CNN Photos

Urban sprawl seen around the world

Photographer Robert Harding Pittman has spent more than a decade exploring the global proliferation of urban sprawl.

His collection of work “Anonymization” illustrates the “sameness of architecture and sprawling suburbs” that he says is sucking the life and soul out of the Earth’s topography and varied cultures.

Pittman joins the voices of environmentalists, urban planners, architects and concerned citizens who believe the overdevelopment of freeways, shopping centers and large-scale, master-planned communities are damaging the planet.

“Across the world, I’ve discovered a form of development that consistently ignores local culture, climates and building traditions,” Pittman said. “These homogenous models lack character, do not respect their natural environments, lead to a loss of cultural identity.”

Pittman says we have reached a point where new housing and retail developments often share the same “cookie-cutter” design and look the same no matter where you travel in the world. Some of his photographs illustrate this point.

Pittman said one of the greatest tragedies he observed during his project was watching a family’s farm in Spain get bulldozed in 2004 to make way for the construction of the AP-7 freeway.

The Morata family had lived and farmed in the region of Murcia for generations and did not want to give up their precious coastal land, which was covered with olive trees and vegetables, Pittman said. They were among those who protested, unsuccessfully, to stop the highway’s construction.

The freeway was built to provide a road leading to Marina de Cope, which is slated to become a sprawling resort with numerous homes, hotels, golf courses and a marina. The resort, if completed, will be built on some of the last remaining undeveloped land on Spain’s Mediterranean coast.

“The destruction of nature frustrates me and so often is pointless and short-sighted,” Pittman said. “This highway in Spain is almost empty because almost no one ever uses it.”

To produce his work, which has been compiled into a book, Pittman traveled to many countries, including France, Germany, Greece, Spain, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and the United States. He said he paid for most of the project himself, with the exception of a Fulbright scholarship that paid for his travel to Spain.

“I like to visit and photograph places where I can feel the force of nature, such as a hot desert, the mountains or a coastal area,” he said. “These places are comforting to me, inspire and give me energy.”

Pittman says his work, in a sense, is his way of defending the places he loves. His wish is that his photography will help people understand that humans are not living in harmony with the Earth or with each other — and it’s time to make some changes to solve this problem.

“When you are on this Earth, you have a responsibility to leave it better than you found it, and I often think about the type of world we are leaving our children when I’m out shooting my work,” he said. “A dream I have is that my pictures will help stop a development somewhere or help to change policies somewhere.”

Pittman acknowledges that his dream might not be easy to achieve, but he feels inspired, with the use of his camera, to try anyway.

“We got to start somewhere, and I want to help protect the planet anyway I can,” he said.

- Katherine Dorsett Bennett, CNN