Search Advanced
Category: Environment     Views: 21,662
Suburbia, Image - David Shankbone Suburbia, Image - David Shankbone
Los Angeles Urban Sprawl, Photo - ATIS547 (Flickr)Overdevelopment, Image - Alliedmilk

To Link to This Page CLICK HERE!


What is this?

Growing consumerism

Since World War II, residents in affluent nations have slowly developed into creatures who consume larger and larger quantities of resources and space. This is seen most clearly in the size of houses and plots of land used up by those living in western countries throughout the world. You know the problem—ever-widening city borders slowly eat up greater swaths of land as new communities, strip malls, big-box stores, and industrial spaces are developed on once-wild lands.

Increased auto ownership

But the desire for McMansion-sized homes isn’t the only driving factor behind overdevelopment. Over the past 50 or so years, vehicles and fuel have become steadily more affordable, allowing greater numbers of people to own cars. This has allowed vast numbers of urban residents the option to either live out of town, or in cheaper neighborhoods  (depending on the person’s income level). The added flexibility of cars has made urban sprawl and even bigger problem.

Urban sprawl a global problem

While many have believed this to be a problem associated primarily with the USA, it is becoming clear that other wealthy locales, including many European cities, suffer from urban sprawl. Barcelona, a city touted as a model of compact planning, has seen huge growth in suburbs and gone though an inner-city population decline. In fact, Barcelona has a population density that is half of that in New York City.

What impact does it have?

Loss of farms and wilderness

As cities spread outward, so go the farms. In the US between 1982 and 1992, 400,000 acres of prime farmland was lost to urban and suburban development every year. That means areas where the soil is rich and plentiful are being paved over to make way for single-family homes.

Urbanization brings with it a loss of untouched natural ecosystems which are home to wildlife and vast numbers of plant and insect species, all of which are important for maintaining the earth’s biodiversity. Pollution from cities—not least of that associated with big vehicles traversing endless miles of highways to get from their remotely-located homes to work, school, or recreational activities—increases air pollution and contributes to the greenhouse effect. And the hard-surfaced, concrete natural of urban buildings and infrastructure keep valuable water from nourishing soil and plants (most of which have been cleared anyway).

Human social costs of urbanization

But the problems of urbanization are not relegated to the environmental realm. As more and more of the wild spaces on the planet are lost, humans become more detached from our natural heritage. The irony is that humans place a very high value on being in nature. Long weekends and family vacations often see humans fleeing cities to get to the wilderness where they can experience peace and tranquility. And it’s no wonder, since being in the natural world has a healing, calming effect on humans. It is necessary for our long-term emotional and mental vitality.

What has been done about it?

Smarter cities through reclamation, recycling, and urban density

New “smart growth” city planning techniques are being used to develop urban spaces. Designed to encourage people to live and work in reclaimed neighborhoods  (rather than having long commutes), which are a mix of housing, parks, jobs, and restaurants. This method of urban planning is accomplished by encouraging vibrant main streets and town centers where people invest their time and money. The environment benefits by reductions in water and energy consumption, mitigation of sewage disposal problems, and reduction in costly, impervious infrastructure.

Is this action working?

The slow slowing of overdevelopment

Some cities have taken the challenge of slowing urban sprawl seriously and have implemented smart growth techniques. For instance, the Menomonee Valley in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (USA) has recently cleaned up a 1,200 acre brownfield site in the heart of the city, turning it into a now productive business park. This prevented them from looking for new land for the businesses that will be housed in this rejuvenated space.

Why is this?

Challenges of building smart cities

Slowing urban sprawl is an extremely challenging problem, requiring education of the public and advocacy in all levels of government. It is cheaper and faster to build low-lying buildings, and as long as westerners covet their own piece of land, growing populations will push our societies further outward.

A huge challenge for reversing rapid development is the infrastructure. Cities and even towns are often planned around concrete streets, sidewalks, and buildings, making the urban environment rather dense, difficult to dismantle, and permanent, and creating an enormous challenge for those wishing to turn once citified-space back into farmland or natural ecosystems.

Should it continue? On one side, there are those who are against

Environmental consequences of continued sprawl

Certainly it is not in the earth’s best interest for us to continue to overdevelop open spaces into urban communities. The repercussions for wildlife, water quality, food supplies, and climate change are just too great. Yet with world population set to increase rapidly over the next several decades, it is going to be an increasingly contentious issue. Balancing the needs of generations to come and the desires of those purchasing property now will be a difficult mountain to climb.

Should it continue? On the other side, there are those who are all for it

Conspiracies to stop overdevelopment in question

There are those who believe that concerns over biodiversity and farmland loss are overblown. Some see recent “discoveries” of endangered species on land set to be developed as conspiracies to stop the growth of new communities. Their financial interests in turning pristine land into new suburban or urban developments clouds their judgement of what is best long-term for society.

Submitted by MaryruthBelseyPriebe on Sep 10, 2008