Suburban Sprawl: A Government Tactic Against Nuclear Annihilation And Natural Disaster

tokyoIn the aftermath of last month’s devastation, Japanese leaders have called on urban planners to make Japan decentralized and lower density so as to be less vulnerable. It wouldn’t be the first time that sprawl has been employed as a strategy against societal annihilation; during the Cold War, American planners pushed for suburbanization as a defense against nuclear disaster. BLDGBLOG enlightens:

At the height of the Cold War, the sprawling, decentralized suburban landscape of the United States was seen by many military planners as a form of spatial self-defense. As historian David Krugler explains in This Is Only a Test: How Washington D.C. Prepared for Nuclear War, “urban dispersal” was viewed as a defensive military tactic, one that would greatly increase the nation’s chance of survival in the event of nuclear attack.

Specially formatted residential landscapes such as “cluster cities” were thus proposed, “each with a maximum population of 50,000.” These smaller satellite cities would not only reshape the civilian landscape of the United States, they would make its citizens, its industrial base, and its infrastructure much harder to target.

“This might seem the stuff of Cold War science fiction,” Krugler writes, “but after World War II, many urban and civil defense planners believed cluster cities, also called dispersal, should be the future of the American metropolis.”

Krugler points out that this suburban dispersal was not always advised in the name of military strategy: “Many urban planners believed dispersal could spur slum clearance, diminish industrial pollution, and produce parks. Not only would dispersal shield America’s cities, it would save them from problems of their own making.”

However, the idea that urban dispersal might be useful only as a protective tactic against the horrors of aerial bombardment overlooks other threats, including earthquakes and tsunamis.

Earlier this week, Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan was advised “to decentralize Japan” out of fear of “Tokyo annihilation danger.” Indeed, we read, the recent 9.0 earthquake, tsunami, and partial nuclear meltdown at Fukushima together suggest that “the nation must reduce the role of its capital city to avert an even greater catastrophe.”

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