A Time Capsule View on Urban Sprawl

The Urban Land Institute, an organization that conducts research and promotes best practices on land development, has been celebrating its 75th year this year. As part of its celebration, the organization has unearthed a 1959 film called Community Growth: Crisis and Challenge warning of the impending threat of suburban sprawl. You can view the film at this Atlantic Cities post where I first saw it.

The film is interesting not only because it was produced so early in the history of suburban development, but for the assumptions guiding it.

Most notable … is not the fact that someone was sounding the alarm about sprawl 50 years ago, but that the solution then to the problem was markedly different from what planners (and advocates like the ULI) would propose today. The video makes no mention of walkability, or biking, or transit. The only real references to mixed use mention putting detached homes next to town homes next to high-rise apartments. These people weren’t talking about urbanism of any kind, but about a suburbia that would do a slightly better job of preserving open land. In this world, of course, everyone would still need a car

A good reminder not to be too wedded to the genius and rightness of the solutions we come up with to the big challenges that now face us.


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