View Full Version : Sprawl

11-03-2004, 17:45
We drive through it every day. It is part of the overhead blight brought to us by the automobile and cheap petroleum.

Author James Howard Kunstler has pilloried it in his books like "The Geography of Nowhere." http://www.kunstler.com/

As photographers we like to focus on the beautiful and true. But how about the ugly and false?

Attached is a photo to start with. Not very good, but it shows a section of Hoosick Street in Troy, which runs through our city like a canyon of cars, which the DOT in its wisdom is widening to accomodate even more cars going faster.

Show me your sprawl, your strip malls, your huddled Burger Kings, yearning to breed freely!

Jon Flanders

11-03-2004, 18:01
Great topic!

11-03-2004, 18:08
I occasionally correspond with Jim Kunstler via email, and once organized a meeting to which I invited him.(he came)

If we get some good shots, I will let him know, perhaps he might use a couple.

Jon Flanders

11-04-2004, 07:04
I've been looking at his site. Quite depressing...
I remember having to stay in a motel in Connecticut... the only way to cross the road was to drive, there were no footpaths/sidewalks and no places for pedestrians to cross. Is it any wonder people choose to drive when there are no alternatives? Lousy urban planning is all around us...


11-04-2004, 12:44
I think we should stop and pay tribute to the poetry of jon_flanders' post.

11-04-2004, 14:46
Perfect timing. In our town f 14,000, there isn't one single traffic light! Its a medium size town, but they are hanging on to the historical and small town feel. Sometimes to their detrement. But, they just started construction to widen the intersection at the end of my street, put in a traffic light, left and right turn lanes, a large supermarket, 140 seat resturaunt, 10 retail stores, etc.

I was thinking of documenting it since I pass it two or three times every day. It would be a good subject to add a few photos here as progress moves on in our town.

I sense another coffee and camera thread in the works.

11-04-2004, 19:55
Yes, we get "improvements" in our town of 15000 or so too... Two years ago the side street I live on was widened to become an arterial thoroughfare, with traffic lights and all. Town used to have only one or two traffic signals 20 years ago.

This street was 2-lane with sidewalks but no curbs or gutters, just dirt/gravel between the pavement and the sidewalks. My side lost only a foot, but the property owners on the other side lost about 6 feet. Now it uses the full 80-ft right of way and has decorative paver-block sidewalks, bike lanes, center turn lane, curb ramps for wheelchair access, etc.

The street was re-graded also, with a lot of dirt moved around. I had a painter pressure-wash the place after the project was done, and a surprising amount of mud ran off the building! New sewer line, utility lines, and drip-lines for irrigating the little trees they planted. Well, it DOES look nicer than before, IS more civilized, but there's a LOT more traffice too. Don't dare let the cats out now.

11-04-2004, 20:24
Oops, forgot to attach the picture!

One other note: pic shot with a Bessa-L with 4/25mm Color Skopar on outdated Kodacolor 1000.

Kin Lau
11-04-2004, 20:51
I didn't have a camera with me during the 2003 Blackout, but that made for some incredible traffic jams. Bumper to bumper for _miles_.

OTOH, I drive by miles of power lines, industrial malls on my way to work each day. Whoopee :(

11-08-2004, 08:29
Quote from Martin Parr, a Magnum photographer:

I looked around at what my colleagues were doing, and asked myself, 'What relationship has it with what's going on?' I found there was a great distortion of contemporary life. Photographers were interested only in certain things. A visually interesting place, people who were either very rich or very poor, and nostalgia.

And a link to his Magnum porfolio:

I believe Parr would consider urban sprawl a valid subject. We tend to avoid it with our lenses but it's there.

Interesting and provocative topic, Jon!


11-08-2004, 17:32
Great Topic!
But, it's in a camera specific topic. Is there someway we move it to the general topics, so more people will post?

11-08-2004, 18:07
Maybe I'm weird on this, but I don't even notice what topic category a thread is located in; I just see a list of active threads and go through them in chronological order, older to newer.

The growing problem these days is that there are more active threads than can fit in the list, so I either have to check more often or miss some.

Agree this is a good thread, and as long as it remains popular, it'll stay on the active list! ;)

back alley
11-08-2004, 18:10
where would you like it moved to?


11-09-2004, 07:05
I've just been looking at the photos of Stephen Shore again. His work in the 70's (still in print) was maybe the first time American urban sprawl...or maybe better, just America...was lovingly and surprisingly represented. You find yourself looking at a shot of a car park and thinking, 'why is this so gorgeous and so gross at once?'

This is a very good idea for photos and has sent me out again to photograph the equivalent of American sprawl, which is more like urban grot, at least here in NE England.


11-09-2004, 19:46

I just saw this thread, and remembered I haven't got any film in the camera! I'll remedy that tomorrow - just near work there's an area of recent "development" that I love to hate. Box after sterile box. I'll grab some on the way home from work tomorrow. Great idea for a thread, btw, Jon.


11-10-2004, 07:09
If you are looking for some ideas, check out Kunstler's Eyesores of the Month section on his site.

His comments are often very funny.

Jon Flanders

11-18-2004, 17:38
We had one traffic light 18 years ago, now I've lost count. Sprawl is exponential in both impact and growth; not only do the aesthetics change but the character and the spirit of a community change as well.


12-16-2004, 16:19
This is what the weather has been like until recently in the Capital District of New York. And then one dark rainy afternoon I found myself caught in traffic in that 10 miles of sprawl between Albany and Schenectady.

It doesn't get any better than this.........

12-16-2004, 17:34
We had one traffic light 18 years ago, now I've lost count. Sprawl is exponential in both impact and growth; not only do the aesthetics change but the character and the spirit of a community change as well.

The problem you guys have is that you live in the wrong places!

When I visited Halsey, Nebraska, four years ago, there were four businesses: a motel, a bar-and-grill, a post office, and a convenience store. There was one street light and no traffic lights. A dog was sleeping in the middle of the main street.

When I went back again this past summer, they were down to three businesses; the convenience store had closed. (Too much competition from the one 30 miles up the road in Thedford.) Still no traffic lights, but no dog in the middle of the street. Somebody told me he had died of old age.

I don't think they're too worried about sprawl in Halsey.

Attached is the picture I would have taken of the dog, if he hadn't been dead.

RObert Budding
12-18-2004, 03:36
Most of the develpoment done since WWII is a disaster and should be torn down. Shopping malls are the worst, with acres of parking and no sidewalks. I always feel that my life is at risk and that someone will run over me. That's why I've done 100% of my Christmas shopping on-line.

But I am fortunate to live near Boston. Most of the area was built out prior to WWII. My "newer" house was constructed in 1922, about two blocks up from one of Paul Revere's stops on the way too Lexington. There are, of course, newer areas that look like Anywhere, USA.