This response will likely be updated after my trip to New York for my spring externship because it will present an environment quite different than the one I’m typically used to when thinking about cities (usually through the lens of Detroit and its suburbs).
I generally assumed that all cities were like mine until I came to Michigan and got people from all over the country talking about the emptiness of Detroit. For much of my youth this is how I knew cities, as places that were scary because they attracted the homeless and those who preyed on those more fortunate using crime as a source of income. And so I grew up in suburbia, and this is how most of my peers hailing from the the metropolitan Detroit area did too. The city, Detroit especially, as a suburb of itself, removed from the urban context due to lack of upkeep and infrequent visitation. The city is no longer the norm for workers in Detroit.
In the early 90’s my day care was in the Renaissance Center, my dad worked in the building and we commuted together everyday until I was 5. it was a 12 minute commute to downtown. Now my dad work in Troy, 20 miles and an hour car ride away. Because of our geographic location I always pass through the worst parts of Detroit to get out to where he works, which is where I would claim most of the activity of the area takes place. Though it is not centralized in Troy, its spread out among the suburbs, each one homogeneous, containing the same basic elements repeated across the country.
I think what I dislike most about urban sprawl is the lack of character. In cities you tend to have places that are unique or old fashioned in the sense that they’ve all got a story of development. Sprawl lacks that entirely. Businesses don’t have character anymore and I think that lack of authenticity is what will be the driving factor behind reviving the city again and I think that calls for design to be part of that role of uniqueness.