The widespread acceptance of the term suburban sprawl stands as a major rhetorical victory for critics of the land-use, transportation, and growth patterns characteristic of metropolitan America. As both friends and critics of suburbia have noted, the term sprawl itself has an almost inescapably pejorative connotation (Gordon and Richardson 1997; O'Flaherty 2005). Despite the best efforts of numerous academics to define the term with rigor and precision, what comes to mind first for most people on hearing the term is not some scholar or another's strategy for defining and measuring sprawl, but rather an image of something unpleasant-- a particularly ugly strip mall, a suburban traffic jam, a cookie-cutter development on previously green space. The idea that "sprawl" is a "bad thing" that we should do something about is not a hard sell in the popular press or among the general public. Indeed, the notion that sprawl is vastly inefficient, grossly inequitable, destructive of the environment, hostile to community, and ugly to boot, has frequently been taken by scholars and other observers as a self-evident truth.

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Copyright © 2010 State University of New York Press. This book chapter first appeared in Critical Urban Studies: New Directions.

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