Sprinkler Cities v Mega Regions: The Debate Continues

Christine Whelan | Posted on 03/12/10

Our American Dream of home ownership and a white picket fence isn't going to die out anytime soon.

This week, the ongoing debate about urban sprawl got a new jolt of energy when John Stossel focused on the issue in his Myths, Lies and Nasty Behavior segment on ABC.

I'm teaching a class on Social Change and just finished up a section on geographic changes - the move from farms to cities, the creation of Levittowns and the post-World War II suburbs, the push outward to the ex-burbs, or what David Brooks famously dubbed, "Sprinkler Cities," (see definition below) and the current call to revive cities, creating mega-regions of growth and development.

Heather Horn at The Atlantic pulled together a good group of panelists to debate the issue--including John Stossel, who argues that civic leaders telling us to pursue "smart growth" are really just liberals insisting that everyone live the way they do.

Read through the arguments-and notice the moral certainty behind each argument. The city-dwellers believe their life is more efficient, energetic and environmentally friendly. The suburban-dwellers argue that theirs is the American Dream of individuality and freedom.

For your next debate about where-and how-we should live, here are a few more phrases and facts to drop in:

Sprinkler Cities: Fast-growing suburbs mostly in the South and West that are the stomping grounds for Patio Man: A white, middle-class, Republican guy who likes his grill, loves his family, adores his SUV and gets giddy buying stuff at Home Depot. Those in Sprinkler Cities came there because their older suburbs were getting too congested, expensive and unsafe. They love the modern amenities of newly built houses-at a fraction of the price of property in more centrally located regions.

Mega-Regions: In a recent issue of The Atlantic, Richard Florida, an urban studies theorist, argues that the way forward out of this recession is to focus on building public transportation between cities like Boston, New York and Washington; Charlotte and Atlanta; and Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, to encourage a flow of business among those cities and create a mega-region, or creative corridor, of talent. People concentrate in these areas, and they grow, because of the theory of...

Urban metabolism: The larger the city's population, the greater the innovation and wealth creation per person. Successful cities actually get faster as they grow. They become more efficient, innovative and productive by embracing the idea of economies of scale. This is a powerful argument, but will it continue-as he argues-in a time of recession, or will this organic process crumble?

My students are very pro-city life right now, but once blessed with a family, they might think differently. Life may be easier when you've got a yard for the kids-and some space in an area that's actually affordable. Our American Dream of home ownership and a white picket fence isn't going to die out anytime soon.

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