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IronTiger

A Topic on Sprawl

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Hey everyone. 

 

I wanted to discuss suburbs and sprawl in one of my future blog posts, but I thought it would make a livelier topic if I discussed it here. We've all heard of sprawl, but I wanted to know your thoughts on the following:

 

- What is sprawl to you?

- Where does the "city" stop and the "sprawl" begin?

- How would you combat it, if anything?

 

To the first question, sprawl is defined as such. Quoted from an anti-sprawl website, we have

"Sprawl" is defined by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as "poorly planned, low-density, auto-oriented development that spreads out from the center of communities."

Obviously, subdivision upon subdivision is a bad thing, but then that would then rule out master-planned communities since they are planned with major roads and commercial centers. That would make sense...often saying "I don't like sprawl" is a byword for "I'm an urban snob who hates the suburbs", or simply "I don't want things to change". But not always.

I think what some people's definitions of sprawl is a personal frame of reference, which segues into the next question. If you're familiar with the city, you likely remember the "edge" of town, therefore everything inside that point is the city then outside is sprawl.

As such, Fairfield's new commercial developments and newer residential like Bridgeland is sprawl, but Fairfield itself is less so since I remember that from my youth. As I was telling someone else, I remember years ago when Beltway 8 signified the true "start" of Houston for me, now it pushes far out from that. (Get it?)

Combating sprawl to me is unfortunately impossible. Any successful city will keep expanding, and attempts to limit it will just create a "walled garden" to get into the city and raise costs of living. The best thing would be to try to let things take course and let them mature. Montrose and the Heights were once suburbs in every sense of the word, but they haven't been suburbs for years.

The idea of this thread is to encourage discussion, try not to make one-two word refutes to a full paragraph, and keep it civil.

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Yeah, everyone generally holds the opinion that sprawl is bad, and of course, suburbs have a bad reputation too. I could fill an entire iTunes library with anti-suburb songs. (Well, at least one, anyway). But the idea isn't to bash sprawl/suburbs, it's to discuss it, just like a discussion on the University Line isn't supposed to be "Look guys, I bought a giant Culberson piñata. Have at it!"

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Hey everyone. 

 

I wanted to discuss suburbs and sprawl in one of my future blog posts, but I thought it would make a livelier topic if I discussed it here. We've all heard of sprawl, but I wanted to know your thoughts on the following:

 

- What is sprawl to you?

- Where does the "city" stop and the "sprawl" begin?

- How would you combat it, if anything?

 

 

 

- Sprawl, in the real estate sense, is just a loaded word for the areas of a city urbanistas hold in disdain.  Unless it is geographically or politically constrained, a metropolitan area will consist of denser portions surrounded by areas of gradually less density feathering off into the countryside.  It's just the organic way urban development happens.  Even The Heights was sprawl at one time.

 

- The city doesn't stop at any particular place, unless you are talking about a political boundary.  It builds gradually from the surrounding countryside.

 

- A better question is why would you want to combat it?  To raise house prices inside the "city"?  To lower the average square footage of living space per family?  To increase congestion by packing more people into a smaller geographical space?  To decrease privacy?  To increase control?  To force people onto mass transit?  To limit options?  To increase the cost of living?

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I think of sprawl as the act of a large metropolitan area expanding outward. As to where I think the city feel ends and the sprawl or suburban feeling begins, it depends on what side of town you're on. Going north on I-45, I'd say the sprawl starts around FM1960. On I-69/US59 North, that location would be around the Beltway. The I-10 east corridor is mostly industrial, and still has that feeling of the city until Baytown. On I-45 south, that point would be FM2351. On 288, Almeda-Genoa. On the Southwest Freeway, I'd say the Harris/Fort Bend Co. line. On I-10 west, it would be Highway 6, and on 290, it would be around the Beltway. As long as cities have developed, sprawl has occurred and I don't see it ending soon. Much of it comes from the notion that the city is dirty, decaying, disorderly, noisy, full of crime, corruption, overcrowded schools, and "poor" people. The suburbs have been marketed as the place to go to get away from those things and have a high social status attached to them, though certain urban areas also have a high social status attached to them, too (cough*RiverOaks*cough). Some people are coming back to the core of the cities for a want of less commuting, and being closer to employment and entertainment centers, but there will always be those who think suburbs are inherently good and anything urban is inherently bad. I believe people will still move to the suburbs, and as the core becomes denser, sprawl will still continue. Who knows? One day we might be the sprawl of Houston starting just south of Madisonville.

Edited by JLWM8609
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Sprawl is a loaded word, I agree (and then we go back to the "urban snob" word) but not nearly as much as "white flight", because once you introduce race into the mix you're more or less implying that the "white man" held up the city and once they left, the city goes to hell (which makes things really uncomfortable if that wasn't your intent)

As for the city stopping, the line goes between "city" and "suburb". Arguably, the current line for this is still the Beltway (or past it).

As for sprawl stopping, I think that the intents of stopping sprawl are aimed to prevent loss of countryside and invest in the city more (since there typically tends to be abandoned space). Radicals may have some sort of anti-suburban bent to try to do this, but I think it's just misguided principles in general.

But I really don't know, I remember my cousin (from a few weeks ago) talking about how the sprawl marches on, yet he's the one who lives south of the Pearland city limits, so even those in the far south 'burbs still talk about it.

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My concern with sprawl is the loss of  ecosystems, and the loss of the rural culture in the areas that become exburbs.

Yes, even once classic Texas towns like Lockhart and Bastrop are fast becoming bedroom communities for Austin, and after all, Katy and Sugar Land were once independent towns with economies until they were "poisoned" with suburbs. On the upshot, their economies are now better than ever with the blue-collar jobs replaced with white-collar commuters. So...is this a bad thing overall?

 

but there will always be those who think suburbs are inherently good and anything urban is inherently bad.

Of course the reverse holds true, too. The suburbs are often painted in a negative light, it doesn't matter if they're ethnically diverse (with great restaurants), better traffic, cleaner, greener, etc.

Edited by IronTiger

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Sprawl is a loaded word, I agree (and then we go back to the "urban snob" word) but not nearly as much as "white flight", because once you introduce race into the mix you're more or less implying that the "white man" held up the city and once they left, the city goes to hell (which makes things really uncomfortable if that wasn't your intent)

 

White flight doesn't really imply that the "white man" held up the city as if they kept things in line. When white residents left the inner city in large numbers, businesses relocated, the property values dropped, and the tax base shifted, leading to a decline in city services and decay.

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White flight doesn't really imply that the "white man" held up the city as if they kept things in line. When white residents left the inner city in large numbers, businesses relocated, the property values dropped, and the tax base shifted, leading to a decline in city services and decay.

 

The term "white flight" is a product of it's time and it's rhyme.  What it really means is the movement of wealthier individuals out of the urban core, leaving a larger percentage of the poor behind.  When it was coined, almost all of those wealthier people were white.

 

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White flight doesn't really imply that the "white man" held up the city as if they kept things in line. When white residents left the inner city in large numbers, businesses relocated, the property values dropped, and the tax base shifted, leading to a decline in city services and decay.

Well, besides the fact that it wasn't just whites that left a lot of these cities (demographic shifts happen to every single demographic--tell that to Old Chinatown in East Downtown), when using the term white flight it becomes an inherent race issue and you run the risk of sounding like a huge racist in the process, which is why that term shouldn't be used. The people who look at demographics and turn suburbs into a race issue (focusing on the race and not the policies) are cut from the same cloth of the people who will blame black mayors for ruining cities (in the Northeast, mostly) with a straight face (focusing on the race and not the policies).

 

That being said, is there a more neutral term to sprawl?

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Well, besides the fact that it wasn't just whites that left a lot of these cities (demographic shifts happen to every single demographic--tell that to Old Chinatown in East Downtown), when using the term white flight it becomes an inherent race issue and you run the risk of sounding like a huge racist in the process, which is why that term shouldn't be used. The people who look at demographics and turn suburbs into a race issue (focusing on the race and not the policies) are cut from the same cloth of the people who will blame black mayors for ruining cities (in the Northeast, mostly) with a straight face (focusing on the race and not the policies).

 

That being said, is there a more neutral term to sprawl?

 

Growth?

 

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The term "white flight" is a product of it's time and it's rhyme. What it really means is the movement of wealthier individuals out of the urban core, leaving a larger percentage of the poor behind. When it was coined, almost all of those wealthier people were white.

It was because inner city neighborhoods were redlined, and banks wouldn't lend to anyone but whites.

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It was because inner city neighborhoods were redlined, and banks wouldn't lend to anyone but whites.

I've read (red?) about redlining, and while there was some foul play likely involved, there are a few notes to counteract that:

 

- Many of the neighborhoods were really in bad shape, and when they weren't redlined, it was essentially up to the government (and government money) to bail out delinquent homeowners

- A lot of those redlined neighborhoods were in immigrant neighborhoods (non-white), so the second part of that statement is false.

- That wouldn't adequately explain continuing expansion of sprawl to this day.

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Well, besides the fact that it wasn't just whites that left a lot of these cities (demographic shifts happen to every single demographic--tell that to Old Chinatown in East Downtown), when using the term white flight it becomes an inherent race issue and you run the risk of sounding like a huge racist in the process, which is why that term shouldn't be used.

 

Like august948 said, that term is a product of its time. When white flight first occurred in the mid 20th century, it was mostly whites who had the economic means to move to the suburbs. Despite the Supreme Court's 1948 ruling in Shelley v. Kraemer, which held that racially based covenants were legally unenforceable by the courts, blacks who had the money to afford homes in the suburbs still had obstacles which kept them from purchasing homes in most suburbs, since the ruling did not prevent private parties from racial discrimination when it came to housing. These methods included sellers and renters just outright saying "NO", "respectable" realtors not selling to blacks (Jack Caesar had to use his white secretary to serve as a front to buy his home in Riverside Terrace in 1952), and brokers having ethics codes that stated that changing a neighborhood's ethnic composition was grounds for being expelled from the MLS, or neighborhood residents pooling together money to buy out black homebuyers.

Edited by JLWM8609
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It was because inner city neighborhoods were redlined, and banks wouldn't lend to anyone but whites.

 

Redlining is something that mostly occurred after white flight had taken place.  Not sure what direct affect redlining had on sprawl, though.

 

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My concern with sprawl is the loss of  ecosystems, and the loss of the rural culture in the areas that become exburbs.

 

Exactly. To speak only of the cultural impact: it's the homogenization that dismays some few of us.

 

It is a matter of total indifference whether you call it urbanization or suburbanization.

 

If you are a a non-flyer, as I am, of a certain age, you will have observed over the course of a lifetime of road travel that places have all begun to look the same.

 

If you or your family are new to this country, this can hardly be expected to necessarily disturb you in any way.

Or perhaps in any case, the benefits of sprawl are so apparent to you that you in no way regard its displacing something else as a diminishment. You consider it in the aggregate a wonderful place to be "from," to grow up in. Or: even if it is true of the places where most of us live, it is just a small percentage of the surface of the earth. (Relevance unclear.)

 

There can be no reconciling this point of view, with Larry's and mine.That's fine. I only wish to suggest that there is an alternative to the dominant point of view (oh yes, the pro-sprawl view is dominant: it's easy to forget that anti-sprawl urbanism mainly lives on the internet, not in the world).

 

Aesthetic arguments generally fail on this board, so I'll try to present it in other terms:

 

Reflect that diversity is routinely held up as an unalloyed good, an end in itself, whether of people in a classroom or a neighborhood. It amounts to a first principle.

If diversity is a value, our last shared value perhaps, then there is no reason it shouldn't apply to geography too.

And in fact, diversity of place may well be what gives rise to real diversity of people.

Which we most assuredly value, right?

Edited by luciaphile
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My biggest problem with the burbs is the environmental impact and waste. As someone with asthma, I don't like choking on fumes from buses and cars parked on a freeway and polluting the air I breathe. I also don't like nature being plowed over so someone can have a new house to drop tons of water on a yard, with new roads and utilities that will degrade over time (and by the time they need to be replaced the tax revenue from those that use it can't finance it).

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I've read (red?) about redlining, and while there was some foul play likely involved, there are a few notes to counteract that:

- Many of the neighborhoods were really in bad shape, and when they weren't redlined, it was essentially up to the government (and government money) to bail out delinquent homeowners

- A lot of those redlined neighborhoods were in immigrant neighborhoods (non-white), so the second part of that statement is false.

- That wouldn't adequately explain continuing expansion of sprawl to this day.

Actually if you look at neighborhood composition statistics those neighborhoods had white people and were more diverse before redlining took place.

Also I've spoken to some people in third ward and they say it still exists unofficially. Also insuranxe companies refuse to offer home insurance or if they do offer insane premiums which is basically extortion.

Redlining is something that mostly occurred after white flight had taken place. Not sure what direct affect redlining had on sprawl, though.

White flight happened before FDR was president? I don't believe so.

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Actually if you look at neighborhood composition statistics those neighborhoods had white people and were more diverse before redlining took place.

Also I've spoken to some people in third ward and they say it still exists unofficially. Also insuranxe companies refuse to offer home insurance or if they do offer insane premiums which is basically extortion.

White flight happened before FDR was president? I don't believe so.

Whoops, you're right, I made a mistake. I meant to say it was non-black immigrant populations that were redlined, which would make your statement correct in this case.

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Actually if you look at neighborhood composition statistics those neighborhoods had white people and were more diverse before redlining took place.

Also I've spoken to some people in third ward and they say it still exists unofficially. Also insuranxe companies refuse to offer home insurance or if they do offer insane premiums which is basically extortion.

White flight happened before FDR was president? I don't believe so.

Well, "unofficial redlining" is kind of irrelevant in terms of sprawl, and were these people the same ones who can't get lending because their own personal credit is bad? That isn't redlining if it is. Insurance is also irrelevant. My parents' house have higher fire insurance rates because they are farther away from a fire hydrant.

 

White flight didn't happen before FDR because no one called it that. As soon as railroads came in-line, the rich started to move out away from the city. Places like Oak Park and Cicero in Illinois were like this. This didn't happen so much in the South and West since they weren't nearly as densely populated (or populated at all, really) in the late 19th century.

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The term "redlining" is derived from insurance maps that literally had red lines on them, indicating neighborhoods where they would not write coverage.  It's an issue that is largely independent of how and where a city expands; it relates more to who ended up moving where.

 

People started getting more spread out with rail travel, sure, but again, it wasn't necessarily a lily white exodus.  Houston Heights and Woodland Heights were started as "streetcar suburbs" around the previous turn of the century.  Woodland Heights was smaller and homogeneous; Houston Heights, though (the earlier of the two), was originally a separate municipality, and had a black section centered around the railroad tracks (think steam engines, not streetcars) on Nicholson.

 

As an area's population grows, people have to go somewhere.  I tend to think of "sprawl" as a negative, sure, but not as a term that's applied to all growth.  Rather, I think of it more in terms of what's going to end up being the unsustainable pattern of growing without any particular attention being given to the use of resources, be they time, fuel, or ecosystems.  The Woodlands fits this bill.  Traffic there is a huge problem, and not likely to get any better in the near future for the same reason it's a problem around the Galleria - they forgot to put the roads in, and there is no realistic alternative to getting into a car, no matter how long or short the trip.  In contrast, Clear Lake - roughly the same distance away - has something resembling a road grid so that you don't have to get onto I-45, its amenities like stores and small restaurants and the like aren't all clustered into segregated areas, and it can be reached on METRO busses.

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