by David McLimans
is a pendulum swing in society, efficient but cruel. You
cant let things get too bador social instability will result, says
Jonathan Barnett, Practice Professor of City and Regional Planning and
editor of Planning for a New Century, a provocative new handbook
on urban sprawl and its consequences, published by Island Press earlier
this year. Social inequity is one by-product of sprawl, as inner cities
are depleted of people and resources, and needless duplication of services
elsewhere is another. Its wasteful to start over, says Barnett, who
also contributed a chapter to the book.
an architecture student at Yale, Barnett wanted to design better cities,
but in real life, he says, he found that many architects help rich people
buy shower curtains. After architectural school, he plunged into the
hard-knocks school of city government, working in the campaign and then
the administration of New York mayor John Lindsay. He helped create an
urban-designer category within New York Citys civil-service ranks, then
went on to set up a graduate department of city planning at the City College
of New York. Today he heads his own Washington-based urban-planning and
design firm, working with city governments nationwide.
is no ivory-tower thinker. His pragmatism is evident in Planning for
a New Century, his third book, which he says is intended for legislators
and their aidespeople who can effect changebut can be read by anyone
interested in broad social issues at the most personal level: where and
how we live, pay taxes, and educate our children.
credits Dr. Eugenie Birch, department chair and professor of city and
regional planning, for the idea that led to the bookthat he teach a graduate
course, in which a series of talks by different scholar/experts could
form the basis for book chapters. Dr. Judith Rodin CW66, Penns president,
provided an afterword stressing Penns special role in Philadelphia and
how universities and other institutions are emerging as the venues around
which strong, functioning modern communities form.
experts, mostly Penn faculty, cover subjects such as housing, core cities,
regionalization, taxation, crime, and education. The book is a crash course
on the laws and regulations that have shaped our society for over a centuryoften
in unintended waysand the contributors make real-world recommendations
for action. But Barnett, a realist, sees overwhelming problems in the
social inequities engendered by urban sprawl. Change will take at least
a generation, he says.
aspects of the book fall into the future-shock category. To mention the
most familiar example, federal laws and policies have long encouraged
home ownership, but federal funds were more available for white, middle-class
citizens. The result was a public policy that exacerbated racial and economic
inequities. Federal programs for highway construction and pollution control
had similarly unforeseen consequences. In both cases, well-meant legislation
encouraged sprawl, by making it possible to develop previously inaccessible
areas, abetting the depletion of core cities.