America has descended far into the strong darkness of sprawl addiction, and while much of the future lies shrouded in more uncertainty than usual, one fact shines clear: we can no longer afford to sprawl. Cities can't afford to service sprawl's low-density pattern that consumes huge chunks of land and demands more infrastructure investment per unit served. Citizens soon won't be able to afford to live in sprawl's furthest outposts as gas edges over $5/gallon. How much sprawl will be uninhabitable on a median salary when gas gets to $10/gallon? And again at $20/gallon?
It's time for cities and towns to begin a recovery program from their sprawl addictions. And like chemical addiction recovery programs, there are twelve steps. The Sprawl Recovery program is based on three foundation principles:
The Transect is a framework upon which urbanism codes may be built that don't specify a final design of lots and blocks, but rather lets each street intensify incrementally towards a predictable character. In other words, we don't have to build the end from the beginning. The Transect is essential to sprawl recovery because recovery is not a single act planned all at one time, but something that may take decades to fully accomplish.
Walk Appeal is a more precise way of measuring walkability than we have had heretofore. Most streets in sprawl have very low walk appeal, so people won't walk to neighborhood businesses. So one of the first tasks of sprawl recovery is boosting walk appeal throughout a neighbhorhood.
The Sky Method
The Sky Method is a system of development that doesn't require a master developer to buy up an entire struggling subdivision. Rather, it makes existing homeowners (and business property owners) partners in the recovery initiative so that they become the prime beneficiaries of all new construction on their land, and also benefit from redevelopment around them.
We should note that a growing number of our colleagues are working to find ways to recover from sprawl as well. Galina Tachieva of DPZ is the author of the Sprawl Repair Manual, and a dedicated group of New Urbanists assist her in her work. Ellen Dunham-Jones of Georgia Tech is co-author with June Williamson of Retrofitting Suburbia. And Chad Cooper, Cormac Phalen, Craig Vaughn, Dan Bartman, David Kim, Geoffrey Mouen, John Anderson, Karja Hansen, Ken Hitchens, Michael Rouchell, Mike Lydon, Mike Waller, Neil Heller, Paddy Steinschneider, Rob Sharp, Ted Jones Todd Bonet, Will Dowdy, of the Incremental Sprawl Repair Working Group.