Should the US work to stop or at least reduce urban sprawl in its major cities? Why or why not?

Cartwright- I’m not sure that is feasible. How are we going to stop urban sprawl? Tell people they can’t move to this city or that city? Tell the people in those cities that you can’t move to the suburbs? We can’t stop development and progress. That’s not productive or logical. Urban sprawl is going to happen, and there’s little we can or should do to stop it.

I think the bigger concern is ensuring that areas experiencing urban sprawl have adequate infrastructure in place to accommodate that growth. Most places are totally unprepared for growth, and their infrastructures are ten or twenty years behind the times. These places are playing from behind, and it’s often difficult to get ahead. Take Orlando, for example. I-4 was originally built in the 1960s. It was a great road for the time, but it has long been inadequate to handle the volume of traffic that has accompanied the tremendous growth in central Florida. The current I-4 project underway will catch the road up to today’s volume but will not be adequate for what is to come in the next decade. Why not go ahead and make the road adequate for the expected level of traffic in twenty years? That will be someone else’s problem in the next two or three decades.

If the Department of Transportation wants to justify its existence, it would partner with state departments of transportation and local municipalities to do the requisite studies and provide the appropriate twenty or thirty year plan for road infrastructure in markets throughout the nation in addition to a short term plan to address current and near term needs. Let’s make everyone fully aware of what needs to be done and start planning ahead for future needs while also addressing the most pressing current needs. Perhaps that involves additional public private partnerships to get the projects rolling and expedited permitting to get road projects up and going now. There is no reason it should take years to get a project approved and get the permitting in place so that work can get started. In markets where there is a clear need for infrastructure improvements, enhancements, or new development, Uncle Sam needs to make sure these projects get done as quickly as possible.

Let’s not forget the other consequences of urban sprawl on the wildlife and ecology in the area. If the expansion involves deforestation, we need to replace those trees lost, and I would suggest we replace them at a rate of three to one. For every one tree taken down, the developers need to plant three new trees. Alternatively, if we can find areas to develop that don’t require deforestation, all the better. Let’s be cognizant that our expansion is going to disrupt a lot of wildlife and the ecology in those areas and try to be sensitive to that if at all possible.

Sheffield, Jamaica Correspondent-There is a reason (or reasons) why people would want to move from city areas and settle in the ‘country’ or rural locations.

Most cities often become industrialized. When these cities develop without proper planning and structure, people are forced to move. This usually give rise to criminal activities, which create a bad aftertaste for some living in these areas. These ones might decide to move to get away from that.

To supplement, they might be inflicted by unemployment, even diseases. Urban areas do become congested too. Too many people sharing the same space breathes havoc and room for disaster.

Even though people refer to urban sprawl in a negative manner, it is beneficial. Instead of clamping down on this, the government should encourage it and provide the necessary infrastructure to help these people moving to rural areas live better.

With suburbanization, there are opportunities to develop lands and overcome issues such as overpopulation. Instead of restricting people to a single area or city, people are allowed breathing room.

For suburbanization to be effective, however, the state must be willing to address issues such as clean water, trash disposal, and air pollution. Once the proper structures are put in place, it could work and develop.

Gastonia, NC Correspondent-The greatest example of urban sprawl in the United States can be seen in Houston, especially on the west side of town. When I moved to Houston in 1987, I lived on the near southwest side, just outside the 610 Loop. At that time, a five-mile drive took you out into the country. Little towns like Sugar Land and Missouri City were still country towns, with a small percentage of their inhabitants commuting daily to the Big City. Now Sugar Land has its own minor-league baseball team, Missouri City has a half-million residents and the Southwest Freeway has been expanded three times. On the far west side, it’s even worse. However, I’m not sure there’s anything to be done about it. As long as land is available and affordable housing in or near inner cities is sparse, and as long as gas remains relatively cheap, people will continue to trade ever-longer commutes for more luxurious and affordable housing. In cities like Charlotte, where I live now, near-town blighted neighborhoods are being gentrified, drawing wage earners back from the fringes, but the restoration isn’t nearly keeping pace with the influx of new residents. There will continue to be pressure to build out, and the freeways will keep getting wider and more crowded. My hope is that public transit might keep pace, with rail lines built to the suburbs that will take pressure off the atmosphere and the freeways, and that people will actually use them. Houston’s about 25 years behind the curve on that, but Charlotte has thus far shown a will to build rail lines, although much is left to be done.

Owatonna, MN Correspondent-Urban sprawl is really about population migration, so answering this question requires speculating on future migration trends. Urban sprawl began when those who had achieved success in the center of a major city desired a second home “out in the country” to enjoy during weekends and vacations. Then it grew to the middle class, who wanted larger houses, less crowding and pollution, and better schools for their children. As the car became the dominant mode of transportation, and roads were improved, and more were built, it seemed that almost everyone tried to outdo each other by moving farther and farther away from their jobs in the big city.

Today, there is a growing trend of regentrification—affluent people, retirees, and young artists and entrepreneurs moving into the most impoverished areas of inner cities and revitalizing once reviled neighborhoods. This could be called “reverse urban sprawl,” whereby suburban dwellers move into the large cities. If this trend continues, no one will have to work to stop or reduce urban sprawl since the trend will be to re-concentrate people in the large cities anyway.

Countering this trend is the rapid growth of internet connectivity that allows telecommuting or working from anywhere no matter where one resides. There will always be people who desire a quiet, remote lifestyle while still working in or near a large city and taking advantage of the amenities unique to metropolitan areas. So there will always be at least some outward growth from city centers.

But many metropolitan areas suffer the adverse effects of urban sprawl such as hellish commutes, pollution from autos, and development of land better suited for wetlands or farming instead of housing. These cities should emphasize spending on affordable housing and commercial rents, building upward instead of outward, expanding public transportation options, and discouraging single-occupancy auto travel. These improvements can attract enough people to at least slow the type of urban sprawl that causes more problems than it solves.

The key is for government and civic leaders to remain flexible with regards to city planning since no one can predict what living situation is best or most desirable for all 325 million Americans.

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