Subdivide and Conquer: A Modern Western
Bullfrog Films, (800) 543-3764
"Gimme land lotsa land" Roy Rogers croons while earth-moving machines rip up
the western countryside, where vast housing tracts spread, and freeways unroll across the
prairie. The original victims of America's relentless westward expansion were the Indians,
narrator Dennis Weaver reminds us in a laid-back drawl that contrasts with the frenzy of
road-raging commuters, but they weren't the last. "This time the victim is the land
itself . . . fifty-thousand square miles in half a lifetime . . . incredible vistas plowed
under into a sea of rooftops and parking lots."
This second conquest of the West hasn't paid off on its promises. People who hoped to
enjoy open space find themselves confined to their cars instead. The typical suburbanite
will spend a total of four years in a car just navigating to work and doing errands.
While we can blame ol' Roy and his sidekicks for promoting the myth that encourages
Americans to flee to make-believe ranches on the open prairie, Subdivide and Conquer shows
how government policies are the biggest enablers of untrammeled growth. Tax breaks for
developers, tax deductions that encourage big houses on bigger lots, poor
land-preservation laws, and the federal highway system itself all contribute to reckless
Following this fact-filled, yet entertaining exposť are some hopeful examples of
solutions to sprawl. The video explores ideas of the New Urbanists, architects and
planners who reinvigorate urban space, push for multiple-use rezoning, and create more
compact housing. We hear from reverse refugees, those who have fled the suburbs to
revitalized downtowns, where they enjoy proximity to stores, parks, and community gardens.
We also visit places like Boulder, Colorado, which used sales-tax money to set aside
26,000 development-free acres. And when residents themselves get a democratic chance to do
hands-on planning, they usually create denser, 1930s-style neighborhoods instead of the
sprawl dictated by top-down planning. Revelations like these should make Subdivide and
Conquer the anti-sprawl activist's favorite documentary.