Sprawl Hell and Sprawl Heck

Michael Lewyn's picture

Last Friday, I was in two different suburban environments in Atlanta. Both are sprawl by any normal definition of the term - car-oriented environments where residential streets are separated from commerce, sidewalks are rare, and densities are low. But the two places are as different as sprawl and new urbanism.

On the way into town, I prayed at a synagogue in Sandy Springs (an inner ring suburb) and then walked along a residential street to a nearby commercial street Both the residential street and commercial street were not very pedestrian-friendly: there were no sidewalks on the residential street, and the commercial street was perhaps a couple of lanes too wide to be truly comfortable for pedestrians.

But this area (or as I call it, "Sprawl Heck") has its consolations. While the residential street did lack sidewalks, it at least had lawns to walk on so I didn't have to walk in the street most of the time (much like these streets from neighboring Atlanta suburbs:



http://atlantaphotos.fotopic.net/p14010324.html )

Traffic calming measures kept Sprawl Heck cars going relatively safe speeds. And even though the residential streets don't connect very well to each other, they are reasonably close to a commercial street with sidewalks and bus stops.

By contrast, I spent the rest of the weekend with family members. They live in an area that I would describe as "Sprawl Hell." In Sprawl Hell, trees go right up to the street so there's no way to avoid walking on the street. And on many of Sprawl Hell's residential streets, traffic goes 40 mph. So in Sprawl Hell, walking can be pretty dangerous.

(For some examples, see



http://atlantaphotos.fotopic.net/p50930560.html )

And the nearest commercial street, about a mile and a half away, is a highway which also lacks sidewalks:


In sum, not all car-oriented suburbs are equally bad. The mere addition of sidewalks, or some limits on foliage near streets, can elevate a suburb from terrible to merely mediocre.

Michael Lewyn is an assistant professor at Touro Law Center in Long Island.


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