Fighting sprawl and city hall: resistance to urban growth in the Southwest.
During the nineteen fifties and sixties, Tucson and Albuquerque managed to consolidate within their boundaries, vast outlying areas. In Fighting Sprawl and City Hall, Michael F. Logan is less concerned with the boosters and promoters who made that possible than with those who contrary to prevailing opinion opposed urban expansion and development. His intent is to counter popular and scholarly writing which commonly depicts the Sunbelt as a region of movers and shakers who paved over God's little acre without the least opposition. Logan successfully describes the elements of an opposition dating back almost fifty years, but is less successful in showing how it altered, if at all, the shape of urban development.
According to Professor Logan, the opposition included those living in unconsolidated areas beyond the cities who feared that intrusive city government would through consolidation impose increased property taxes on them. Then there were environmentalists, including the famed naturalist and Tucson retiree Joseph Wood Krutch, concerned that urbanization might destroy the delicately balanced ecology of the desert and mountain foot-hills. Finally, Hispanics residing either within or outside the cities feared that a declaration of blight or consolidation might lead to their vital ethnic neighbourhoods being "urban renewed" out of existence.
Since these three groups often had little in common except opposition to city hall, the book appears at times to be more a collection of discrete essays--a form not without merit--than a cohesive study of opposition to development. Adding to the problem of cohesiveness, however, is Logan's decision to tell the story as a tale of two cities. First, we are given the Tucson story, then Albuquerque's, but with little connecting tissue. The reader seeks discussion of the similarities and differences, but this is an approach in which the author seems reluctant to engage. Thus, the Tucson environmentalists appear in chapter four, but we must wait for chapter nine to find out about their Albuquerque counterparts. Integrating corresponding chapters might have produced a more systematic and thoughtful analysis.
Broad issues which might have established a solid foundation for the book are touched on, but the author was apparently so committed to focus on the three, distinct anti-city hall groups that he manages to deal with certain fundamental matters only in passing. For example, more than half way through the book, the reader learns that whereas Tucson resisted a proposed cross-town freeway (fearing it might turn the city into another Los Angeles), Albuquerque welcomed as many freeways as it could get. Since the automobile was the instrument which made possible the post-war settlement and expansion of both cities, the reader is left wondering how these different approaches shaped the respective cities and the degree to which opposition to city hall really influenced highway decision-making. An issue which should have dealt with front and centre is consigned to a paragraph toward the end.
One finishes Fighting Sprawl feeling pessimistic. Here were two small cities (each the seat of their respective state universities) which at the beginning of the century were courting health seekers and retirees with the promise of a pleasant life of abundant sunshine and clean, dry air within a spectacular mountain-desert setting. After World War II defense and high tech industries moved in and development leapfrogged from the city to the foot-hills and ecologically sensitive parts of the desert. Polluted air now obscures the mountains; strip development and suburban lawns insult the desert aesthetic, and the Southwest has become ANYWHERE, USA. The opposition to thoughtless development may be stronger now, but in the absence of much historical evidence from Professor Logan, one is left with the old saw--"You can't fight city hall."
James L. Wunsch
Empire State College
State University of New York
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|Publication:||Urban History Review|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Oct 1, 1996|
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