Kaid Benfield Archive


Two new films about sprawl

Kaid Benfield

Posted April 24, 2009 at 1:31PM

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Both of these, with releases timed for this week's Earth Day, look pretty good, if also not exactly uplifting.  First, Sprawling From Grace features my friends Shelley Poticha and David Dixon, along with Bill Clinton, Michael Dukakis, James Howard Kunstler and others:


From the film's website:

"Sprawling From Grace; Driven To Madness is a documentary feature film about the unintended consequences of suburban sprawl . . . It communicates the dangers of continuing to invest in the inefficient horizontal growth patterns of suburban communities, and details how they threaten to bankrupt the remaining wealth of our nation. It explores how the depletion of fossil fuels will impact this living arrangement, and investigates the viability of alternative energies that are currently available. This film sounds the alarm that the cheap fossil-fuel-dependant suburban American way of life is not just at risk. It is in peril.

"After interviewing close to thirty experts on the subject, one reoccurring theme has revealed itself. We can no longer continue building our cities in the same way we have over the last half-century . . ."

You can see more clips on the website, see a schedule of screenings, and order a DVD.

The second film is a two-DVD set from the editors of the planning website Planetizen.   It is called The Story of Sprawl and its producers seem to have gone to great length to keep people like me from embedding a clip, but here's a screen grab and a link to a page where you can watch some:

  a new 2-DVD set from Planetizen

This one also features some friends (John Norquist and Jacky Grimshaw, and suddenly I'm feeling left out!) and takes a very interesting and fun approach: showing film clips from the mid-century, with contemporary voice-overs from people like John and Jacky.  As explained on the film's web page:

"In planning circles, it is fashionable to debate the merits or drawbacks of the spread of suburban living that happened in the 20th century. What isn't up for debate is that it happened- that from the early '40s until the beginning of the 21st century, the American pattern of development changed radically.

"This 2-disc set is an unprecedented visual document of how sprawl happened, told through a series of historic films ranging from 1939's The City, created by famed planner Lewis Mumford, to No Time For Ugliness from 1965, produced by the American Institute of Architects.

"To get a modern perspective on what these films represent, we've recorded commentary tracks for each video with noted planners and authors. You can watch the films on their own, or with the voice of a noted expert guiding you through."

Ordering instructions are on the site.