On the East and West coasts, urban sprawl is everywhere. You may not have heard the term “sprawl” before, but you’ve almost certainly grasped the idea of it. The most popular (yet indirect) depiction of sprawl can be seen in AMC’s “Breaking Bad”. The urban sprawl in Arizona and New Mexico is incredible – nearly one million lots were prepared for use in Arizona at the time of the market crash – yet, those who couldn’t afford such expensive property simply halted development.
For example, the Laveen Farms community in Central Arizona contains lots that were in the early stages of development, yet were abandoned as the project got more expensive. Fire hydrants, utility stanchions, and even manholes sit in the sand of empty lots, strikingly out of place.
Sprawl outside of Rio Rancho, NM (the balloon really tells the story here)
This the most obvious, yet underreported story outside of major cities on the East and West coasts. Whether land is unused or pre-developed, unresolved economic shortcomings have truly exposed the rate at which sprawl is affecting states. Thankfully, more and more city planners have come up with the idea of Smart growth as a viable social and economic solution to unnecessary neglect of usable land.
For those who are unfamiliar with Smart growth, it is a method that originated in cities, with the purpose of reducing sprawl. An ambiguous term, sprawl is most commonly associated with decentralization of an urban center as the population moves outward.
Many people have the perception that suburbs are “cleaner” and more community-oriented than cities. This is a complete misperception. Unlike cities, most suburbs are not planned out with community in mind. Nothing is within walking distance. Houses are either built in isolated clusters, or with at least an acre of lot space. Workers commuting to their city centers flood state and interstate highways, creating traffic and the potential for injury (not to mention they pollute the air)!
“While densely-populated cities produce less greenhouse gas emissions per person, the suburban sprawl around these cities — and the increased driving, bigger homes, and higher emissions from goods and services that accompany suburban living — essentially cancels out that benefit, according to new research from the University of California at Berkeley.” (Think Progress)
Although it seems like a straightforward process, it isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” solution, according to Daniel Kammen, a professor of Public Policy at Berkeley’s Goldman School. For example, Portland, Oregon has reduced it’s CO2 emissions by approaching Smartgrowth through transportation policies; as a result, it has the lowest per-capita vehicle ownership of all large cities in the US.
My hometown, Wrentham, is a great example of a town that hasn’t experienced the full effects of sprawl, but is en-route to such an end result. (GPL as example) I remember the dangerous and lengthy process of riding my bike from the East side of town to the West as a teenager. The discontinuous sidewalks on a major roads had me checking over my shoulder for cars for the entire 30 minute cycle. MOST residents in Wrentham commute and get where they want by car. Aside from the daily joggers, our town-center is usually devoid of pedestrians – but there’s ALWAYS traffic impatiently edging forward at a four-way intersection.
In my next blog post, I’ll discuss an interview that I conducted with a town planner, and how Wrentham (and other towns around us) are approaching Smartgrowth and sprawl.
Some sources for my “general knowledge” statements (unquoted information)