walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_This Land_, Anthony Flint (kindle)

Subtitled: The Battle over Sprawl and the Future of America

A number of years ago, I noticed that when I read earlier books by authors I had newly discovered that I liked, their earlier books often were less and less appealing to me, even tho new ones coming out got better and better. This made sense, so I instituted a rule: read backwards until you don't like them quite as much and then stop. If I read past that point, sometimes I got so mad at the author it impaired my enjoyment of newer books.

Some time after that (but before now), I discovered an exception to that rule: Neal Stephenson. I liked _Snow Crash_, I _loved_ _Zodiac_, and succeeding novels left me cold (I liked _The Big U_, despite its flaws, but then I was out of Stephenson I was willing to take a risk on). I decided the read backwards and stop rule was really best for romances. And no, I don't have any explanation for why.

In any event, I loved _Wrestling with Moses_ so much I figured this was worth a try.

Flint surveys the ground relatively effectively: he devotes substantial space to Smart Growth, the New Urbanism, the politics of zoning and development, the impact of 9/11 on cities and large corporations, exurbs, public transit, the effect of rising fuel costs, Detroit, white flight, the isolation of the poor within some city cores and the gentrification of others (actually, the book could have stood a lot more on that topic, because at times it seemed like he treated city cores as uniformly one or the other without recognizing that that was a bit problematic). At times he digs deeper; at other times, he touches lightly and moves on.

This book was published before the 2006 elections and their numerous ballot initiatives designed to curb anti-sprawl movements, but after Oregon's three decades of urban growth boundaries took a body blow, the tone of the book is somewhat pessimistic, and treats the property rights movement as powerful. In retrospect, that either seems silly, or like a really effective bit of propaganda to get readers ratcheted up and defeat those ballot initiatives (which, with the previously mentioned exception of Arizona, did in fact happen).

While in general Flint gives enough information in the text to identify specific developments, sometimes it required a lot of googling (altho had I realized the notes were that extensive, I would have used them more). The upside of reading this book several years after publication is not unlike the upside of reading (or rereading) _Under the Banner of Heaven) was last year -- you can go find out what happened to so-and-so after the tale told in the text. Because in both cases, the subject matter is still being covered in the news, blogs, etc.

I doubt I would have read this book, had I not previously read and loved _Wrestling with Moses_. I'm sorry to say I have a couple other sprawl books in the to-read universe. Hopefully one of those will be more recommendable.

ETA: I may have given this guy too much of a pass. He says liberals aren't usually but should be hawks in the war on terror, because otherwise terrorism fears will force everyone to disperse into the countryside. Because we all saw how well the war on terror was at eliminating the impulse to attack the US. He also cites the usual suspects (Wilson, etc.) in bogus theorizing about how suburbs are evolutionarily how we are programmed to live (really, the passage has to be read to be believed but I cannot bring myself to reproduce it). Also, he seems to think parking is something that the reader should get involved in when planning rail transit stations -- which is basically completely at odds with the idea of high density, walkable development at rail transit stations.
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