Book launch

Here’s the link to the book, now available from your favourite book seller!

Green Sprawl

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Landscape and the Ideology of Nature:

Green Sprawl

An exurban landscape northeast of Toronto

edited by Kirsten Valentine Cadieux and Laura Taylor

Routledge, release date November 15, 2012

“Green sprawl” is our label for exurban residential development. In the book, we explore how important the ideology of nature is (and has been) in producing sprawl; where the ideology of nature is a recognized, yet understudied aspect of understanding the culture and production of cities. Although the idea that many people make their residential choices based on proximity to natural areas, a critical exploration of why this is the case has not been made. Unmasking the cultural preference for a home life in nature seems to us a necessary step in addressing the contemporary crisis of sprawl.

The book emerged out of a series of symposia beginning in 2002 on the landscapes and ideology of exurbia held at various meetings of the Association of American Geographers, the American Society for Environmental History, and the Canadian Association of Geographers. From 20 papers presented in fields from urban and landscape planning through geography and history to literature and journalism, we selected 10 (see below) that focus on the way that desire for relationship with nature shapes important features of the landscape of contemporary urban sprawl. Our essays explore the potentials and liabilities of the exurban construction of nature in the context of urban sprawl. We offer perspectives that, instead of merely noting or condemning sprawl, try to figure out how exurban ideologies of nature can be interpreted as cultural frameworks representing and organizing aspirations to reconcile environmental ideals with the impacts that follow from dispersed urbanization.

Our purpose in collecting these essays is to capture the convergence of insights on the processes of urban dispersion afforded by the multidisciplinary discussion of our symposia. Academics from several disciplines discussed the landscapes and processes of exurbia as representing many social and environmental problems of sprawl, particularly in terms of the convergence point: what we have come to talk about as “the ideology of nature.” Conversation between the very different perspectives represented in our collection allows several entry points for understanding the experience and implications of sprawl—a complex land use phenomenon that many people simultaneously want and want to prevent. Both of these aspirations—to live in the green landscape, and to protect the green landscape from urbanization—get caught up and represented in the ideology of nature, and this ideology, in turn, constitutes and is constituted by the landscapes being urbanized.

The search for “nature” in which so many exurbanites seem to be involved is fraught with ironies that seem almost inherent in the form and symbols of exurbia. In fact, the lifestyle of the metropolitan fringe often brings residents deeper into the world from which they are imagining their escape—of Federal Express, technologically mediated communications, global supply chains, and the anonymity of the global marketplace. Many of the central features of exurbia—very low density residential land use, monster homes, and conversion of forested or rural land for housing—contribute to the very problems that the social and environmental aesthetic of exurbia attempts to avoid.

What is accomplished by highlighting the ironies and tensions of green sprawl? By understanding the processes and ironies of exurbia, greater insight is gained into where and how and why people create meaning in exurban landscapes, and how this meaning, in turn, gets incorporated in efforts to minimize the negative ecological, social and economic effects related to metropolitan fringe urban development. This collection is timely and broadly relevant: exurban fringe development was the fastest growing land use during the recent North American housing boom, with many implications of the speed and process of urbanization remaining currently unresolved. Further, exurban “ideology of nature” qualities of urbanization are quickly becoming sought after in residential landscapes in many different national contexts.

Contents and Contributors:

1. Introduction: Sprawl and the Ideology of Nature Laura Taylor, York University and Kirsten Valentine Cadieux, University of Minnesota
2. Bridges in the Cultural Landscape: Crossing Nature in Exurbia Laura Taylor
3. Exurbia Meets Nature: Environmental Ideals for a Rootless Society Richard Judd, Professor, University of Maine
4. Airworld, the Genius Loci of Exurbia Andrew Blum, Journalist
5. Rewilding Walden Woods and Reworking Exurban Woodlands: Higher Uses in Thoreau Country Brian Donahue, Associate Professor of American Environmental Studies, Brandeis University and Environmental Historian at Harvard Forest
6. Sojourning in Nature: The Second-Home Exurban Landscapes of Ontario’s Near North Nik Luka, Associate Professor, Schools of Architecture and Urban Planning, McGill University
7. Design and Conservation in Quebec City’s Rural-Urban Fringe: The Case of Lac-BeauportGeneviève Vachon, architect and Professor of Urban Design, Université Laval and David Paradis, planner and instructor, Université Laval
8. Time, Place, and Structure: Typo-Morphological Analysis of Three Calgary Neighborhoods Bev Sandalack, Professor, Faculty of Environmental Design, University of Calgary and Andrei Nicolai, Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Environmental Design, University of Calgary
9. The Imagined Landscape: Language, Metaphor, and the Environmental Movement Thomas Looker, Visiting Lecturer and Visiting Scholar (Retired), American Studies, Amherst
10. The Mortality of Trees: Conservation as Deferment in Pastoral Modernity Kirsten Valentine Cadieux
Editors’ Epilogue: An Agenda for Addressing Green Sprawl Laura Taylor and Kirsten Valentine Cadieux


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A note to Neil Smith

September 30, 2012

Dear Neil,

I’m writing this for you to read when you have a moment, after getting settled in whatever the hereafter is. I have to believe that you’re somewhere as all your energy and passion couldn’t just be gone, dissipated, like a massive generator breaking down, could it? For someone who was so deftly critical of many aspects of the contemporary world, you sure loved it and I’m so glad that I got to participate in that love.

Your photo is being circulated around, with a beginning and an end-date. I can hardly look at it and certainly won’t reproduce it here.

The last time I saw you in action was at the AAG in Seattle, where a crowd of what, 400? 500? was captured by your lecture and engaged with your ideas on ideology and discourse. As one voice among many who will dearly miss you, please hear me say “thank you.”

I bought a new Uneven Development, the new printing, so that I would have it all together. What I had previously were sets of photocopies, a mess really, of stapled, curled bits and pieces, and I wanted to have the whole volume (still haven’t completely re-read it yet but still hear your voice whenever I open it).

best wishes from your friend,


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What LA is doing about climate change

Making changes to mitigate and adapt to climate change are just good planning.

Check out this article discussing the addition of park space to less-affluent areas, using sales tax to support transit, and more.

LA’s mayor talks about making very positive steps, see article from Grist.

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Exurbia: living large in the countryside

Just going through my photos and have to share some of my favourites. I took these a couple of years ago hanging out the window of a very small plane. They are to the east and north of the city of Toronto. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then these best capture my fascination with exurbia.

Not the city, not the country: is this the middle landscape?

My main research interest is studying the complex dynamics at work in creating the phenomenon of exurbia, which I’ve come to understand is a cultural landscape common to many places around the globe.

Political ecology provides one of the best ways of understanding these social and environmental dynamics, and I am working to encourage planners to use the theoretical framework and methodological approaches of political ecology to make sense of human-environment relations in the landscape of exurban sprawl.

I am interested in the ideology of nature in sprawl (separating it from other interrelated pulls that draw people outwards (privacy, status) and pushes away from the city (noise, traffic, hectic pace, crowds, visible poverty) to provide insights into questions about the way we plan and live in our city regions.

Waterfront access, year round road access, farmer’s market close by.

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The Atlas of Suburbanisms

Toronto Suburbs map from the Atlas of Suburbanisms

If you wonder what makes our society suburban, you will find this new resource endlessly interesting. Making use of census data on cultural traits related to the suburbia, the website includes maps, commentary, links and lots of food for thought. Suburban life is depicted as the intersection of detached home ownership, commuting.

And the write-up in The Atlantic Cities online by Nate Berg.



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Behind the scenes in Queen Street West, Toronto: an urban design analysis of Rush Lane

For an assignment in an urban design course, graduate student Claire Harvey prepared a short video in support of her block analysis.

I felt that this was an outstanding presentation of an exploration of a space. The use of photos as walk-through vignettes within the space is great. Rush Lane is a laneway in behind Queen West in Toronto and it works because it exists “against” the more public spaces around it.

Rush Lane video

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Building the next generation of Toronto’s infrastructure

Good ideas for Toronto infrastructure.

U of T’s Matti Siemiatycki offer five great principles to shape approaches to building Toronto’s future infrastructure.–building-the-next-generation-of-toronto-s-infrastructure

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Tower Renewal Workshop March 2011

St Denis Drive, Toronto

If you’re interested in contemporary urban revitalization, you’ll be interested in the challenges faced by the Toronto region in upgrading the apartment buildings from the 1960s. Home to many Torontonians, the 50 year old rental buildings are needing major upgrades, not the least of which is for improved energy efficiency.

In March 2011, the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York hosted a two-day workshop for students and the public to discuss the challenges of urban revitalization.

Have a look and send along your comments:

Tower Renewal workshop site

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A Natural Fix for Ireland’s ‘Ghost Estates’

A Natural Fix for Ireland’s ‘Ghost Estates’.

For a fascinating glimpse into how the real estate collapse in Ireland redefined its countryside and what some people are trying to do about it.

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