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The Ubiquitous Sprawls of America

David Rovics, Alternative Press Review
Once when I was touring Denmark my friend Jenka was visiting Europe at the same time. I picked her up at the airport and we headed into Copenhagen. As we were approaching the city, she got excited. “Wow,” she said, “it’s like a constant Critical Mass bike ride!”

As we wait at traffic lights at major intersections we passed through, the traffic passing by ahead of us generally includes a few cars and a lot of bicycles and pedestrians. Bike paths are as common as streets, and most people of all walks of life get around town by bicycle. Trains and buses full of passengers traverse the city, and you rarely have to wait long for the next one. Each neighborhood has a commercial center with shops, cafes, public spaces and streets off-limits to cars altogether. Most people live bicycling distance from where they work. Like so many European cities, it is a place that seems to have been designed for people. People like it that way and, to a huge extent, they keep it that way.

Some cities in the US share much in common with Copenhagen. Though they almost entirely lack bike paths, cities like New York and San Francisco at least have a lot of pedestrians, decent mass transit, centrally-located parks and neighborhoods where people both live and work. These are also the cities people tend to visit, whether they’re tourists from Europe, Asia or domestic travelers. Go to the movies or turn on the TV and you’ll see that so many of the stories take place in New York or San Francisco. It would be easy for many people to develop the impression that cities like these are representative of life in the US. But they’re not.

..The European exchange students usually find the real USA. I used to cringe when I’d meet one and ask them where they ended up in their year abroad. The answer never seems to be one of those few really endearing places. It’s always some suburb of Dallas or Phoenix or something. And of course, I eventually realized, and decided to stop cringing. That’s where most people live. Those are the areas where somebody can find work, where a family that’s not rich can buy a house that might be spacious enough to put up an exchange student. Few people can afford to live in those interesting cities like New York and San Francisco. Few people are likely to find decent jobs in nice university towns like Madison or Berkeley, unless they’re students, living there for a few years while they spend their parents’ life savings and accrue massive debt.

David Rovics is a singer-songwriter who tours regularly throughout North America, Europe, and occasionally elsewhere. His website is
(5 Feb 2007)
Suggested by Dean Thomas

Exurbs hardest hit in recent housing slump

Distant suburbs of major cities experiencing biggest decline in price and sales since summer of 2005.
While the U.S. housing downturn has depressed once-thriving real estate markets around the nation, far-flung suburbs of major cities have suffered the most abrupt market correction.

Home construction in these distant exurbs has slowed and prices and sales have fallen more than those of close-in suburban neighbors since a five-year U.S. housing boom ended in the summer of 2005.
(7 Feb 2007)

Scholars to consider the shrinking of cities

Rick DelVecchio, SF Chronicle
Scholars gather at UC Berkeley this week to ponder a trend much-studied in Europe but little-discussed in the United States: the shrinking city.

The phenomenon touches places as varied as Paris; Youngstown, Ohio; Leipzig, Germany; the Taeback Mountain region of South Korea; and parts of the San Francisco and San Jose metropolitan areas, scholars say.

Shrinkage ranges from the cyclical — one scholar points to San Francisco, Sunnyvale and Daly City after the dot-com bust — to the devastating, as exemplified by America’s Rust Belt and industrial cities in the former East Germany.

There are as many patterns and degrees of decline as there are cities. Scholars are beginning to map the phenomenon internationally, pinpointing common themes as they develop a new discipline for urban planners: the management of shrinkage.

…Youngstown officials, adjusting to a reality of radical shrinkage, have formed a land management pool to make room for parks and green space, Pallagst writes in a paper called “The End of the Growth Machine.”

“The breach with the growth pattern that can be observed in the Youngstown case is almost revolutionary given U.S. planning traditions,” Pallagst writes. “For the first time, a shift in paradigms is about to occur, leading from growth to ‘shrinking smart.’ “

“The interesting thing about these neighborhoods is the quality of life is really high,” Kent State’s Schwarz said. “The neighborhoods are very green, almost inadvertently.

“In parts of Cleveland or Youngstown, you really feel you’re almost in a rural setting,” she said.
(7 Feb 2007)