American City-building Interrupted: 1950s Cold War Population Dispersion begets #FearOfDensity, Suburban Sprawl and the Regionalization of Everything

Authors: Thomas Christoffel*, Regional Intelligence-Regional Communities, LLC
Topics: United States, Urban and Regional Planning, Development
Keywords: Cold War, Urban Vulnerability, Population Dispersion, Sprawl, Suburbs
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: 8224, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


From colonial times to the end of WW-II, Americans built cities. Emergence of the atomic bomb and potential Soviet long-range bomber attack, led the "Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists” to publish a “Special Issue on: Civil Defense Against Atomic Attack". It advocated population dispersion. The concentration of industry and population of cities was deemed “urban vulnerability”. Planners favored rail-connected new towns. “Civil Defense Urban Analysis” calculated fire loss from attack; civilian training included “Duck & Cover” for schools. Interstates would provide evacuation in advance of attack. They would also serve regional commuting to cities from new outlying suburbs offering veterans financing. Though the 1974, “Costs of Sprawl” concluded that suburban subdivisions not connected to a city grid were inefficient, no change occurred. Developers went to outlying counties that wanted growth to get lower land costs and fewer regulations. Vehicles owned and miles traveled increased faster than population for decades. In 1993, The Congress for the New Urbanism was founded to promote a return to city-building, but suburban markets wanted bigger homes and lots. By the late 90s, the author posited Americans had a #FearOfDensity; fellow planners disagreed. Reading of the Cold War history in 2004, the cause of that fear became known. Still, sprawl rules and #FearOfDensity has not abated. The suburban landscape looks densely built, but by DU, acre or sq. mi. few people are present. The automobile is transportation; markets are regional. Correcting the inefficiency of sprawl and get to sustainable cities requires acknowledgement of the interruption.

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