“Sprawl is nearly universally blamed on the post-World War II prosperity and its evils, such as expressways and general automobile ownership. This analysis certainly isn’t buttressed by history; as Bruegmann notes,
“‘Postwar suburbanization and sprawl were different in scale but not really different in kind from what had gone before . . . in American cities for more than a century, particularly in the boom periods of the 1880s and 1920s.’
“In Mayer and Wade’s Chicago: Growth of a Metropolis is a photograph of the Austin neighborhood on Chicago’s far west side–new houses here and there in a landscape festooned with scrawny trees and new streets as yet uncluttered by houses–is the very image of sprawl. It was taken around 1890.
“Why then this peculiar focus on the past 50 years? Because that was when the baby boomers were growing up. A generation who grew up in those postwar subdivisions preaching the need for change now recoil with dismay at seeing change invade the sacred precincts of their childhoods. [For example, Eben Fodor in his book Better Not Bigger.] Thus the weirdly anachronistic cast of their criticisms. They castigate ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ suburbs as if it was still the 50s, notes Bruegmann . . . .
“Sure, the dispersed city causes problems–pollution, energy dependence, social exclusion, the built ugliness of the public realm–that merit attention. . . . However, if people of influence refuse to engage our new kind of city, thus never coming to understand it, they are unlikely to be able to solve its new kind of problems.”