What is Sprawl?
Once upon a time, sprawl was a fairly neutral term to describe car dependent, low-density economic growth beyond the bounds of older suburbs. Now it is used almost exclusively to describe the dark side of that growth: unbearable traffic, vanishing open space, increasing levels of air and water pollution, and higher taxes to perpetuate the cycle of new schools, sewers, and roads. And that's just what the residents of older suburbs are feeling. Sprawl is even less attractive to urban residents who are left behind and involuntarily subsidize the outward migration through their taxes.
The sprawl debate has opened social fault lines across the nation. Developers and environmentalists spar over sprawl in court. Suburban leaders guard their bounty of businesses and jobs while city leaders clamor for a share. Inner-ring suburbanites hunker down to preserve their American dream while outer-ring suburbanites demand their slice of the good life.
Sprawl: The Good News and the Bad News
The good news is that more Americans own their home than ever. The bad news, according to some, is that many of those homes are located in large new suburban developments, the result of sprawl. As people live farther and farther away from urban centers and older suburbs, environmentalists say more problems are created- previously undeveloped land is gobbled up by developers for housing tracts and shopping centers, and residents of these new suburbs must drive longer distances to both go to work and to complete their errands.
Sprawl is on politicians' minds. Sprawl in on the minds of the electorate as well. In a recent survey on resident’s biggest concerns about their communities, respondents said that that sprawl and traffic tied with crime as their primary concern.
Some communities are adopting "smart growth" policies, which regulate the development of open spaces to ensure land isn't completely consumed by housing tracts and strip malls and create land-use policies to preserve farmland. But critics of smart growth say it is unfair to restrict land use and that people have a right to build and develop land where they can afford to do it.
Some “smart growth” policies include:
• strengthen and direct development toward existing communities
• a range of housing choices
• walk-able neighborhoods
• attractive communities with a sense of place
• mixed land uses
• preservation of farmland and natural areas