WIT Press

Beyond The Rhetoric Of Sprawl: Storylines And The Discursive Construction Of The Sustainable City


Free (open access)





Page Range

559 - 569




301 kb

Paper DOI



WIT Press


J. Rogers


This paper is concerned with the way in which the ideal of the ‘sustainable city’ is currently spoken and written about in Australia. Using the 2003-2005 Australian Federal Government’s House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Heritage’s Inquiry into Sustainable Cities as a case study the paper employs a discursive approach to analyse the Inquiry documents. The paper argues that use of the word sprawl has powerful metaphorical importance in sustainable city discourse, suggesting alternative stories about the future of cities. The first, the story of decline, suggests out of control growth of cities that threatens not only the resource base, but also ‘nature’, agricultural land and social stability. It also leads to isolation, loneliness, boredom, crime, obesity and a whole litany of other evils. The alternative storyline, the story of control, is presented as the only choice ‘we’ really have – the compact, contained city is a place where resources are used wisely, ‘nature’ and agricultural land are protected, and there is a sense of ‘community’. However, it is the contention of this paper that the dominant focus on sprawl in sustainable city discourse effectively closes down rather than opens up discussion about the future because embedded in the use of the term sprawl is a predefined conclusion. In addition, the abundant use of pronouns in the discussion paper, the inquiry and in sustainability literature more broadly – ‘we, ‘our’, ‘us’ – all denote a common responsibility and a common pathway that encourages compliance, not the active and open ended involvement of citizens in shaping their future. Keywords: sustainability, suburbs, sprawl, equity, storylines, policy, cultural stereotypes, democracy, community.


sustainability, suburbs, sprawl, equity, storylines, policy, cultural stereotypes, democracy, community