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Sprawling Places

Sprawling Places

David Kolb
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Sprawling Places
    Book Description:

    People often bemoan the spread of malls, suburban strips, subdivisions, and other sprawling places in contemporary America. But are these places as bad as critics claim? In Sprawling Places, David Kolb questions widely held assumptions about our built environments. Kolb agrees there is a lot not to like about many contemporary places, but to write them off simply as commodified "nonplaces" does not treat them critically. Too often, Kolb says, aesthetic character and urban authenticity are the focus of critics, when it is more important to understand a place's complexity and connectedness. Kolb acknowledges that the places around us increasingly have banal exteriors, yet they can be complex and can encourage their inhabitants to use them in multiple, nonlinear ways. Ultimately, Kolb believes human activity within a place is what defines it. Even our most idealized, classical places, he shows, change over the course of history when subjected to new linkages and different flows of activity. Engaging with the work of such writers and critics as Henri Lefebvre, Manuel Castells, Karsten Harries, and Christian Norberg-Schulz, Kolb seeks to move discussions about sprawl away from the idea that we must "choose between being rooted in the local Black Forest soil or wandering in directionless space." By increasing our awareness of complexity and other issues, Kolb hopes to broaden and deepen people's thinking about the contemporary built environment and to encourage better designs in the future.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-3662-6
    Subjects: Philosophy, Sociology, Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Places Today
    (pp. 1-27)

    CRITICS OF TODAY’S CITIES AND SUBURBS often appeal to idealized older places. Earlier, people enjoyed Paris and the hill towns of Italy, or Charleston and small-town America. Now, we are stuck with banal suburban sprawl and vapid city entertainment centers. We have tourist attractions and Disneyfied places that are created only for consuming. When our places grow, we get Houston. Looming virtual reality will divorce stranger places even more from natural locales.

    Is it as bad as they say? Is there no hope? My goal in studying contemporary places is to get beyond criticisms that concentrate on the problems of...

  5. CHAPTER TWO What Is a Place?
    (pp. 28-52)

    JUST WHAT ARE PLACES, and how do they come about? Places are sometimes opposed to mere expanses of space, and that is one contrast I will be making. Often today places are also opposed to what are called nonplaces in another sense, all those malls and subdivisions and theme parks and parking lots that differ from classic dense and centered places in the ways described in the previous chapter. In this chapter I honor the concerns about such places but demonstrate that that way of describing the problem is unsound. Parking lots on the perimeter of a mall are real...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Place Complexity
    (pp. 53-80)

    WE HAVE ALREADY EXAMINED some key characteristics of today’s places and offered a theory about the nature of places; this chapter turns to criteria for evaluating and improving contemporary places. I suggest a criterion using the term complexity. This offers leverage on contemporary places without making totalizing claims, and without demanding a distinction of genuine originals from denatured imitations. The more common criterion of place, authenticity, is vague and usually tied to centered and hierarchical places. It condemns too much in today’s world and offers too little guidance about how to proceed. It is better to distinguish complex from simplified...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Commodification, Systems, and Places
    (pp. 81-106)

    THIS CHAPTER EXAMINES place complexity in relation to the claim that contemporary places have become overly commodified. With attention to the second and third dimensions of complexity mentioned in chapter 3 (complex processes of local interpretation, and complex relations with remote systemic and political processes), I argue that today’s places are more complex than writers such as those quoted in the chapter epigraphs realize, and that their complexity might be further developed to combat commodification and other bad features of contemporary places.

    Many who argue that today’s places have been denatured would dismiss my proposals as superficial or even dangerous....

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Full Theme Ahead
    (pp. 107-135)

    THEMED PLACES SEEM EMBLEMATIC of the worst of contemporary places. A student once remarked that she had enjoyed Disney creations until at architectural school she learned that Disney was the Evil Empire. Themed places sin against modernist canons of honesty. They also reek of the commodification that offends postmodernists who would otherwise approve of fantasy. For almost everyone themed places show life in a fast-paced, image-drenched society that seems to leave unsatisfied a basic need for contact with reality, even though the themed places’ obtrusive reality assaults us at every turn.¹

    According to the criteria given in chapter 3, themed...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Suburban Promises and Problems
    (pp. 136-161)

    AS WITH THEMED PLACES, it is common to cite sprawling suburbs as emblematic of what is wrong with places today. Yet the suburbs remain the destination of choice for most Americans. Can the criterion of complexity suggest ways suburbs could take fuller advantage of the positive qualities of contemporary places?

    This and the remaining chapters discuss suburban sprawl in a manner roughly parallel to the discussion in chapter 5 of themed places. I look at definitions of sprawl, along with older and newer forms of suburbs. Then I discuss positive and negative aspects of the current patterns of suburban living...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Toward More Complexity in Suburbia
    (pp. 162-189)

    THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER ARGUED that suburbs are more complex places than many critics admit. Are there ways that suburbs can become more self-aware about their own growing complexity and involvement in larger linkages and processes? This would not solve all their problems, but it would help open new possibilities and create pressure for changes toward greater equity and environmental health. This chapter considers the New Urbanism as an expression of place complexity, and a variety of other measures, organized according to the three dimensions of complexity outlined earlier. Describing the New Urbanism as an expression of place complexity might seem...

  11. Afterword
    (pp. 190-192)

    UNHAPPY WITH TODAY’S PLACES, Christian Norberg-Schulz denied that they could be real places where we could settle and dwell: “The essence of settlement consists of gathering, and gathering means that different meanings are brought together. . . . the modern world is ‘open’; a statement which in a certain sense is anti-urban. Openness cannot be gathered. Openness means departure, gathering means return” (Norberg-Schulz 1984, 195). I have argued that contemporary places do just what Norberg-Schulz denied: they gather open relations of nets and links into new modes of noncentered, nonhierarchical unity.

    The busy, flowing city is one symbol of our...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 193-232)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 233-250)
  14. Index
    (pp. 251-267)