There is no place for sprawl in our cities, simply no need, no advantage. Spreading out and building sprawl so national chains could haul away all the money was a self-inflicted injury, an unforced error, but one that we can just as easily give up. There is no reason to keep perpetuating this type of civic self-harm. Any city has access to all the data and can look at the harmful effects of shifting the economy away from local ownership.
Here are just a couple of examples of what’s happened since we started building sprawl.
The place in which we lead our lives dictates so much of the type of life we have. Far more of our experiences are shaped by what happens outside the four walls of our home, the spaces between the houses and between the buildings, this is what matters.
Prior to adopting a sprawl economy, our towns were gorgeous. Built with quality local materials, utilizing local skills, they were built to last, they were durable, they were maintainable, and those buildings and streets made people proud. People would still love to do this type of work. The type of work that gives people meaning and can’t be outsourced. Instead, we’ve opted to have national developers use the cheapest materials to construct something as quickly as possible, which ends up being disposable, because the less they spend on appearances, the more money they can pocket. So we don’t get to lead our lives surrounded by craftsmanship and beauty, which is what we deserve, we lead lives surrounded by disposable buildings, which makes us feel like disposable people.
Prior to the sprawl economy, our friends and neighbors owned the businesses in town. Entrepreneurship wasn’t a class someone had to take, the path to going into business was open for all. People took pride in their businesses, they had their skills on display for all to see. This gave people ownership in their community. When we opted to hand over commerce to national chains, we took this opportunity away from locals. As we invited in Wal-Mart and Dick’s and Target and Lowe’s and every other national chain in to our towns, we took away thousands of opportunities for local people to make those sales. We robbed someone of the dream of running their own businesses, to make their living doing something they love. We stole from them their chance to work for themselves, to make a living with their own hands and mind, to make their community stronger and more resilient. We handed those opportunities off to billion dollar corporations. We made the rich richer at the expense of our own community members.
Prior to the sprawl economy, we knew one another, because we shared space with one another. We weren’t in our cars, we were on the sidewalks, we were in our front yards, we are at the park. Before everyone spread out, we enjoyed a rich sense of community because people shared their towns with one another. Everyone didn’t need their own pool, because people would share the public pool. Everyone didn’t need 3 acres, because everyone shared the park. Everyone didn’t need their own car, because everyone shared the streetcar. It is a hell of lot more cost effective to share these common resources and when people share, they experience the collective benefit. They feel connected, they feel a sense of belonging and part of something greater. Of course this is why people feel isolated and depressed, we have removed the togetherness of our cities. We as humans crave the feeling of community and sprawl has ripped it from us.
Prior to the sprawl economy, our cities were full of joy. The errands of the day didn’t require anyone to suffer the misery of 9 lanes of traffic to acquire bread. No one had to endure the pain of stepping inside a Wal-Mart and feel their life force dissipate under the influence of a million fluorescent bulbs. The agony of ambling down the aisles of a Dollar General to endure the incompetence that only comes from employing people that hate their jobs with the passion of a thousand suns had yet to wash up on our shores. When we lived in walkable cities and towns, people could stroll out of their house to the bakery, to the butcher and to the market. Those trips were pleasurable and nice. You could buy quality products from quality people knowing that your purchase was going to help the house of someone you knew.
This is how are towns functioned before we bought the sprawl farm. This is how our cities are supposed to function. This is how cities in other parts of the world function. This, is how our cities will function once again.
The sprawl city is beneath us. It is not worthy of us. It is not fit for our homes, it is not fit for our friends, its not fit for our families, it’s not fit for our lives. Just because we accepted it for fifty years, does not mean we need to accept it for fifty one.
The age of the sprawl city must come to an end. It was an unfathomably expensive experiment, and its time has passed. Our lives are too short and too important to spend in environments unsuited to human habitation. Sprawl only serves one purpose, which is to transfer wealth from the hands of locals to those of outsiders. Why would any city perpetuate such a thing?
There are no good arguments left for sprawl development. It is simply a matter of bad habits and fear of change. The inability to take in new information, the reluctance of an industry to admit the truth. The unwillingness of people to knock the status quo. The facts are available, the entire experiment has been a fiscal, economic, environmental, societal and health debacle. Millions upon millions of lives have been degraded, nearly every city has deteriorated, our quality of life has been set back half a century, there simply is no justification to continue to build sprawl and our city leaders must get the message.
It is up to us all to deliver the message.
This is what we are fighting for. This is why we have to give a damn, why it’s okay to be a pain in the ass, because if we keep acting polite, our towns will continue to get ransacked. It is time to make city leaders pay attention and for them to understand this, the residents are in charge. Their success and happiness is all that matters. Locals, not visitors, families, not corporations, people, not cars. It is time for cities leaders to put residents first once again, it is time we demand it. No more strip malls, no more subdivisions, no more national chains, mega developers need not apply.
Residents first. Give people something to be proud of. Afford them some dignity. Restore local ownership. Build beautiful public spaces. Raise standards. Ask more of one another. Trust in people. Foster community. Make it small, make it walkable, make it friendly. And holy shit, have some fun.