Sprawling Toward Bethlehem

<p>Dolores Hayden examines the omnipresence of sprawl. </p>

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

In The Crying of Lot 49—Thomas Pynchon’s 1966 satire of suburbia and its discontents—Oedipa Maas looks down “onto a vast sprawl of houses which had grown up all together, like a well-tended crop” and is reminded of her first peek inside a transistor radio. “The ordered swirl of houses and streets, from this high angle, sprang at her now with the same unexpected, astonishing clarity as the circuit card had.” Sprawl was a relatively limited phenomenon then; today it is omnipresent, and epiphanies about it are hard to come by. Nevertheless, Yale professor Dolores Hayden has, with a pinch of Pynchon, written A Field Guide to Sprawl in hopes of prompting a re-examination of what freeway subsidies, commercial-property-tax waivers, and exclusionary developments have wrought. By pairing the aerial photography of Jim Wark with her own devil’s dictionary of 51 terms—from “alligator” (a failed subdivision) to “zoomburb” (think Sun City, Arizona)—Hayden makes an often depressing and wonkish subject lively and provocative. Some of her terms are clever, like “privatopia” (gated community), while others feel a bit tired, but no matter.
In the end, it is Wark’s bird’s-eye view that allows one to see anew what has been festering all around us. By book’s end, the reader, much like Ms. Maas, cannot help but imagine that sprawl is no accident, but a vast conspiracy of banality.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend