Urban Sprawl Essay, Research Paper
What do abandoned buildings, clogged highways, and new
mega-malls in farm fields have in common? According to a
growing list of national experts, all of these seemingly
unrelated phenomenon are the direct result of urban sprawl.
Webster s Dictionary says that to sprawl is to spread out
in an awkward or uneven way, especially so as to take up
more space than is necessary.
Although a clear meaning of sprawl remains
elusive, public debate over sprawl is driven
primarily by general concerns that low-density
residential development threatens farmland and
open space, increases public service costs,
encourages people and wealth to leave central
cities and degrades the environment.(NCPA)
One must understand that urban sprawl can not be completely
eliminated, but only contained in a manner that will help
the United States to function better as a country. Sprawl
is inevitable. We can t have a strong economy unless we
grow and allow new development (Beaumont 9).
Each morning, millions of Americans start their engines
and grind their way to work. They leave quiet settings for
the hustle and bustle of the nearby cities. When evening
approaches, these same people make their way back home.
Home, however, is no longer just across town. Many of these
people will commute miles and miles to their country homes.
Americans drive more than two trillion miles and consume
more than 150 billion gallons of motor fuel every
year (Beaumont 25). They are not alone in their commute
though, the entire rest of the subdivision is doing the
exact same thing, day in and day out. They endure the
traffic, lost time, and general inconvenience to be
surrounded by farmland and open space and a hundred or so
homes exactly identical to theirs.
Urban sprawl has always been a problem in a sense;
however not until the automobile was sprawl a serious issue.
With the arrival of the automobile, people could live
farther a way from work and not have to live in the city.
So the issue became a bigger issue with faster and better
cars. Many people were now able to live the American
Dream , rural life. A house of their own, out of town
enough to be quiet, but not too far from civilization. Then
something happened, the open space that they fell in love
with was slowly devoured by housing, shopping malls, and
believe it or not other people. Since 1970, 20 million
acres of farms and open spaces have been paved over and
The rolling fields that once marked freedom are now
browning and dotted with homes. This makes the original
homeowner unhappy. It is within our power to stop the
blight of ever more sprawl on the American landscape (Moe
35). They write editorials asking questions and demanding
answers. Both silently and aloud they fume: How dare the
farmer sell out his heritage, the land is more valuable as
farmland, right? How dare the developer exploit the land,
don t they care about our earth? How dare the politician
allow this activity, aren t we paying them to represent us?
And how dare the home buyer have the audacity to move there?
So sure are they in their quest for justice that they never
stop to consider one simple fact: they once were newcomers
too. And before them, the land was open space or farmland.
The developer exploited the land that they fell in love
with, the politician allowed the homes to be built, and they
were audacious enough to inhabit it.
So the circle begins. We as a country are facing an
epidemic of unknown proportions: age-old expansionist
attitudes. Urban sprawl has made a definite impact on
environment, agriculture, and economy. So, what exactly is
The terms urban sprawl, and suburbanization are
often used to describe the continuous outmigration
of the American economic and population base from
its central cities and major cities to the seas of
low density residential development highlighted by
edge cities or suburban megacenters, where
commercial, retail, office, and entertainment
development has occurred.(Bartlett 21)
This description describes the trend overtaking rural
America. The land that once fed the populace is being used
to house the masses. This phenomenon is being me with a
variety of opinions.
One of the strongest positions regarding urban sprawl
belongs to that of those concerned with the environment.
Growth has greatly affected the environment and quality of
life. Urban sprawl s environmental consequences often have
been overlooked by environmentalists amid concerns about
other problems. Yet conditions in metropolitan areas in the
United States may be the best indicator of the environmental
quality of our lives. Many U.S. residents believe that
those conditions are deteriorating in important respects,
including loss of green spaces, added runoff of pollutants
into water ways, increased traffic that causes congestion
and air pollution, and a less pleasing landscape.
Wildlife habitat is lost or fragmented to the
point that additional species are becoming
imperiled, as in southern California, where 90
percent of the coastal sage ecosystem has
As a result, there has been a surge of actions aimed at
Congestion and extra driving necessitated by sprawling
development contribute to air pollution. Vehicles are the
main source of air pollution, and vehicle exhaust remains a
serious problem. The biggest threat is from surface-level
ozone, the main ingredient of urban smog. Many U.S.
citizens are at high risk for adverse health effects such as
pneumonia and asthma attacks due to high levels of ozone.
Even healthy residents have been advised to jog in the early
morning on bad air days. Wildlife habitat has also been
eliminated or degraded.
Sprawl threatens our rural legacy, too. The American
Farmland Trust reports that we are losing 1 million acres of
farmland per year to sprawl. Since 1976, farmland
preservation laws have protected nearly 444,000 acres of
farmland. But we lose at least 16 acres of prime farmland
to urban development for every acre saved (Beaumont 15). If
acres upon acres of farmland is being devoured by
developers, how and where are we going to grow our food.
The AFT stated that agriculture is in too bad of a state
already, both economically and socially, to be biting the
hand that feeds us.
Another not so obvious point is that urban sprawl has
large economic effects on all Americans. More streets,
water lines, sewage services, schools, expanded police and
fire protections are all paid for by the American taxpayer.
So in other words, higher taxes. Another major issue being
created by this social problem is the breaking of the
traditional community structure. Our cities are not working
well. Issues such as these deserve our attention and
thought. However, there are more sides to this complex
story. Not everyone shares this same view.
For most Americans another example of the American
Dream , would be the perfect suburban life. Taking an
evening stroll through the neighborhood, children playing,
chatting with neighbors, it is safe to say that many
Americans aspire to these kinds of neighborhoods and living
conditions. However, policymakers and citizens need to look
beyond the architecture and into the soul of the suburb.
These people only enjoy how wonderful living in the suburbs
can be, but they fail to ever address any economic,
environmental, or agriculture issues. When presented,
proposals to reduce sprawl inevitably run into political
opposition. Customary opponents are development interests
and those who believe in the right to do whatever one
chooses with one s property. Developers have deep pockets
and can be politically influential.
Urban sprawl is an issue that affects every single
American, from the taxes we pay to where we live. As the
world population expands, the demand for housing increases.
Because of institutions such as the Federal Housing
Administration, Americans are finding it easier every day to
buy their own homes. We collectively have more money to
spend, and wish it on the living conditions we truly desire.
However, these aspects are offset by the fact that we
decrease our food supply and degrade our earth with every
foundation poured, nail pounded, and real estate deal
closed. We cannot know what our actions today will do to
our lives tomorrow. Unfortunately, only time will give us a