Christopher Leinberger of Brookings and the University of Michigan has declared an end to sprawl. "We are witnessing the beginning of the end of sprawl," he writes, in a piece for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He says the market is demanding it.
I've read a variety of writings along the same vein: Higher gas prices, or aging baby-boomers or Millennials or boredom with the suburbs are among the factors that planners and urban writers and Smart Growth advocates are saying will end the dominion of sprawl. I'm declaring those pieces to be the new trend in urban writing. Whether there's a real trend in U.S. development is, to my eye, still an open question.
So while I hope they're right, pardon me for being just a wee bit skeptical. Yes, as I look around my metro region of Charlotte, I see all kinds of interesting things: the New Urban-style Birkdale Village "lifestyle center" in Huntersville, about 10 miles north of downtown Charlotte, the New Urban-style Baxter Village in Fort Mill, S.C., revitalized or stable downtowns in Mooresville, Belmont, Salisbury and other towns. The transit plan in Charlotte has been successful and is shaping growth along its lines, as planners knew it would.
But in addition to those Smart Growth trends, there has been mile after mile after mile of dumb growth going on still. While Birkdale and Baxter were being so well designed, elsewhere in Charlotte mile after mile of single-use, single-family starter home subdivisions were going up, all on auto-pilot and many of them now tattered by foreclosures, even before they're 10 years old. "Sprawl slums," as Charlotte architect Tom Low calls them. (The photo above is of Peachtree Hills, a starter-home subdivision on the fringes of Charlotte.)
Maybe that's what the "beginning of the end" means, but so far, it's not necessarily visible.
Of course, in the past year, development of all kinds has been in hibernation. Maybe when it wakes up, it will forget the last 50 sprawling years. Sort of like the old Newhart show's ending: "Honey, you won't believe the dream I just had."