Scientific Paradigms and Urban Development: Alternative Models


  • Martin Fichman York University
  • Edmund P. Fowler Glendon College, York University


Sprawl, Mechanistic Worldview, Suburbs, Epistemology


Urban sprawl's negative impacts have been amply demonstrated, starting as long as 30 years ago, and most North American urban plans have, somewhere, reference to sprawl as bad policy (or, perhaps, absence of policy). Yet North Americans continue to tolerate the construction of more and more suburban subdivisions. This paper suggests an answer to this paradox. We argue that sprawl's attractiveness – if one can call it that – is buried deep in North American cultural predispositions, which we trace to quite specific interpretations of the mechanistic worldview that emerged from 17th and 18th century revolutions in natural philosophy. North American culture is a scientific culture as well as a suburban one. If mechanistic science and its peculiar view of nature is so pervasive and if suburban sprawl is both pervasive and dysfunctional, then this particular form of science and its cultural roots need to be carefully examined. We do this from the perspective of the 21st century, when quantum physics and new discoveries in the ecological and biological sciences are suggesting that many commonly accepted assumptions about physical reality inherited from 17th and 18th century science are flawed.

Author Biographies

Martin Fichman, York University

Martin Fichman is Professor of Humanities at York University, Toronto, where he teaches European sociocultural history and the History of Science. His two most recent publications are: An Elusive Victorian: The Evolution of Alfred Russel Wallace (University of Chicago Press, 2004) and Evolutionary Theory and Victorian Culture (Humanity Books/Prometheus Books, 2002). Division of Humanities, Faculty of Arts Founders College, York University, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto, ON, M3J 1P3 416-736-2100 ext. 70475

Edmund P. Fowler, Glendon College, York University

Edmund P. Fowler taught local government and environmental politics at Glendon College, York University, Toronto, Canada for 35 years. His books include Building Cities That Work (1992), Urban Policy Issues: Canadian Perspectives (2002), and Cities, Culture, and Granite (2004).




How to Cite

Fichman, M., & Fowler, E. P. (2005). Scientific Paradigms and Urban Development: Alternative Models. Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, 1(1), 90–127. Retrieved from



Science and Life