21.Jan.2011 Foundations

I think it would be dishonest of us not to acknowledge some of the intellectual forebears of the Handbook project. We are indebted to a number of sources and thinkers — both in ways we can identify and in ways we cannot. As we move ahead in the project, I’ll call them out, in vague order of influence. I’ll try and explain how they informed this project and will try to show how the Handbook will be different.

A Field Guide to Sprawl by Dolores Hayden. In the Field Guide, Dr. Hayden seeks to impress some amount of systematization onto the phenomenon known as sprawl through naming certain recurring features of the (suburban) landscape and illustrating them through oblique aerial photography.

The Handbook is a little different. It is similar to the Field Guide insofar as it systematically classifies elements of our built environment. In differs, however, insofar as it will be much more fine-grained, both in terms of levels of detail and also in terms of the types of phenomenon we are concerned with. So for example, the Field Guide examines certain large-scale concepts of development, such as an edge node, or a greenfield, or a zoomburg or a boomburg. Every so often, it gets somewhat more specific, like featuring noise walls or interstates. But, what are the types of noise walls that exist? What are they made of? Who makes them? Who was the first company to manufacture them? We’re interested in answering these sorts of questions. So, look — the concepts are indeed similar. But we hope to, however, take up where Dolores Hayden’s Field Guide left off and provide more detail about all aspects of the built environment.

Also note — Dr. Hayden has an agenda, and that agenda is to fight sprawl. She writes, “[w]ell-educated Americans often lack works for the cultural upheaval caused by rapid sprawl. Naming is critical to identification. Identification is crucial to action.” Field Guide at 8. Laudatory, but the Handbook lacks this sort of get up and go. It is value-neutral. Or at least conflicted. Or riddled with resignation. But probably value neutral.

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