn't seem to be very big yards, and there's no reason it can't ALL be xeriscape, with maybe some token green near the central community center. Desert plants have a beauty all their own, and many bloom gloriously in Feb.-Mar. time frame.

Obviously, an account of "sprawl" from the MANHATTAN-based NYTimes must be read with a jaundiced eye. Biased New Yawkers like to cite NYC as some example of energy-efficient "green" automobile-less utopia... LOL!

They "forget" to mention how many THOUSANDS of square miles of the Adirondack/NE region it takes to supply their little fantasy island of Manhattan with minor sundries such as water, food, energy... and toilet paper. ;') The self-congratulatory, self-proclaimed "center of the universe" also seems to have an UNsolved garbage disposal issue.

That's without even touching on the rat's nest of political "machines", unions, and outrageous taxes that touches EVERY aspect of life in NYC. Nay thanks.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2010 at 6:17PM
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Studies have shown that traffic congestion increases greatly when residential communities are connected to the larger grid by only one or two "arterial" connection streets.

The "old way" of having almost every side street connect to main streets is more efficient and does not increase traffic congestion like the "new way" of directing every car in the development to one street.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2010 at 7:21PM
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These pictures give me the creeps. There is no individuality, and all packed in like sardines.

I like my space, and privacy.


    Bookmark   September 22, 2010 at 7:36PM
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What I think about is Pink Floyd's THE WALL, and the regimentation of people from a young age. Getting up, going to the bus or commuter train, into the mass of cars on the highways, then at an allotted time eating, then coming back out and reversing everything.

The big cities with a lot of tall buildings and roof areas could turn those spaces into green spaces to help with the heat gain. Also, parking can go underground....where it is not too close to the ocean and hurricane storm surge. I at first admired the Big Dig in Boston, but so much corruption turned that into a death trap. Now I will NEVER drive through it.

What I see with the acres and acres of identical trailers on identical plots of ground is an above ground cemetery like they have in New Orleans where the water table is too high for below ground interment. And out in Arizona and Nevada where they have the super high rise condo units, and 120 degrees of temperature, I'm reminded of Auschwitz and the crematoria designed to get rid of old people.

Oops, I better stop while I'm ahead here. But I do figure that water will one day be recognized as valuable as gold. More important than oil. And we will break our reliance on fossil fuels too. A side benefit of folks working from home is fewer cars on the road, and the employment of people who cannot get to the workplace.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2010 at 12:55AM
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What are SFRs?
I've puzzled over that but cannot figure it out.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2010 at 12:03PM
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Single Family Residences.

I've also often wondered how we have built such large cities in the middle of the desert. Hasn't it occurred to anyone that it is probably not a good idea, considering it's a desert with no water? Phoenix and Las Vegas cannot go on indefinitely as they are now.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2010 at 1:40PM
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It's all about dollars. The goal is building as many units as possible on the land that is available and taking advantage of economies of scale. This can also be done inside the grid as high-rise or mid-rise infill (as most anti-sprawl folks will advocate). And there has been some of that in our area. But there still has to be profit in it for the developer. So then for your $299K you have a choice of a SFR with 4/2 on a small lot in the suburbs in a good school district, or a 2/2 chic loft where you have to walk your dog three times a day and rent a mini-storage unit . . . and have a bad school district.

I love the idea of more density, and of infill, and of adaptive reuse. But there is a lot of land in the U.S. and as long as a purchaser has a choice like the one above, there is a strong chance he is going to opt for the sprawl.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2010 at 2:36PM
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What jakabedy said. I'm not critical of moccasin, who posted this in a positive vein, but of the NYTimes (and their cohorts at the Urban Land Institute, American Planning Assoc., etc.) who reflexively decry anything to do with "evil" suburbs.

The water situation in the desert SW is slowly sorting itself out. I've lived in both Vegas and Phoenix, and I seem to remember a very steeply-graded water billing schedule; i.e. reasonable rates for the first N gallons--generally enough to cover INdoor use--then much steeper rates if you insist on the foolishness of having (and irrigating) a Kentucky bluegrass lawn in the Mojave Desert. This was 10 years ago, but IIRC "gray" water systems were coming on line too.

Golf courses will be a challenge, but I think there's synthetic and xeriscape solutions here too... OR, we could do as I do, and substitute TENNIS for golf! Way better fitness, and way less land use, LOL!

Anyway, I'd really like to see a "big picture" TECHNICAL analysis of whether major high-density urban centers are (as alleged) actually net savers of energy, water, resources, etc. e.g. a casual observer can't help but notice all the empty mass-transit seats zipping around during the majority of non-rush hours... the massive pumps needed to get potable water up into high-rise buildings, etc. Sounds like a fairly easy Master's thesis, i.e. get some macro data from Con Ed, the water and nat gas utilities, divide by census figures, etc. ;')

    Bookmark   September 25, 2010 at 3:22PM
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When you do some "zig-zag" thinking, you might come up with another solution to the population density, and the impact of people on the earth. For one thing, think about the impact of human kind growing larger each year. The Japanese were small before WWII, but now are much larger structured. This impacts the drain on the food supply. In the case of Americans, back in the days before the Civil War, the average male was 5'6" and so a 6' tall man was indeed tall. Now the average woman is in the 5.5 foot range and growing taller. We could impact the earth more favorably if we were smaller people. This is not even considering obesity as a factor. That is outside the realm of discussion. If people were smaller, the houses which we consider too small now, the ones built back in the late 1800s and such with their small closets and such, they would not be too small for us.
The same with our cars and the impact on geography by so many wide roads. I'm only half way kidding you here. It is the truth but not achievable in a democracy or a land of plenty.

I also was watching the movie REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, a modern made movie from a book written back in the late 50s I think. I read it when it first came out, and did not notice the implications of the trek to the suburbs on our American way of life. Then I saw MONA LISA SMILE which is a Julia Roberts movie about the young women in the 1950s at college and I also remember the GE ads with women in the high heels and petticoats, was one of them myself for too long a time. I think it is the attendant implications of life in the suburbs which is frightening. Are we being sold a bill of goods that by spreading out we are asserting our individuality? Because I think we are not.....we are exchanging one scenario for another one, equally as controlling of the fabric of our lives. I wonder what will be the shape of our culture in another 100 years.

Fixizin, I have been a fan of brainstorming for many years, and when you say you want to see the "big picture," so do I. It is always a logical progression, if we read the cards right. What was that quotation about our faults being within ourselves and not in our stars? We are making the future every day. Or nailing the lids on the coffins of the next generation if we don't pay better attention.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2010 at 5:59PM
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I�m a big fan of cities laid out in the grid fashion whenever possible. Every fourth or fifth street can be a thoroughfare and the other streets can be regulated with frequent stop signs and speed humps. I abhor the modern method of subdivisions resembling a plate of spaghetti.

The Village concept is much more appealing to me than generic urban sprawl. Not to mention it tends to reduce the need to drive across town.

Low density usually equals sprawl. High density usually means congestion, noise and crime. Pick your poison.

As for the cookie cutter houses, Sarah Susanka calls them "Storage Boxes for People". Very fitting. When we live in a time when subdivisions look alike, houses look alike and you can hardly tell one SUV or Sedan from the next, no wonder our young people feel compelled to cover their bodies in tattoos and hang shards of metal off of every conceivable fleshy spot on their bodies in a futile attempt to express their "originality". They fall short of originality because they merely follow the example of so many others�.. And so go our houses, big and small.

There is a new subdivision coming up near me. I would guess it�s about 100 acres. The first thing they did was clear every living organism from one boundary to the next. Next, they piled up fill dirt to a level of about three feet higher than the surrounding homes. That fill has covered the roots of trees along the subdivision boundaries and those trees are now dying. There is a small swale that appears to be dividing the lots. If it ends up the way it looks right now, the buildable pad will be about 1,000sf with 10 feet between houses and driveways capable of parking just one car. I hope I am wrong.


    Bookmark   September 25, 2010 at 9:06PM
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There is nothing new about these developments.

Any big city up here is almost the same as these developments...houses packed as tightly as possible, a lot of the houses looking the same, especially from the 30's on. And it's worst of all in the post WW2 "bungalow" neighborhoods - like whoa, same houses over and over.

Of course, the difference is that these developments were in the city, not in the boonies are way out in the suburb, so there wasn't that kind of negativity imprinted on them.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2010 at 1:21PM
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Look what showed up in the NYT about the new city in the desert of Abu Dabi.... Please do read this. It is sort of talking at the end about utopias, and about it not being "real world" because it is like a gated community.

And in the planning of this we see that MIT has a hand in it.

Here is a link that might be useful: Sustainable City in Arabian Desert

    Bookmark   September 26, 2010 at 4:29PM
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mama goose_gw zn6OH

Sustainable City Video--I wish there were more pictures! Can't help it, when I think of Utopia, I don't think of the desert, and undulating concrete walls. I'm sure if I'd been raised there, I would feel different(ly?) I have a friend who moved here after living in OK, and said she felt very 'hemmed in' by our beautiful rolling hills.

Something about that settlement near Abu Dabi reminded me of Frank Herbert's DUNE (the books, not the unworthy movie version)--isolated communities in an unreal world.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2010 at 5:23PM
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