There's Something About South Jersey

What Could Be Done?
Three Visions of South Jersey's Future

      "Urban Sprawl" - Runaway Growth or the American Dream?
      Sprawl is a term used by those who don't like dispersed, auto-dependent suburban development.  The word  "sprawl" implies ungainly, awkward, straggling disarray ...  "the straggling  expansion of an urban or industrial area into the surrounding countryside" (OED).   Opponents of sprawl advocate "smart growth" (as opposed to the "dumb growth" we have now) and promise to save the environment and improve our communities.  They often cite Portland, Oregon as a model, largely because it has an Urban Growth Boundary.   Critics call "so called smart-growth an elitist assault on the American dream."  They argue that "sprawl is caused by affluence and population growth, and which of these, exactly, do we propose to prohibit?"(1)  For better or worse, as one of America's most affluent and densely populated states, New Jersey is already far along this road.

Governor McGreevy announced a  major initiative against "sprawl" after he was inaugurated in 2001.  But his initiative has floundered in the legislature due to opposition from communities and builders.  Recently, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection removed its BIG map (Blueprint for Intelligent Growth) from its WEB site. 

      "Centers and Environs" - Back to the Future?
      Many Americans feel nostalgic about a past when there was  countryside between the cities, towns and villages.   Following the ideas of New Urbanism planning theorists,(2) the New Jersey State Planning Commission wants New Jersey townships to divide their land between "centers" and "environs".  Proponents of this model, including groups such as New Jersey Future,  often feel they are fighting a losing battle as more and more of New Jersey's countryside "succumbs" to development.  Like other Americans, South Jerseyans are jealous of their freedom to build and settle where they please, and automobiles have given them the freedom to spread throughout the countryside.  For much of South Jersey, implementing this vision would mean rolling back the clock.  But some of this nostalgic landscape might be preserved in areas that have had less growth in the last decades, especially in Salem and Cumberland counties.

      "Broadacre City" - A Better Vision of Suburbia?
      Broadacre City was Frank Lloyd Wright's vision of a decentralized, yet urban America.  Wright anticipated America's love affair with the automobile and suburbia, and argued that strong architectural and land use controls could make the best of it.  Other visionaries who promoted similar views included landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, home designer Gustav Stickley and the Craftsman movement, sometimes known as the Bungalow or Arts and Crafts Style.  These visionaries designed homes and communities that enhanced the natural environment.  They often preferred to build in attractive, natural areas far from cities.   Critics say that contemporary suburbia is a "bastardized" version of Wright's ideas and related "Garden City" ideas.3

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      1.  The skeptical quote about the anti-sprawl ideology is from Greg Easterbrook, "Surburan Myth," The New Republic, March 15, 1999, p. 20.

      2.  For an up-to-date presentation of New Urbanist ideas on regional planning, see Peter Calthorpe and William Fulton's book, The Regional City (reviewed in the N.Y. Times Book Review). For a sobering discussion of how these ideas have worked out in practice, see Jane Shaw and Ronald Utt, eds., book A Guide to Smart Growth.  For an argument that "evidence on suburbanization and low-density development suggests suburbanization does not significantly threaten the quality of life for most people, and land development can be managed more effectively through real-estate markets than comprehensive land-use planning," see The Sprawling of America: In Defense of the Dynamic City, available free online.

      3.  Calthorpe and Fulton, op cit., say "the template that underlies much of our suburban growth waw designed in the thirties by Frank Lloyd Wright with his Broadacre Cities plans and Clarence Stein's Greenbelt towns." p. 44.