Proponents of urban sprawl argue that living in suburban areas outside of major cities is a matter of personal choice and freedom. Additionally, they may present the various benefits of urban sprawl, such as the short-term economic and employment boost caused by new construction. However, urban sprawl is a growing concern in all of America. When choosing your next residence, consider the negative effects of urban sprawl, and their impact on you, your community and the environment.
Think of the city as a living organism. A slow moving blob that is constantly expanding outwards; consuming more land and more resources. As the city spreads, it spawns suburbs, subdivisions and auto-dependent residents. This is urban sprawl, and Christoph Gielen has captured it beautifully in this series of incredible aerial photographs of housing subdivisions across the United States.
Yet, on closer inspection, the differences are not as wide as first appears. In the United States, although far from ubiquitous, many policies have been implemented to reverse, or at least slow down, the dispersion. These include urban growth boundaries, mixed-use and infill projects, smart growth, transit-oriented developments, growth management programs, farmland preservation techniques, concurrency agreements, central city revival strategies, and purchased/transferable development rights. Their success has been mixed, and has varied significantly by location.
Clearly, though, the amount of rural land lost to sprawl is the key issue from an environmentalist and agricultural perspective. The amount of rural land loss and urban expansion also is significant to the quality of life of urban dwellers. The larger an urban area, the more difficult it will be for the average resident to reach the open spaces beyond the urban perimeter; the increase in urban distances can also affect commuting time, mobility and a resident's feeling of being "trapped."
When residents relocate outside of a city’s core, they take their tax dollars with them. Often, it’s the city’s poorest residents that are left behind. This creates economic disparity and stratification based upon location. It also creates funding problems for the core, which directly affects the money available for education, crime prevention, and maintenance and upkeep. Urban sprawl can also lead to economic “white flight.” According to “Urban Sprawl: A Reference Guide,” urban sprawl leads to racial segregation as minorities are often left behind in the poorest parts of a region. This problem may not be as widespread as it has been in the past, but it's present nonetheless.
Alongisde racial and economic disparity, this article also cites increased air pollution, water overconsumption, loss of wildlife habitat, and increased risk of obesity as the negative effects of urban sprawl. This goes to show that cities, while they do not look environmentally-friendly, are actually a greener place to live because they have such centralized water and transportation systems.
The Great Lakes region is losing its rich farmland and other greenfields to urban sprawl at an alarming rate, and the environment and the residents are paying the price. Many cities of the Great Lakes region, such as Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, are seeing their businesses and residents move to the suburbs, forever destroying open spaces and leaving behind cities of abandoned buildings with fewer tax payers.
Between 1982 and 1997 America converted approximately 25 million acres (39,000 square miles) of rural land — forests, rangeland, pastures, cropland, and wetlands — to developed land: that is, sub-divisions, freeways, factories, strip malls, airports, and the like.
For decades, cities have been expanding upward and outward. Technological innovations like structural steel and elevators made high-rise buildings possible, fueling a proliferation of skylines and concentrated settlements across urban communities. Air-conditioning opened up the South to development (Contosta 1998). More dramatic has been the outward expansion of cities and metropolitan areas. The sheer numbers of people accounted for part of this growth, but the number of square miles of land that has been developed has proceeded at a far greater pace than the increase in population.
After World War II, people started moving from the cities into the countryside. The GI Bill, road building projects, and increased car manufacturing all contributed greatly to this shift, and living in "suburbia" signified a better quality of life. Land was cheap and there was plenty of it, and government incentives and subsidies helped families realize their dream. Today, subsidies from the federal and state governments, such as for highway construction and commercial development, continue to promote sprawl and its effects.
Urban sprawl is called inefficient because it generates low density development that is "sprawled" over the landscape. A primary justification for interfering in the land market is a presumption that the public good is served by reducing urban sprawl through policies aimed at preventing discontinuous development. This paper argues that, contrary to conventional wisdom, a freely functioning urban land market with discontinuous patterns of development inherently promotes higher density development.
Sprawl is the spreading out of a city and its suburbs over more and more rural land at the periphery of an urban area. This involves the conversion of open space (rural land) into built-up, developed land over time.