INSTRUMENTS FOR PROFESSIONALS'
Fear And Loathing In Suburbia
here are cer-
sons to oppose sprawl.
Degradation of the
strain on fiscal
resources for roads
GEORGE and other infrastruc-
CANTOR ture. Loss of a sense of
Reality Check neighborhood, which
I alluded to here three
weeks ago. The recent conflagration in
California is evidence of what happens
1 when you build houses where no
1 houses should have been built.
Sometimes, however, I think the
anti-sprawlers tread very near the
1 woozier limits of logic.
Recent front-page newspaper arti-
cles, for example, carried the alarming
news that sprawl was a threat to
I health. The reasoning behind this
I claim was that in the outer suburbs
I people seldom leave their cars to walk
— and that this lack of exercise was
1 causing an increase in the rate of obe-
sity and cardiovascular disease.
1 Of course, that same week in the
same papers, there was an article
about the equally alarming increase in
I obesity and cardiovascular disease
1 among blacks and Hispanics — who,
overwhelmingly, are urban residents.
But, hey, who's counting?
This claim is especially interesting
in that the great historical impetus for
the move out from the cities was to
gain a healthier way of life. The Fresh
Air Camps, vigorously supported by
1- Jewish organizations in the first half of 1
the last century, were intended specifi-
cally to get kids out of a noxious
Cities were regarded as filthy,
I unhealthy places in those years; the
I dream of most urban residents was to
I find a way out. Get to a place with a
I back yard and trees, away from the
I noise and smells.
I The New York World's Fair of 1939,
at Flushing Meadows, Queens, was
full of exhibits on a better tomorrow
and prominent among them was the
1 promise of a place in the suburbs.
Thousands of Jewish war veterans
flocked to the Levittown develop-
ments, outside New York and
George Cantor, a West Bloomfield
resident, is a native Detroiter and
longtime Detroit journalist. His e-mail
address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Philadelphia, a few years later. Not
because they were exclusive or aesthet-
ically pleasing, but because they want-
ed their families to live in a healthier
Now the argument has turned com-
pletely around. The cities are sup-
posed to be centers of enriched living,
while the suburbs are making us sick.
If you seriously want to end sprawl,
the most effective solution would be
to raise gasoline taxes to European lev-
els, so that the pump price is about
$4.50 a gallon. But there is absolutely
no political support for any action
that makes it more expensive to drive.
In fact, a tripling of license plate fees
was one of the big reasons for the
recent recall of California's governor.
Politicians know you don't mess with
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Levittown began the suburban sprawl.
So the anti-sprawlers turn, instead,
to moral components to make their
case. The growth of the outer suburbs,
they insist, is reducing the core city
and inner ring of suburbs to beggary.
That's a bit hard to reconcile with
statistics that show property values in
places like Ferndale, Royal Oak and
Livonia at their highest in history in
constant dollars. Yet young families
flock to these close-in suburbs because
housing is still comparatively afford-
able. That would seem to be a good
As for Detroit, its problems go a bit
deeper than anything sprawl can
I suspect that when people use these
arguments what they actually oppose
is all growth. That is not an especially
healthy attitude, either.
Sprawl was not a problem, after all,
during the Great Depression. Anyone
care to live in that neighborhood
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