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Sprawling Places

David Kolb

Publication Year: 2008

People often bemoan the spread of malls, suburban strips, subdivisions, and other sprawling places in contemporary America. But are these places as bad as critics claim? In Sprawling Places, David Kolb questions widely held assumptions about our built environments.

Kolb agrees there is a lot not to like about many contemporary places, but to write them off simply as commodified “nonplaces” does not treat them critically. Too often, Kolb says, aesthetic character and urban authenticity are the focus of critics, when it is more important to understand a place's complexity and connectedness. Kolb acknowledges that the places around us increasingly have banal exteriors, yet they can be complex and can encourage their inhabitants to use them in multiple, nonlinear ways. Ultimately, Kolb believes human activity within a place is what defines it. Even our most idealized, classical places, he shows, change over the course of history when subjected to new linkages and different flows of activity.

Engaging with the work of such writers and critics as Henri Lefebvre, Manuel Castells, Karsten Harries, and Christian Norberg-Schulz, Kolb seeks to move discussions about sprawl away from the idea that we must “choose between being rooted in the local Black Forest soil or wandering in directionless space.” By increasing our awareness of complexity and other issues, Kolb hopes to broaden and deepen people's thinking about the contemporary built environment and to encourage better designs in the future.

Published by: University of Georgia Press


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pp. v

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pp. vii-ix

This book argues that, contrary to what many detractors believe, today’s society is still creating real human places. Theme parks and suburban sprawl and anonymous functional places such as airports and parking lots are more than nonplaces. To see them aright, we have to measure...

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CHAPTER ONE: Places Today

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pp. 1-27

CRITICS OF TODAY’S CITIES AND SUBURBS often appeal to idealized older places. Earlier, people enjoyed Paris and the hill towns of Italy, or Charleston and small-town America. Now, we are stuck with banal suburban sprawl and vapid city entertainment centers. We have tourist...

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CHAPTER TWO: What Is a Place?

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pp. 28-52

JUST WHAT ARE PLACES, and how do they come about? Places are sometimes opposed to mere expanses of space, and that is one contrast I will be making. Often today places are also opposed to what are called nonplaces in another sense, all those malls and subdivisions and theme...

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CHAPTER THREE: Place Complexity

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pp. 53-80

WE HAVE ALREADY EXAMINED some key characteristics of today’s places and offered a theory about the nature of places; this chapter turns to criteria for evaluating and improving contemporary places. I suggest a criterion using the term complexity. This offers leverage on contemporary...

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CHAPTER FOUR: Commodification, Systems, and Places

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pp. 81-106

THIS CHAPTER EXAMINES place complexity in relation to the claim that contemporary places have become overly commodified. With attention to the second and third dimensions of complexity mentioned in chapter 3 (complex processes of local interpretation, and complex relations...

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CHAPTER FIVE: Full Theme Ahead

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pp. 107-135

THEMED PLACES SEEM EMBLEMATIC of the worst of contemporary places. A student once remarked that she had enjoyed Disney creations until at architectural school she learned that Disney was the Evil Empire. Themed places sin against modernist canons of honesty. They also...

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CHAPTER SIX: Suburban Promises and Problems

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pp. 136-161

AS WITH THEMED PLACES, it is common to cite sprawling suburbs as emblematic of what is wrong with places today. Yet the suburbs remain the destination of choice for most Americans. Can the criterion of complexity suggest ways suburbs could take fuller advantage of the positive...

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CHAPTER SEVEN: Toward More Complexity in Suburbia

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pp. 162-189

THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER ARGUED that suburbs are more complex places than many critics admit. Are there ways that suburbs can become more self-aware about their own growing complexity and involvement in larger linkages and processes? This would not solve all their problems...

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pp. 190-192

UNHAPPY WITH TODAY’S PLACES, Christian Norberg-Schulz denied that they could be real places where we could settle and dwell: “The essence of settlement consists of gathering, and gathering means that different meanings are brought together. . . . the modern world is...


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pp. 193-231


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pp. 233-250


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pp. 251-267

E-ISBN-13: 9780820336626
E-ISBN-10: 0820336629
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820329888
Print-ISBN-10: 0820329886

Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 1 figure
Publication Year: 2008