The Story Of Sprawl: How Cars Ate America (Video Review)


In 1966 Woody Allen released his first movie, What's Up Tiger Lily, that some people think is his best. He took a Japanese gangster movie and dubbed over a hilariously funny sound track of his own.

In 2009, Tim Halbur, Managing editor of the urban planning website Planetizen channelled his inner Woody Allen and did much the same thing, taking a collection of films about planning from 1939 through 1965 and overdubbing commentary from planners and writers like James Howard Kunstler, Andrés Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and hilarity ensues in The Story of Sprawl.
Jim Kunstler is an extremely funny man, and he is handed such a gift, commenting on Lewis Mumford's 1939 film The City. I tried to watch it with Kunstler turned off (the default option, you have to change audio tracks to get the commentary) and it was unbearable. But turn on Kunstler and Duncan Crary's commentary, and it becomes 31 minutes of fun.


Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk are terrific in their deconstruction of the newest film, 1965's No Time For Ugliness.

"Give Yourself the Green Light" is produced by General Motors, so it is no surprise that it is a paean to the car, and a call for better highways. You can see it without commentary on YouTube and it is watchable and entertaining, but it is better with the commentary by Prof. Robert Cervero of UC Berkeley's College of Environmental Design. There was so much optimism after the war, and it would all be made better with more roads and more parking. There was also a lot more rudeness; one poor woman and her daughter can't park her car because everyone jumps her for spots. Today you'd get mugged or shot for some of the behavior that takes place here in the 1954 era road rage. Everyone is "just so frustrated at the lack of road capacity," not to mention highrise parking structures.

The two-disc DVD set is available from Planetizen for $29.99.

More on James Howard Kunstler:
Three Views of Urbanism: Alex Steffen, Kaid Benfield and Jim Kunstler

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