Urban Sprawl. The blessing and the curse. Sprawl is the concept of people moving outside the city into lower density housing, in communities which are more spread out and depend heavily upon automobile transportation. Other characteristics are “The American Dream”, subdivisions of single family homes, single-use zoning, and long commutes to work.
If the scene doesn’t seem familiar yet, you are probably not from the area known as “the suburbs”. I grew up in the suburbs, and although I had thought of the implications briefly on a few occasions, I had never really dove head first into the impact the suburbs have on America, and the impact they may have on the world.
Without diving into too many of the technical aspects of developing sprawl, I want to touch upon the major concerns such living brings up, especially as the trend seems to be moving viral throughout the world.
Prior to diving into the negative effects, I need to bring up that these effects are not only affecting the United States, but they will soon be multiplying throughout the world. Our success, and ability to create this life of sprawl, has created a way of life which other countries are attempting to emulate. As these countries experience higher earnings and more economic resources, the trend is just like it was in the United States- to build outwards of the city, in ‘subdivisions’ complete with the picket fence and awkward neighbors. This trend will have devastating effects sooner than we think.
The first topic which is most obvious to most when thinking of sprawl is the environmental impact such a living arrangement has. Motor vehicles are the number 1 source of air pollution in the United States. The dependency on the automobile for every task throughout the day in sprawl areas increases the areas consumption of fuel tremendously. In the same accord, most jobs are still located in the majors cities, creating a long transit to work each day, for which the automobile is put to even more use. From personal experience, I would drive a mile to the store for a soda, and then a mile back to my house, and never even think twice about doing so. Add small tasks like these onto the daily job commute, and multiply by millions, and fuel consumption in such an area is truly mind boggling.
Public Health is another concern with the expansion of urban sprawl. The dependence on cars decreases the amount of walking a person does on a day-to-day basis in a suburban atmosphere. This has been shown by the American Heart Association to lead to higher levels of obesity and hypertension. The reason is not just a matter of motivation, it is the people in the widely dispersed areas of sprawl NEED to drive to get to anything, often distances which are not practical to accomplish through walking.
These areas also have a higher cost of infrastructure, since providing services such as water, electricity, and sewer are more expensive on a per household basis. Additionally, more parking and roadways are required in more dispersed areas, adding another layer to the increased cost of infrastructure.
I liked growing up in the suburbs. As ironic as it is to type, especially knowing the effects of sprawl, I still enjoy the suburban lifestyle.
That being said, I know that type of lifestyle, particularly if adopted by billions of people worldwide, is not a sustainable model. If all countries move towards our way of sprawl as they increase their wealth, then the world as we know it will cease to exist. Over dramatic as that may sound, it is true.
But we cannot tell other countries not to live like we are, as we continue to live as we do. It is a difficult balance, and we as Americans may need to set the precedence.
What do you think? Can we create a hybrid environment? What can we do to change this trend? Do you even care?