Into the Elusive Frontier of the Sprawl, Letter from the Editor, Vol. 1


My idea for Sprawlr came in 2013 while searching for a way to understand Arizona more intimately and share the stories it has to offer. I believe that Arizona is teeming with stories, all brimming with insight, but overshadowed by the traditional narratives informing us on who we are.

Soaked in the romance of the cowboy, the lone ranger, and the proverbial Native American, we often frame Arizona against the backdrop of a barren, but rewarding desert that taunts us with the prospect of conquest.

The frontier of the West, never-ending and elusive, haunts us still. It hides between the pristine, savage beauty of landscapes and our search for opportunity. When we find the juncture of the two, we must move forward, always in search of the elusive frontier, always fulfilling the narrative we tell ourselves.

I am equally fascinated and disturbed by this imagery and shudder to think how it has shaped our state. Growing up where the rugged individual is held as a moral benchmark has influenced me greatly, informing my worldview in such a way that I cannot separate my disdain and love for these cultural motifs.

But Arizona, like any other place, cannot be easily defined. Cowboy stories and tales of fortune struck in a desolate land hold tremendous weight, but are still only constructs, limited and self-serving in their portrayals of a people and a place. As a result, the histories and identities that exist here are often excluded and squeezed out of the frame by too narrow of a scope.

Recently graduated from Arizona State University and unsatisfied with solutions to this problem, I set out to create a new publication and lens for viewing Arizona. The world of online publishing seemed like a wide open, leveled playing field thrown into endless possibilities by new technology. To shed new light requires a new approach, I was convinced, and the circumstances seemed to agree.

And so, Sprawlr was created to tell stories through a more contemporary, honest lens—the romance of the Wild West cast aside, but not forgotten in an effort to allow new, competing narratives that inform who we are and where we live.

The name is inspired by the urban sprawl that engulfs us, one of our greatest faults and criticisms, a defining quality that affects nearly every aspect of our daily lives. More than just an architectural blight or poor use of resources, Arizona’s sprawl reflects the values and ideals of our traditional narratives.

It is an effort to reclaim and rebrand this derogatory term levied against us, to build on the history that proceeded, and to suggest that the landscape and influences of sprawl be given their proper place as cultural archetypes amongst the cowboys and lone rangers in the stories we tell.

Here we go, into the elusive frontier of the sprawl.

Daniel Mills