Is Urban Sprawl a Problem


Visitor Question: Do you consider this a problem? Why or why not?

What are you doing to help solve or prevent this problem?

Do you have any suggestions about what I personally could do to help with this problem?

Editors' Reply:

Yes, all four of us who write for this site think urban sprawl is a big problem. You'll discover that quite readily if you read the sprawl section of our website, especially the effects of urban sprawl page.

Urban sprawl is a problem because it costs so much more to build and maintain roads and utilities, and is very expensive for the automobile driver as well.

Unless the scale of the sprawl is such that we should call it exurban, such as the 10-acre "ranchettes" that are marketed in some places in the U.S., it is also quite harmful to the environment.

It disrupts natural habitat for wildlife, birds, and butterflies, even while it leads to air pollution because of the vehicle miles traveled and to water pollution because of the amount of paved surface in the form of roads.

Of course all of these are generalizations, and exceptions can occur. However, these characterizations hold quite true.

The social cost is a decrease in neighborly behavior, as families live further apart and children are unable to bike or walk safely to nearby homes and to their ballet and music lessons.

The sprawling urban form leads to more social isolation in general, as people are forced to drive everywhere, and driving just isn't conducive to stopping for a chat or to meet someone new.

As to what we personally are doing to discourage sprawl, two of us have been extremely active on the state level in attempting to push for some state control over sprawl or incentives for more compact development patterns. The other two of us have been activists in our metropolitan areas in coalitions that have argued for smart growth, which is simply a term that anti-sprawl groups decided was a more positive-sounding term than simply being against sprawl.

All of us live at urban densities too, in walkable neighborhoods near transit systems.

You too can help with the problem, if you decide it is one. If you aren't politically inclined, the best thing you can do is to find and rent or purchase a good home for yourself in the most densely populated part of your metropolitan or micropolitan area. Especially stay away from those subdivisions full of cul-de-sacs and big lawns, where it a couple of miles to the grocery store.

Another way to look at it is to try to live near transit routes or especially fixed transit lines (such as light rail, commuter rail, bus rapid transit, or streetcars), all of which require density to be viable economically.

If you like organizing people into groups, try to form a committee to explore the issue in your area. You'll find we even have a page on small town sprawl, because the issue in many small towns is causing unnecessary inefficiency too.

In the Community Organizations section of the site, you'll find many tips about how to form groups, and you can adapt those to your local situation.

For the politically interested, lobbying at the state level can be productive. Sprawl can be too difficult for local government officials to handle, because often the core city's officials begin to be at odds with the suburbs' officials. It's easy to see why the state could be an effective level at which to deal with sprawl.

If the government is unresponsive, private organizations have formed in many states to serve as an interest group with the state government and offer some political cover to elected officials who choose the courageous path of arguing against sprawl.

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