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The Rocky Road to Sustainable Land Development: Combating Urban Sprawl, by Chris Thomas

Posted by: | April 17, 2014 Comments Off on The Rocky Road to Sustainable Land Development: Combating Urban Sprawl, by Chris Thomas |

Current figures estimate that sprawl is claiming farmland at a rate of 1.2 million acres a year.[4] This landscape conversion results in disastrous effects on the environment. Suburban areas surrounding urban centers are responsible for half of America’s carbon emissions, even though those areas house less than half of the population.[5] Larger homes and longer commutes to work contribute greatly to these emission rates. Other forms of pollution, such as increased light pollution from additional roads and homes as well as higher levels of pollution-laden runoff, wreak havoc on wildlife and the environment.[6] Moreover, the conversion of farmland into housing communities leaves farmers relying on gradually less farmland. The fact that farmers face growing pressure to sell—the value of farmland for uses other than agriculture has steadily risen for the past several decades—further compounds the dilemma faced by farmers.[7]

As the middleclass abandons city centers, the remaining residents become increasingly impoverished.[8] This poverty results from a downward spiral whereby economic opportunity dwindles and local governments struggle to fund basic services causing with fewer taxes, leading more people and businesses to abandon the area. Researchers agree that the myriad of social and environmental costs associated with urban sprawl is not sustainable. Society must establish serious land use planning to curb this pattern of uncontrolled development.[9]

Society needs to address urban sprawl before realizing meaningful sustainability becomes a serious possibility. Many localities, both domestically and abroad, have taken up this challenge, using an array of ‘carrots and sticks’ to encourage more thoughtful development. However, no one-size-fits-all solution exists; rather urban planners, politicians, and citizens must strive to find a solution that works for their individual locality. Some areas established growth boundaries, directly banning certain development beyond a set boundary.[10] Other areas implemented measures that restrict public funding to traditional urban centers, ensuring tax dollars do not fund sprawl. Numerous potential solutions exist, but they require a willingness to make tough decisions.

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[8] Jargowsky, Paul A. Sprawl, Concentration of Poverty, and Urban Inequality, in Urban Sprawl: Causes, Consequences, & Policy Responses 39 (Gregory D. Squires ed. 2002).

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