Heartbreaking news from Taiwan and China

The folks from the compact development research argue that high human population settlements make for more resilient cities. However, it is disasters such as these which make me wonder: is it likely that there is a one-size-fits-all urban form for resiliency against disasters. 400 people victim to one mudslide is terrifying, and while I guess we could go into long arguments about how climate change is causing all this, we’ve had typhoons for some time. What we haven’t had in the scope of human history are the population levels and densities in particular locations which heighten the casualties from major events.

As irritating as Los Angeles is to many urbanists, developers’ response adaptation to earthquakes made perfect sense before the technology was available to build upwards. The spread also creates a feedback problem for the wildfire resiliency folks. Yes, it would be better if people weren’t living in the fire ecosystem on the fringes. But given that there are people living in the fire ecosystem, the fewer the better, the easier it is to evacuate them, etc. I’m not suggesting that LA fringe is an optimal urban form, but it does carry some advantages. The spatial spread in LA’s population and economic activities meant that while Northridge and surrounding areas suffered immensely from the earthquake, the rest of the region went on largely as before.

Things that are never listed as urban sprawl

1. Golf courses

2. Horse farms

3. Penthouses (think about it; one family uses space that other families would normally use; no, it’s not as space consumptive as single-family homes, but 3,000 sq ft units are still a great way to keep poor people out)

4. Ponds and parks (I like parks as much as the next person, but when you put them in, they do spread out land uses, even if you control land around them, as in Manhattan, and you could use the land in Central Park for housing a la Singapore or Hong Kong at even residential densities. No, I am not advocating we get rid of Central Park.) That is, unless you think the lack of open space in cities prompts people to suburbanize. Interesting question, that.

5. Tiffany’s, as the nice new set up in Pasadena. Did LA need another Tiffany’s outside of Rodeo Drive? I mean, how many impulse trips to Tiffany’s does one take? It’s hard telling. Now, affluent Tiffany patrons in the outer suburbs can drive shorter distances, saving emissions, right? But Tiffany’s is in a walkable space in Pasadena, served by light rail, so it’s ok, just as long as the patrons are also picking up their locavore packages, right? Oh, but Target or Walmart? Sprawl, sprawl, sprawl: people should be ashamed of themselves for going there, shouldn’t they, tsk, tsk, unlike Banana Republic.

I’m trying to get you to look at the sprawl discourse using social class as lens instead of environmentalism. Yes, the environmental discourse is really important. But we can’t assume that the environmentalism discussion covers the social justice discussion entirely.