Posts / May 13, 2007

Radiant City : Urban Sprawl Documentary

Last night I watched Radiant City at Broadway, a Canadian documentary about how urban sprawl is quickly eating the planet and creating vehicle dependent zombie monocultures.

“Radiant City is a fascinating ‘thoughtumentary‘ that should strike terror in the hearts of ‘bigger is better‘, two-car capitalists as it convincingly lays out the inanity of suburban sprawl.” reviews

The movie takes you inside a normal young family living in a newly developed suburb, similar to development you’d find in any North American city, lacking public spaces, trees or nearby shopping and completely dependent on owning multiple vehicles.

There is an interesting comparison with well functioning European cities which have living spaces built on top of street level businesses gathered around central public squares, allowing people to easily walk for all of their basic needs. In contrast, these cookie-cutter communities have completely separated living spaces away from businesses, forcing people to drive their suv’s to big box stores. It’s no wonder that the average person living in suburbs is 8lbs heavier than person living in downtown.

The bizarre thing is that somehow we’ve been told that this is the model for a good community, gated subdivisions filled with plastic sided houses with entire front consumed by their massive two vehicle garage pushed as close to street as possible, eliminating any chance to interact with neighbors. This is complete shift from earlier suburbs where the garage was hidden in backyard and large front lawns allowed neighbors to easily interact and socialize.

Another interest point, was that this kind of housing is completely non-sustainable in an energy scarce society. As oil continues to rise, people will no longer be able to afford to drive their minivans to distant big box stores. Alternative energy options like solar, wind and geothermal can not be easily integrated due to lack of infrastructure. Thirty years from now, these communities will either be completely abandoned and demolished, or become the slums of the future as people migrate towards more sustainable housing.

There has already been movement to help fight urban sprawl, people are starting to move back into downtown core as well as new communities being created following closer to the European model. Saskatoon for example, has plan to help revitalize the downtown.