A Freakonomics for urban sprawl: Does such a book exist?
February 6, 2008 7:34 AM   Subscribe

Are there any books that take a Freakonomics like approach to explaining and analyzing urban sprawl?

I've been interested in urban planning, urban sprawl in particular, for many years.

I want to learn more about this phenomenon. However, most of the books I've attempted to read have been academic in tone and intended for urban planners. Anything out there that takes a Freakonomics like approach to explaining urban sprawl to the layman (or laywoman)?
posted by stedman15 to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
I just ordered it, so I haven't read it yet, but Geography of Nowhere sounds like a good "sprawl-o-nomics for the layman" book. I saw the author speak and he explained things in a way that made it easy for non-planners to get in on the sprawl bashing.
posted by melissam at 7:37 AM on February 6, 2008

I don't know if they're very Freak-y, but Jane Jacobs has always been a real visionary in the urban planning world.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities
Dark Age Ahead
posted by GuyZero at 7:53 AM on February 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Not UP specific, but you should check out Bowling Alone for the general motivation behind the whole movement.
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:01 AM on February 6, 2008

Steven Johnson touches on it a bit in
Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software

But it mostly uses urban sprawl as an example of emergence in one chapter. It's not about urban sprawl per say.
posted by Widepath at 8:03 AM on February 6, 2008

A Field Guide to Sprawl isn't exactly what you're looking for, but I think you'd enjoy it.
posted by box at 8:18 AM on February 6, 2008

Not exactly what you are looking for, but related: "Edge City" from the early 90s is about the evolution of suburbs from bedroom communities into economically productive entities.
posted by Good Brain at 8:32 AM on February 6, 2008

In addition to the Field Guide to Sprawl, Dolores Hayden's other books really stand out. My favorite is Redesigning the American Dream because of how it connects the physical landscape of modern suburbia with the history and trajectory of women and families in America.

Honestly, her work is far more substantive and nuanced than the Freakanomics stuff.
posted by Forktine at 8:34 AM on February 6, 2008

I own, but haven't read, Suburban Nation The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream. Perhaps it fits the bill?
posted by pithy comment at 8:35 AM on February 6, 2008

Also, John Stilgoe (MeFi link) has the readability and wide perspective that I think you are looking for. He has a book specifically on the origins of US suburbs, but a lot of his books are worth reading.
posted by Forktine at 8:40 AM on February 6, 2008

Suburban Nation is exactly what you are looking for. I've gone back and read it over and over again because I've found it so interesting.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 8:42 AM on February 6, 2008

And, if you are interested in non-US urban development, there are a bunch of really good books to look at, intersecting journalism and urban studies. Suketu Mehta's Maximum City is really good, for example, as is Mike Davis's Planet of Slums and Robert Neuwirth's Shadow Cities.
posted by Forktine at 8:47 AM on February 6, 2008

I'd recommend Alex Marshall's How Cities Work: Suburbs, Sprawl, And the Roads Not Taken.
posted by Jeanne at 8:51 AM on February 6, 2008

Thirding Suburban Nation - it follows from the ideas talked about in Geography of Nowhere.

Also It's a sprawl world after all is a good read.
posted by buttercup at 9:35 AM on February 6, 2008

My favorites (in order) are:

* Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (Kenneth T. Jackson)
* Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820-2000 (Dolores Hayden)
* Geography of Nowhere (James Kuntsler)
* Suburban Nation (Andres Duany). (This was assigned in planning school, but I haven't read it. People said it was a quick, light read. Maybe not as informative as the others, according to one person I talked to.)
* I'll also second Hayden's Field Guide to Sprawl for its great pictures, and Edge Cities.
posted by salvia at 1:43 PM on February 6, 2008

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