Before continuing with my earlier discussion of Joel Kotkin's piece on suburban sprawl in the WaPo, I'd like to look at some of its historical precedents. Kotkin's previous articles, for instance.
On January 1, 2005, Kotkin published an article headed "Get Used To It: Suburbia's not going away, no matter what critics say or do." It appeared in The American Enterprise, a magazine published by the American Enterprise Institute. Here's how that article started:
For the better part of the last half century, urbanists, planners, and environmentalists have railed against suburbia, and the dreaded trend of cities to "sprawl" outward from the old city core. Yet despite many attempts to discourage such growth, the pattern continues — not only in America but in nearly all modern countries. The battle against sprawl is over. Sprawl won.Sound familiar? So does the rest of the piece. Engels and Carlyle are trotted out, and Wells is even more explicitly presented as a pro-suburban visionary:
Many Britons saw this pattern of dispersion as the logical solution to Britain’s longstanding urban ills. H.G. Wells predicted that improvements in communication and transportation, especially commuter rail lines, would eliminate the need to concentrate people and activity in the central core.If you think you've seen the full extent of Kotkin's ability to plagiarize himself, you're mistaken. In an article for Architecture, entitled "Architects, Environmentalists, and Planners Should Apply Their Energies - Not Their Contempt and Condemnation - to America's Suburbs," which was published on January 28, 2005, Kotkin tries a slightly different approach to his opening salvo:
For the better part of the past 50 years, urbanists, planners, and environmentalists have railed against suburbia and the dreaded trend of "sprawling" outward from old city cores.The remainder once again comprises slightly rewritten chunks of the other articles, and H.G. Wells shares credit with Ebenezer Howard as one of the "early visionaries of suburbia."
It doesn't stop there, though. An article from May 2, 2004 discusses Wells in almost identical language to the later pieces:
H.G. Wells predicted that these improvements would eliminate the need for "massing" people in town centers. Instead, Wells foresaw the "centrifugal possibilities" of a dispersing population. He foresaw that eventually all of southern England would become the domain of London while the vast landscape between Virginia and New England would become part of greater New York.For comparison, here's the full January 2005 version of this paragraph:
H.G. Wells predicted that improvements in communication and transportation, especially commuter rail lines, would eliminate the need to concentrate people and activity in the central core. Instead of "massing" people in urban centers, Wells foresaw the "centrifugal possibilities" of a dispersing population. He predicted that eventually all of southern England would become the domain of London, while the vast landscape between Albany and Washington, D.C. would provide the geographic base for New York and Philadelphia.Nice work if you can get it, eh? All three of Kotkin's articles are full of similar borrowings and hasty rephrasings.
What's even more interesting is the difference between these articles. In his WaPo article, Kotkin bemoans the ugliness of sprawl:
The prospect of a nation crisscrossed by ugly sprawl corridors like Lee Highway in Virginia or Interstate 10 between Los Angeles and San Bernardino may be too gruesome to contemplate.The AEI article from January 2005, however, says nothing like this. Instead, it bemoans the callous elitism of urban sophisticates:
These new urban configurations are not always pretty, or even entirely functional, and they are sneered at viciously by the environmental and planning fraternity.Elsewhere in the AEI piece, Kotkin complains about conspiracy-minded "enviro-activists," who don't understand
the simple desire of ordinary people everywhere to own a piece of land, however humble, where they and their families may live in relative comfort and peace.In the WaPo rewrite, Kotkin studiously avoids this sort of rhetoric, while paying lip service to anti-sprawl sensibilities that he apparently believes are endemic among readers of the Post.
Elsewhere, by the way, Kotkin says that the suburbs represent an important source of power for conservatives generally and Bush in particular.
More to follow.