Urban Sprawl

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This post was inspired by a conversation in the movie Cars:

Sally: Forty years ago, that interstate down there didn't exist.
Lightning McQueen: Really?
Sally: Yeah. Back then, cars came across the country a whole different way.
Lightning McQueen: How do you mean?
Sally: Well, the road didn't cut through the land like that interstate. It moved with the land, it rose, it fell, it curved. Cars didn't drive on it to make great time. They drove on it to have a great time.

I've probably witnessed countless subdivisions pop up over the years, and I cringe each time I pass those signs advertising new developments along the suburb-countryside border. All benefits of economic growth aside, I've always seemed to love the country and I'm saddened to see long-time wilderness or agricultural land get eaten up by development.

My Grandma pointed out to me where one major street ended at the edge of her hometown (currently my 'home' town as well) many decades ago when she was a kid. That street has since stretched several more kilometres over old farmland - with homes, apartments, schools, churches, strip-malls, box stores, hospitals, dealerships, and parking lots in tow - before once again meeting country roads and scenery. I often wonder how quaint and cozy our town must have been before its population exploded, swallowing up little hamlets and villages lying in its path. A big part of me wishes it had remained quaint and cozy.

North American sprawl seems to uproot, re-route, flatten out, bulldoze, and pave over everything in its path, its concrete touch painting the landscape grey and lifeless. (Note: Token city parks and playgrounds don't count as 'nature'.)

Now true country-folk, on the other hand, know how to fit themselves and their style of 'development' into and around existing landscapes. The Austrian village of my childhood was just such a place. A stream wound its carefree way down the wooded mountain on its way to a river in the valley. Houses lined roads that accommodated this winding and weaving little stream, and I'll never forget our adventures as we played in the water, following alongside it on our bikes over hill and dale. Perhaps you can imagine just how anticlimactic city playgrounds were to me after moving from rural Austria into Canada's concrete jungles. At least I can be sure my husband and I won't raise our kids in the city if we can help it.

So forget the grid system, cookie-cutter subdivisions, and their glib promises of so-called development! When a municipality incorporates nature's beautifully random designs into its planning and architecture it becomes not only a child's fantasy playground, full of life and endless surprises, but also a more insightful and advanced form of organic "urban" development.