SOC: Urban Sprawl

Date: Sun Jun 04 2000 - 08:27:35 MDT

The term "urban sprawl" is being tested by the Gore campaign as one of its
buzz-terms. Central-planner-types are increasingly using this term as a
stalking horse for re-entry into centers of power throughout the US. And it
seems there's a chance they'll have at least some success in this campaign,
as dissatisfaction with the state of America's cities DOES seem to be
growing. As the current longest period of economic growth in US history
continues, places like Silicon Valley and Atlanta are coming to join the
ranks of the previous sprawl-queens, LA and Houston. Commute times are
growing at an increasing pace, as is the air pollution load caused by
internal combustion engines. Growing cities ARE having an increasing
negative impact on surrounding ecosystems (although not nearly the level of
damage that the planners maintain).

I wonder what developments extropians would support as an alternative to
central planning to address this issue. These are some I see:

<> Natural "Edge City Densification". Here in Houston, we're seeing a
pattern of commercial real estate development at the nodes of the main
highway system on the outskirts of town. Houston is perhaps the most natural
"Car Town" on the planet, since its growth is not constrained by geography
(except on the southeast side where the port makes a narrow radial entry into
the otherwise nearly perfect concentric-ring development pattern of the 20th
Century city fed by radial freeway arteries and concentric ring roads).
Major groups of 5-25-story office buildings are being built at the
intersection of the radial and ring freeways, "seeding" development of a more
complete urban landscape at multiple locations as far out as 15-20 miles from
the city center. These new nodes of conurbation seem to be acting as
"magnets", offsetting the otherwise steady centrifugal force of freeway-fed
growth. With no zoning laws (we've defeated them in three successive
plebiscites), this development in Houston is certainly not the result of
central planning.

<> Telecommuting. Talked about as a tonic to commuter gridlock for a
decade, we OUGHT to be seeing an effect right about now as more and more
people have sufficient bandwidth in their homes to work from there. I know
that I have developed a pattern of working from home a few days a month and I
seem to be encountering more anecdotal evidence of this trend as time goes
on. But people still like the sociability of an office environment (I know I
do). I'd look for the development of generic "Edge City Workspaces" for
semi-telecommuting, where people with disparate professions could share an
office space and some of the overhead of equipment and facilities (like
high-end videoconferencing) near their suburban homes.

<> Electric/Hybrid Cars. Long an electro-skeptic, I'm seeing electrics and
especially hybrids coming closer and closer to competitiveness. Especially
with smarter and smarter power-management systems and lighter and lighter
materials, I'd look for the significant impact of electro-hybrids on urban
hydrocarbon pollution within the next ten years.

<> Smart Cars. Although Gore supports "smart highways", I think anyone with
much sense knows that this is a stalking horse for a major tax-and-spend orgy
for the central planners. It's not hard to imagine Gore's kind getting us
committed to a huge "National Smart Highway Initiative" that would be
obsolete before it's even begun. However, a packet-switched system where
most of the smarts are in the cars DOES seem to offer promise for some relief
from freeway congestion without losing the merits of individual choice in
mobility that Americans clearly prize very highly. I'd be curious to get
some pointers from anyone who is following this line of development closely
so we could make some intelligent guesses about how it might become a
significant trend and how soon it might offer some relief to the weary

I'm sure there are other trends and developments I'm overlooking. Comments?

       Greg Burch <>----<>
      Attorney ::: Vice President, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
                                           ICQ # 61112550
        "We never stop investigating. We are never satisfied that we know
        enough to get by. Every question we answer leads on to another
       question. This has become the greatest survival trick of our species."
                                          -- Desmond Morris

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Jul 27 2000 - 14:12:27 MDT