the town you live in. Are there new neighborhoods,
highways, and shopping centers where parks or farms
used to be? Is there new construction in areas once
considered "on the outskirts"?
If so, then
perhaps your area has succumbed to urban sprawl. What
are some of the problems associated with urban sprawl?
refers to the development of residential and commercial
centers on undeveloped land located outside the boundaries
of a city. Many American cities are feeling the effectsand
suffering the consequencesof urban sprawl.
cities have been transformed into expansive metropolitan
areas covering several counties and incorporating
suburbs and smallsometimes ruraloutlying
communities. Growth and development are associated
with a healthy economy or an improved standard of
living. However, tension exists between land developers
and planners who must meet the demands of urban expansion
and environmentalists who want to protect natural
a look at
Earthshots from the United States Geological
Survey. These Landsat images from 1972 to the
present show environmental change in areas around
Consider some of the major problems associated with
this type of growth:
traffic congestion/air pollution: Each year,
Americans spend 55 8-hour workdays behind the wheels
of their cars. As urban areas spread out, more time
is spent in cars, and traffic congestion occurs over
a larger area. Adding new lanes to highways doesn't
solve the problem.
in urban areas remains a problem. More than 60 urban
areas are not within the Environmental Protection
Agency's (EPA) guidelines for carbon dioxide or ground-level
ozone. What's more disturbing is that pollution now
affects smaller communities outside major metropolitan
farmland/wetland acreage: A staggering 70% of
prime farmland is in the path of rapid development.
In December 1999, Vice President Al Gore described
figures indicating the loss of farmland to development.
In the '90s alone, more than 3 million acres of open
space (including farmland and forests) were developed.This
problem is not just concentrated near large urban
centers but also in mid-size cities.
destroys more than 100,000 acres of wetlands annually.
Because wetlands act as natural sponges for precipitation
run-off, flood-prone areas are more at risk for fatalities
and property damage from flooding. Over the last eight
years, floods have caused $89 billion of property
wildlife: As neighborhoods and highways engulf
open space, the natural habitat of wildlife is destroyed.
Some of America's most important ecosystems, such
as the Chesapeake Bay and the Everglades, are now
threatened by urban sprawl. Urban development is the
biggest threat to endangered plants as well.
the Riverdeep article
"Ups and Downs for Grizzly Bears" to learn
more about how urban sprawl affects this species.
Endangered Species Act signed into law in
1973 provides for the protection of certain fish,
wildlife, and plants that "have been rendered
extinct as a consequence of...development."
sprawl be managed? The news isn't all bad. Sprawl
can be managed. Cooperation among state and local
governments, planning commissions, developers, environmentalists,
and concerned citizens can bring about changes in
land use and development.
The environmental organization, Sierra Club, named
sprawl as one of its "hot issues." Its report,
"Solving Sprawl," defines four ways for managing
urban sprawl and includes a state-by-state rating
in each category.
of Orange, California
According to Joan Wolff, principal planner
for the city of Orange, California, "there
is a lot of talk about 'smart growth."
(Orange is located about 30 miles southeast
of Los Angeles and has a population of
Wolff described the smart growth concept
as "higher density residential development,
higher rise office buildings, transit
centers located close to residential and
employment areas." She explained that
"the higher density is complemented by
larger, consolidated open space areas
as opposed to...bits of open space on
individual single-family residential properties."
city's municipal code provides for
the establishment of the Planned Unit
Development (PUD) as an "alternative to
standard residential development."
Space Protection: While open space seems
to be disappearing rapidly, there were over 240
anti-sprawl initiatives on ballots around the
country in 1998. Most were approved. Some states
have land trusts, while others are actually purchasing
parks. There are 19 states that have state growth-management
laws to protect farmland.
Use Planning: Communities can grow in an
efficient manner by using existing infrastructure,
or by building away from natural wildlife resources.
Planned and managed growth may actually make a
city a nicer place to live.
Planning: Cities must recognize the connection
between sprawl and highways. Good transportation
planning relies less on new highway constructionwhich
encourages sprawland more on mass transit
solutions, such as light rail and commuter trains.
Revitalization: Successful revitalization
involves keeping financial resources in a vibrant
city center and investing in downtowns and inner
December 1999 President Clinton signed a $385
billion bill (H.R. 3194) providing
substantial funding for the Lands Legacy Initiative.
America is a nonprofit organization whose "mission
is to preserve natural beauty and distinctive
community character." Its "Last
Chance Landscapes" report details 10 scenic
landscapes threatened by urban sprawl.
a study by the National Association of Local Government
Environmental Professionals, some business executives
promoting anti-sprawl measures by building
plants closer to downtown centers or investing
in older urban areas.
managed growth has worked in Portland, Oregon,
and other cities. (This report was produced by
a Raleigh, North Carolina, television station
investigating solutions to growth problems in
the Triangle area of east-central North Carolina.)