Suburban Sprawl

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Census data. Kneebone's study showed the following nationwide breakdown for the largest metropolitan areas in This compares to the year — The study shows CBD employment share shrinking, and job growth focused in the suburban and exurban outer metropolitan rings. Sprawl is often characterized as consisting of low- density development.

Buildings usually have fewer stories and are spaced farther apart, separated by lawns , landscaping , roads or parking lots. Specific measurements of what constitutes low-density is culturally relative; for example, in the United States 2—4 houses per acre might be considered low-density while in the UK 8—12 would still be considered low-density. The impact of low density development in many communities is that developed or "urbanized" land is increasing at a faster rate than the population is growing. Overall density is often lowered by " leapfrog development". This term refers to the relationship, or lack thereof, between subdivisions.

Such developments are typically separated by large green belts , i. This is a 20th and 21st century phenomenon generated by the current custom of requiring a developer to provide subdivision infrastructure as a condition of development. In the past, when a local government built all the streets in a given location, the town could expand without interruption and with a coherent circulation system, because it had condemnation power. Private developers generally do not have such power although they can sometimes find local governments willing to help , and often choose to develop on the tracts that happen to be for sale at the time they want to build, rather than pay extra or wait for a more appropriate location.

Land for sprawl is often taken from fertile agricultural lands , which are often located immediately surrounding cities; the extent of modern sprawl has consumed a large amount of the most productive agricultural land, [23] as well as forest, desert and other wilderness areas. Thus urban sprawl is subsidized by the tax code. Housing subdivisions are large tracts of land consisting entirely of newly built residences.

Subdivisions often incorporate curved roads and cul-de-sacs. These subdivisions may offer only a few places to enter and exit the development, causing traffic to use high volume collector streets. All trips, no matter how short, must enter the collector road in a suburban system. Because the advent of sprawl meant more land for lower costs, home owners had more land at their disposal, and the development of the residential lawn after the Second World War became commonplace in suburbs, notably, but not exclusively in North America.

In areas of sprawl, commercial use is generally segregated from other uses. In the U. Similar developments in the UK are called Retail Parks. Strip malls consisting mostly of big box stores or category killers are sometimes called "power centers" U. These developments tend to be low-density; the buildings are single-story and there is ample space for parking and access for delivery vehicles.

This character is reflected in the spacious landscaping of the parking lots and walkways and clear signage of the retail establishments. Some strip malls are undergoing a transformation into Lifestyle centers ; entailing investments in common areas and facilities plazas, cafes and shifting tenancy from daily goods to recreational shopping. Another prominent form of retail development in areas characterized by sprawl is the shopping mall.

Unlike the strip mall, this is usually composed of a single building surrounded by a parking lot that contains multiple shops, usually "anchored" by one or more department stores Gruen and Smith The function and size is also distinct from the strip mall. The focus is almost exclusively on recreational shopping rather than daily goods.

Shopping malls also tend to serve a wider regional public and require higher-order infrastructure such as highway access and can have floorspaces in excess of a million square feet ca. Shopping malls are often detrimental to downtown shopping centres of nearby cities since the shopping malls act as a surrogate for the city centre Crawford Some downtowns have responded to this challenge by building shopping centres of their own Frieden and Sagelyn Fast food chains are often built early in areas with low property values where the population is expected to boom and where large traffic is predicted, and set a precedent for future development.

Eric Schlosser , in his book Fast Food Nation , argues that fast food chains accelerate suburban sprawl and help set its tone with their expansive parking lots, flashy signs, and plastic architecture One of the major environmental problems associated with sprawl is land loss , habitat loss and subsequent reduction in biodiversity.

A review by Czech and colleagues [30] finds that urbanization endangers more species and is more geographically ubiquitous in the mainland United States than any other human activity. Regions with high birth rates and immigration are therefore faced with environmental problems due to unplanned urban growth and emerging megacities such as Kolkata. At the same time, the urban cores of these and nearly all other major cities in the United States , Western Europe , and Japan that did not annex new territory experienced the related phenomena of falling household size and, particularly in the U.

Due to the larger area consumed by sprawling suburbs compared to urban neighborhoods, more farmland and wildlife habitats are displaced per resident. As forest cover is cleared and covered with impervious surfaces concrete and asphalt in the suburbs, rainfall is less effectively absorbed into the groundwater aquifers. Sprawl increases water pollution as rain water picks up gasoline , motor oil , heavy metals , and other pollutants in runoff from parking lots and roads. Sprawl leads to increased driving, and increased driving leads to vehicle emissions that contribute to air pollution and its attendant negative impacts on human health.

In addition, the reduced physical activity implied by increased automobile use has negative health consequences. Sprawl significantly predicts chronic medical conditions and health-related quality of life, but not mental health disorders. In the years following World War II, when vehicle ownership was becoming widespread, public health officials recommended the health benefits of suburbs due to soot and industrial fumes in the city center. However, air in modern suburbs is not necessarily cleaner than air in urban neighborhoods.

On average, suburban residents generate more per capita pollution and carbon emissions than their urban counterparts because of their increased driving. A heavy reliance on automobiles increases traffic throughout the city as well as automobile crashes, pedestrian injuries, and air pollution. Research covered in the Journal of Economic Issues and State and Local Government Review shows a link between sprawl and emergency medical services response and fire department response delays.

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Living in larger, more spread out spaces generally makes public services more expensive. Since car usage becomes endemic and public transport often becomes significantly more expensive, city planners are forced to build highway and parking infrastructure , which in turn decreases taxable land and revenue, and decreases the desirability of the area adjacent to such structures.

Residents of low-density areas spend a higher proportion of their income on transportation than residents of high density areas. Urban sprawl may be partly responsible for the decline in social capital in the United States. Compact neighborhoods can foster casual social interactions among neighbors, while sprawl creates barriers.

Sprawl tends to replace public spaces with private spaces such as fenced-in backyards. Critics of sprawl maintain that sprawl erodes quality of life. Duany and Plater-Zyberk believe that in traditional neighborhoods the nearness of the workplace to retail and restaurant space that provides cafes and convenience stores with daytime customers is an essential component to the successful balance of urban life.

Furthermore, they state that the closeness of the workplace to homes also gives people the option of walking or riding a bicycle to work or school and that without this kind of interaction between the different components of life the urban pattern quickly falls apart. Urban sprawl has class and racial implications in many parts of the world; the relative homogeneity of many sprawl developments may reinforce class and racial divides through residential segregation. Numerous studies link increased population density with increased aggression.

It is argued that human beings, while social animals, need significant amounts of social space or they become agitated and aggressive. According to Nancy Chin, a large number of effects of sprawl have been discussed in the academic literature in some detail; however, the most contentious issues can be reduced "to an older set of arguments, between those advocating a planning approach and those advocating the efficiency of the market.

Arguments opposing urban sprawl include concrete effects such as health and environmental issues as well as abstract consequences including neighborhood vitality. American public policy analyst Randal O'Toole of the Cato Institute , a libertarian think tank , has argued that sprawl, thanks to the automobile, gave rise to affordable suburban neighborhoods for middle class and lower class individuals, including non-whites. He notes that efforts to combat sprawl often result in subsidizing development in wealthier and whiter neighborhoods while condemning and demolishing poorer minority neighborhoods.

The American Institute of Architects and the American Planning Association recommend against sprawl and instead endorses smart , mixed-use development , including buildings in close proximity to one another that cut down on automobile use, save energy, and promote walkable, healthy, well-designed neighborhoods. One of the primary debates around suburban sprawl is the extent to which sprawl is the result of consumer preference.

Some, such as Peter Gordon, a professor of planning and economics at the University of Southern California's School of Urban Planning and Development, argue that most households have shown a clear preference for low-density living and that this is a fact that should not be ignored by planners.


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It is a giant step backward to interfere with this effective process unless the benefits of intervention substantially exceed its cost. Jackson [62] have argued that since low-density housing is often notably in the U. Whether urban sprawl does increase problems of automobile dependency and whether conversely, policies of smart growth can reduce them have been fiercely contested issues over several decades. Within cities, studies from across many countries mainly in the developed world have shown that denser urban areas with greater mixture of land use and better public transport tend to have lower car use than less dense suburban and ex-urban residential areas.

This usually holds true even after controlling for socio-economic factors such as differences in household composition and income. One confounding factor, which has been the subject of many studies, is residential self-selection: [66] people who prefer to drive tend to move towards low density suburbs, whereas people who prefer to walk, cycle or use transit tend to move towards higher density urban areas, better served by public transport. Some studies have found that, when self-selection is controlled for, the built environment has no significant effect on travel behaviour.

Those not opposed to low density development argue that traffic intensities tend to be less, traffic speeds faster and, as a result, ambient air pollution is lower.

Suburban sprawl - definition of Suburban sprawl by The Free Dictionary

See demographia's report. Kansas City, Missouri is often cited as an example of ideal low-density development, with congestion below the mean and home prices below comparable Midwestern cities. Wendell Cox and Randal O'Toole are leading figures supporting lower density development. Longitudinal time-lapse studies of commute times in major metropolitan areas in the United States have shown that commute times decreased for the period to even though the geographic size of the city increased. Reviewing the evidence on urban intensification, smart growth and their effects on travel behaviour Melia et al.

Planning policies that increase population densities in urban areas do tend to reduce car use, but the effect is a weak one, so doubling the population density of a particular area will not halve the frequency or distance of car use. There is also some concern that anti-sprawl policies will increase housing prices.

Some research suggests Oregon has had the largest housing affordability loss in the nation, [74] but other research shows that Portland's price increases are comparable to other Western cities. In Australia, it is claimed by some that housing affordability has hit "crisis levels" due to "urban consolidation" policies implemented by state governments. Many critics concede that sprawl produces some negative externalities; however there is some dispute about the most effective way to reduce these negative effects.

Starting in the early 20th century, environmentalist opposition to urban sprawl began to coalesce, with roots in the garden city movement , as well as pressure from campaign groups such as the Campaign to Protect Rural England CPRE. Under Herbert Morrison 's leadership of the London County Council , the first formal proposal was made by the Greater London Regional Planning Committee "to provide a reserve supply of public open spaces and of recreational areas and to establish a green belt or girdle of open space". New provisions for compensation in the Town and Country Planning Act allowed local authorities around the country to incorporate green belt proposals in their first development plans.

The first urban growth boundary in the U. The term 'smart growth' has been particularly used in North America. The terms 'compact city' or 'urban intensification' are often used to describe similar concepts in Europe and particularly the UK where it has influenced government policy and planning practice in recent years. The state of Oregon enacted a law in limiting the area urban areas could occupy, through urban growth boundaries.

As a result, Portland , the state's largest urban area, has become a leader in smart growth policies that seek to make urban areas more compact they are called urban consolidation policies. While the growth boundary has not been tight enough to vastly increase density, the consensus is that the growth boundaries have protected great amounts of wild areas and farmland around the metro area.

Agoraphobic Nation: Sprawl and Culture

Many parts of the San Francisco Bay Area have also adopted urban growth boundaries; 25 of its cities and 5 of its counties have urban growth boundaries. Many of these were adopted with the support and advocacy of Greenbelt Alliance , a non-profit land conservation and urban planning organization. In other areas, the design principles of District Regionalism and New Urbanism have been employed to combat urban sprawl.

The concept of Circular flow land use management has been developed in Europe to reduce land take by urban sprawl through promoting inner-city and brownfield development. While cities such as Los Angeles are well known for sprawling suburbs, policies and public opinion are changing. Transit-oriented development, in which higher-density mixed-use areas are permitted or encouraged near transit stops is encouraging more compact development in certain areas-particularly those with light and heavy rail transit systems. Bicycles are the preferred means of travel in many countries. Businesses in areas of some towns where bicycle use is high are thriving.

Bicycles and transit are contributing in two important ways toward the success of businesses: [84]. Walkability is a measure of how friendly an area is to walking. Walkability has many health, environmental, and economic benefits. Some experts say it is only a matter of time before they work their way back out. In her page book, Ms. Gallagher marshals demographic, economic and anecdotal evidence.

Couples are marrying later and having smaller families — by , she says, the majority of suburban households are expected to have no children. Millennials, economically strapped and witness to the housing crisis, say they prefer to live in urban environments. Boomers are reconsidering their large houses and landscaped yards.

The price of sprawl has become increasingly undeniable. Cities have discovered that low-density developments fail to pay for their own infrastructure. Preferences do have a slow effect, Ms. Gallagher said. And since Americans are no longer willing to pay Main Street prices when the big discounter can provide the same item at a much lower cost, the spreading out of smaller cities is driven by retail trends as well as values of freedom, privacy, and newness.

The suburban sprawl solution is tough, because it involves several things people don't want to do, including:. Some sophisticated but complex solutions have been devised. For example, we like transfer of development rights programs where all conditions for success can be met. In short, it would be great if most people could afford to choose to live closer together in a more compact urban form to prevent physical growth from getting out of hand. Addressing the effects of sprawl and a dispersed development pattern requires high-quality community networking among central cities, suburbs, and exurban areas.

Suburbs share some common interests, and working on suburban sprawl tends to bring those to the forefront. If you are in a suburb that is the newest and best right now, but your metropolitan area continues to sprawl, soon enough it will be your housing that will be considered obsolete, your storefronts that will be vacant, and your sales taxes that no longer deliver the services.

If you are in the central city, consider devoting about a quarter of the time and effort of your neighborhood association to the issue of promoting compact development. The cost of suburban sprawl is simply too high. Perhaps the most politically acceptable way to stop suburban sprawl is by promoting open space around the current edge of the built city. An actively sought and managed open space can be a positive rallying cry, and an engaging cause tends to be more riveting than constantly opposing what many people have been conditioned to see as progress.

After decades of suburban sprawl, San Diego eyes big shift to dense development

So just be pro-green space, rather than anti-development, which your opponents can too easily translate into anti-prosperity and anti-growth and anti-progress. They think it has to do with bad architecture or something. But the effects of urban sprawl include a negative impact on regional economics and the suburban landscape. Now did you think we would be talking about metropolitan politics on a website about community development?

When we get our communities organized, we would like to think that everything in a neighborhood can be resolved without interacting much with the outside world.

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Neighborhood action requires so much effort that we're too exhausted to think about the dynamics of the entire city or metro region. But many problems have to be addressed to your local government, or to your county government if you are not in an incorporated village, town, or city. And if folks live in a small town, they may not have thought about that "development all moved to the highway" phenomenon as suburban sprawl. But it's the same principle.


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  • Regional effectiveness impacts your urban form, or the physical shape of your metropolitan area, in two important ways:. Regional competitiveness economically creates a robust or gloomy employment outlook, depending on how globalization, technology, and consumption trends have affected your region. Regions that are having trouble drawing in new residents tend to engage in economic sniping within the region so each suburb or neighborhood can continue to grow.

    This behavior is the very essence of sprawl in a stagnant economy, whereas the same amount of growth and attitude toward it could be functional in a region that is producing net new jobs. Obviously to improve the compactness of the development pattern, a region needs a formal and informal set of laws, rules, relationships, and customs that does a good job of solving problems, such as bad urban form, that go beyond political boundaries. The way a region goes about resolving issues that span boundaries is called regional governance , which shouldn't be confused at all with regional government.

    Metropolitan Statistical Areas are set up by the U.

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