A bird’s-eye view of sprawl

Artist Christoph Gielen uses aerial photography to offer a pulled-back view of suburban and exurban sprawl. The images create art out of the ordinary, but also act as Gielen’s attempt to get people to think about sustainable land use.

He focuses on areas with the most foreclosures in the country, including Arizona and Nevada, capturing images of their densely-packed sprawl. Though Arizona’s exurban sprawl is clearly quite different from Minnesota’s (as written about here and here), Gielen’s work and commentary can still offer food-for-thought for places like Baldwin.

In this post from CNN’s website, Gielen elaborates on his views of the types of land-use featured in the photographs.

As a New Yorker, he says he finds the suburbs disorienting and notes that the way these places were developed put car-centric priorities at the forefront instead of the quality of life of its residents. They are focused on being commuter-towns, instead of neighborhoods.

These criticisms of the suburbs aren’t new; in fact, quality of life issues are what brought so many people out of the suburbs and into the exurbs. But that doesn’t mean the exurbs got it right, either.

In places like Baldwin, the answer to the densely-packed neighborhoods of Gielsen’s photos became loosely packed neighborhoods. This solved the problem of neighbor-disputes (to an extent) but didn’t address a bigger issue at the heart of the development of land outside of urban areas: how do you get people out of their cars and onto their feet, bikes or skis so they can interact?

While densely packed development may not be the best use of land, creating greater sprawl between houses, as seen in this aerial shot from Baldwin, may not be either.


Perhaps the answer is somewhere in between: smaller neighborhoods with denser housing connected to a system of trails leading from one to another.

Baldwin’s already addressing the sprawl issue with trails (both existing and yet to come) that will one day connect many of its neighborhoods to places like Young Park, Princeton and Elk River. But what are other ways Baldwin can change the future of the township to make quality of life better?

Many experts say smaller, walkable neighborhoods are what increases quality of life, but what do you think?