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Thread: Is Urban Sprawl Really A Problem?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian statler's avatar
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    Is Urban Sprawl Really A Problem?

    I just came across this. (Those of you who read Fark.com probably saw it too.) Although the article has a very heavy conservitive bias, there are a few good points in here. (I think, being one of the few non-planning professionals in here I'm not sure) I'm really just curious to hear what you all have to say about it as it seems to contradict most of what I've read on this site.


    Urban Sprawl

  2. #2
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    I read a bit of it, but lost interest about halfway through... I'll give my feeback anyway.

    The article says that only 5% of the land in the US is developed, and therefore, there is no crisis.

    I have a feeling, that if you just look at the east coast, the percentage of developed land in those states would be very high...

    I know that when I drove from San Diego to Las Angeles (west coast) a couple of years ago, we saw development along either side of the freeway all along that route...

    Here in Texas, there is plenty of open land.

    In Alaska, there is plenty of open land.

    In the midwest, there is plenty of open land.

    However, I would prefer that there be some open land within an hour's drive of everyone in the country...in almost any direction.

    I think that the crisis of sprawl is not one of "all of the land is being consumed!", but rather "all of the land in the county is being consumed!" That is the level where we need to look at things.

    My other issue, and this one is very important to me, is the loss of good farmland. Most communities in the US are located where they are because of quality of the land for agriculture. Yet it is this "first choice" arable land that is the first to be paved over and subdivided for housing. To me, that is foolish.

    I would like to see a statewide and national policy for the preservation of existing farmland, ranchland, and timberland, and for the conversion of suitable wilderness areas to agricultural uses when the need for additional farmland arises... The amount of land needed should be determined by "build out" projections for land that isn't designated for agricultural or "open space" uses.

    I don't want our nation to be short on farmland and become dependent on others for food (though if we ceased to be the breadbasket of the world, I think the whole world would be in trouble).

    If it's not under the plow, or going to be under the plow, then it doesn't matter that much to me whether we build on it or not.

  3. #3

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    In addition to the forementioned...

    The paper blames Smart Growth for burdening those with modest income - but what it didn't emphasize is that such a policy only burdens them only if they chose to live in/owning large houses. The benefits of large houses, however is never justified, other than the use of flowery rhetoric as "...single-family, detached, suburban-style housing on lots large enough to ensure some measure of privacy and easy access to green grass and nature's blessings.", while ignoring the infrastructural and transportation savings by implementation of densified housing, which in this paper, is equated to "neighborhood crowding". And needless to say, there was absolutely NO mentioning of the social cost of suburbanism as is.

    The paper also lays blame on density being a factor against racial integration, particularly, by pointing out a higher rate of house ownership by blacks in sprawled areas. However, it never pointed out 1. the mechanism by which those blacks move from high to lower density areas, 2. the nature of those high density areas (inner city neighbourhoods with low income/rents, perhaps?) and 3. the percentage of blacks in high-density new developments. There is also the problem of equating home ownership to progress, without any sort of rational debate on the merit of such, under the guise of "the American Dream"

    So what we basically have here, in the paper, is a rant drawing from limited statistics, and using them without an understanding of the underlying sociological conditions. It was being intellectually ignorant (and indeed, dishonest) about the benefits of high density developments (and its' subsequents savings), while promoting unproven, qualitative advantages of suburbanism, but ignoring destructive influences of which has been categorized and illustrated with a far larger number of studies (and indeed, experiments) over the years.

    My critique? Worthless.

    GB
    Last edited by GeekyBoy; 07 Aug 2002 at 2:46 PM.

  4. #4
          perryair's avatar
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    I couldn't pull up the article over here, but I do have something to say about generalized statements such as "only 5% of America is developed". There seem to be a lot of institutions and researchers who like to just throw out these simple one line measurements to tell us how good or bad something is.

    I know that down here in So. Fla, over 50% of the total landmass is proably the Everglades National Preserve. Then there are various wetlands, parks, undevelopable parcels and etc etc etc. The amount of undeveloped land as a percentage of feasibly developable land would be a much better gauge of sprawl. Of course, this would totally kill the shock value of making a blanket statement such as "only 5% of our land is developed".

    This also reminds me about an article I read on Planetizen where someone said that San Jose was a successful example of suburbia because it was more dense than New York. Only that New York actually meant New York State, not the City, which clearly he was trying to make the readers think of.

  5. #5
    I have always held the belief that people should be able to live wherever they choose. If someone's ideal home is on a 5-acre lot in the suburbs, who in the hell are we planners to tell them that they can't.

    That being said, I think that development in rural areas needs to be done the right way, hence the term "Smart Growth. If you drive around most of suburban America you will notice that a lot of it was poorly planned. I think the thing in this article that I disagree with most is the author's criticism of Impact Fees. He makes it seem like impact fees are imposed for the sole purpose of discouraging residential development by increasing the cost of a home, when their purpose (by law) is to pay for the additional cost of services and infrastructure that will result as a result of that home being built. Impact fees go towards sewer upgrades and extensions, libraries, police, fire, ems. They are not intended to stop development or increase the cost so it it out of the price range of the average homebuyer.
    "I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are."

    - Homer Simpson

  6. #6
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    ya but

    people should be allowed to live in the environment they want, however i believe mililons are being tricked into purchasing too much home, too much land, etc for their needs. I'm in a 2-bedroom 1000 sq ft home, i have a kid. some people cringe at the idea of having 1 bathroom.
    C'mon, it teaches you family togetherness and how to share and time manage.

    Plus i don't have to own a lawn tractor to mow my lawn, and I don't have any unused rooms in the house.

    sprawl is a problem to me, it is a situtation developed with the car in mind. Sprawl should be contained and farmland (some of the most productive in the world in Illinois) should be presereved to feed our increasing populations.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  7. #7

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    But, of course, JTFortin, you can't deny that impact fees do have that very effect (driving the costs of housing beyond the range of many Americans)

    I'm not sure that this is a bad thing. In California, impact fees are the only way to fund public (and private) infrastructure. The biggest problem is that those who have use the political and environmental review process to keep out those who have not. We are neither building affordable single family housing nor affordable multifamily projects.

    Questions about the efficiency of the fees, whether they are too high, etc. etc. still have to be resolved in the political arena. The purist would argue that everything should be privatized, but I remain unconvinced that this is ever possible.

  8. #8

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    choice vs. societal good

    "I have always held the belief that people should be able to live wherever they choose. If someone's ideal home is on a 5-acre lot in the suburbs, who in the hell are we planners to tell them that they can't."

    They can, of course - but there has to be a price to be exacted for such a choice. One has to ask the question - is it realistic for everyone to have their "ideal" home - when the various costs to the society is accounted for? Probably not.

    GB

  9. #9
    Originally posted by BKM
    But, of course, JTFortin, you can't deny that impact fees do have that very effect (driving the costs of housing beyond the range of many Americans)
    But why should other people have their taxes raised so more people can move in and a developer can make money? It only makes sense to charge the people who are creating the additional strain on public services. Also, impact fees are not charged to people moving into "used" houses, just new construction.
    "I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are."

    - Homer Simpson

  10. #10
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    argue

    i would argue that community zoning codes, the way they are assemebled are also the reason the developer is putting this additional strain on resources. If narrow-lot or more dense developments were encouraged, the developer would surely follow it.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  11. #11
    maudit anglais
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    Re: argue

    Originally posted by boiker
    If narrow-lot or more dense developments were encouraged, the developer would surely follow it.
    Hmmm...I'm not so sure - a lot of municipalities have adopted plans, etc. to limit sprawl, encourage mixed-use development, etc. - but the developers will oftentimes say that they can't or won't build that way because "that's not what the market wants"

  12. #12
    It seems like there is a fine line that developers walk. They like larger lots because that it what the market supports however, they also like smaller lot zoning ordinances because they can cram more lots into a development, thus making more money.
    "I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are."

    - Homer Simpson

  13. #13

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    Having smart growth plans by itself might not be enough - especially in cases where the region consists of a series of municipalities, each with their own plans. The developer can always sprawl in 'rogue' communities, thus putting pressure onto anti-sprawl ones to conform (or otherwise lose valuable development charges and tax-base)

    GB

  14. #14

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    Sure jFortin. I agree, why should newcomers get a free ride (although some argue that the earlier residents who bought pre-Impact fees got a free ride, but hey, life is unfair). I was just commenting that the fees do raise prices-and in California pretty significantly.

  15. #15
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    Re: Re: argue

    Originally posted by Tranplanner


    . - but the developers will oftentimes say that they can't or won't build that way because "that's not what the market wants"
    I think that the vast majority of developers, like most businessmen, are very conservative in terms of their product. They will say "that's not what the market wants" only because they haven't seen it succeed before.

    Nobody knows whether the market wants a given product or not until that product is offered to the public.

    Back in High School, I had this idea that you should be able to get a can of cold water out of a soda machine that you could carry with you to class or wherever, but I figured that, since water is "free" from a tap, nobody would ever pay for it.

    A few years later, bottled water was for sale in vending machines everywhere. If I'd had a bit of money and taken a leap of faith, I'd be rich! Instead, I laugh at people buying bottled water and secretly wish that I'd been able to tap that market.

    While the developer may feel that the market won't support a given product, I think it would be prudent for our profession to encourage experimentation in housing types wherever possible.

    Then again...its not my money on the line. Encourage experimentation through incentives, rather than forcing experiments through compulsion.

  16. #16
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    Often developers are merely building what local governments have asked for.Sprawl is not an accident ,it is encoded in municipal law.The laws say that developers have a minimum not max lot size:bigger is better.Laws restrict high density housing forms:density bad.Zoning retricts mixed use developments:separate all uses.There are minimum road widths:wider better.Minimum on site parking requirements:Provide for car/ transit unimportant.keep traffic flowing by restricting intersections:Align streets for car travel.Restrict streets from crosing arterials:separate communities from eachother.Retail is zoned in large bands next to arterials:strip malls and shopping centers.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    As a Planning Commissioner (not a Planner), I remember reading a book by an attorney (that represented both Planning Commissions/Cities and zoning applicants) that explained that in his research he found that Hellenic cities became very deteriorated and over-crowded over the years. In order to protect the growth outside the inner core, planning was better thought out and enforced. This was the beginning of City Planning as we know it. Hellenistic cities became better than the original Hellenic cities.

    He went on to state that City Planning in America really got its birth in about 1920 when residents in the "suburbs" sought to protect themselves from the crowded growth patterns of the inner city that was moving toward them. The courts upheld their residential zoning provisions, and this was the beginning of City Planning in America as protected by the courts.

    Note that the origins of City Planning apparently was to protect "Suburbia" from the evils of "Urbana". It was to protect liveable residential areas, not to assure that "evil" inner cities could "sprawl" into bucolic residential areas!

    It still sounds like the right idea!

    Are we getting it backwards today?

  18. #18
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    It may be that although government says it wants smart growth,not strip mall sprawl ,it takes a lot of time to change laws and codes and conservative attitudes to alter the way places are being built.Some places like Oregon and the city of Portland ,instead of complaining about developers ,or the dept of transportation actually altered some of their laws to build what they and their residents say they want.The existing planning laws around the country are basically the same car friendly laws that existed before there was a smart growth movement.I would hope that if laws reflecting the smart growth movement ever came into place that we would not wait 50 years to adapt them to any negative effects that the laws may cause in their real life implementation.Cities and citizens attitudes are dynamic and the laws should better reflect the concerns of inhabitants.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian El Feo's avatar
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    My two cents - admittedly not thought through all the way...

    I believe that to a certain extent, sprawl is not a "problem" of code, tradition, etc., but is due in large part to technology and basic human desires. Frank Lloyd Wright's "Broadacre City" was essentially an effort toward "well-designed" sprawl, based on what he viewed as the decentralizing technologies of his day - the telephone, rural electrification, the automobile. In our time, add high speed internet connectivity and, despite the tech implosion, a continuing upward trend in wireless product use. I know it's still the exception, not the rule, but for over a year I telecommuted from rural Massachusetts to a job in Arlington, Virginia, for a job that required a pretty significant amount of travel. It wasn't necessary that I live in a city, so I didn't.

    Wright's point, and I think it's legit to a degree, was that cities arose, and people lived in them, only because they had to in order to access jobs and markets. Throughout history, folks have moved away from cities to the extent that technological developments have allowed. He felt that modern decentralizing technologies held the potential to (in his words) "unlock the door to the urban cage," which in a contemporay context may sound vaguely racist, but I don't take it in that spirit.

    We can debate about how to properly assign the costs of the various housing and development choices, but I think the reason we sprawl is a pretty simple one: by and large we want to.
    Last edited by El Feo; 14 Aug 2002 at 11:28 AM.
    "The fanatical Muslims despise America because it's all lapdancing and gay porn; the secular Europeans despise America because it's all born-again Christians hung up on abortion; the anti-Semites despise America because it's controlled by Jews. Too Jewish, too Christian, too Godless, America is also too isolationist, except when it's too imperialist." -- Mark Steyn

  20. #20

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    For maybe 90% of the population, I think El Feo is right. There is a minority-and it is only that-that likes "urban" densities and the excitement of city life. For many, it is a lifecycle issue. I think also that our current American development system, for a variety of reasons, does not produce enough urbanity for this minority/the young-leading to overheated markets in the relatively few "urban" environments with much urban and architectural quality (Boston, Manhattan, SF, etc.)

    The big questions still remain: we may WANT to live on three acres 75 miles from a job center, and we may WANT to drive the Ford Excursion to the weekly trips to "town." But, there are serious costs to these lifestyle choices-costs that are often not fully paid by those making the choices (and I doubt whether many of these costs can be ever internalized-I ain't no libertarian!). (Just like I cringe when I read about blue collar firefighters losing their lives to protect the homes of yet another foolish family in California who choose to live in a fire-prone wooded dream suburb in the hills).

    I don't have a "solution," and I don't see or want a way to eliminate this problem. Its easy to complain/pontificate (something I enjoy too much )

  21. #21
    Suburban Chicago. . .






















    GET REAL!!!!!!!

  22. #22
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    And the point of what you are showing in all those pictures is?

    It seems like those houses are too close together. Needs more "sprawl" space between houses don't you think?

    It seems like somebody needs to include more landscaping density in their ordinance.

    They need more trees. Seems too "urban" without some bucolic trees and open spaces.

    I notice that the golf course is all bunched up too. Think of how many other homes could be fronting on a golf course, if the golf course extended out into those subdivisions. Double loading lots on both sides of a golf course fairway (like double loading parking lanes in a parking lot) could double the value of the homes that otherwise cannot be on a fairway, and it would provide pastoral views and settings. Just think of walking out your back yard and starting on say hole four, and playing nine or 18 holes and wind up at your own back yard again! Ah the good live of suburban sprawl.

    Thanks for the photos for discussion.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian Runner's avatar
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    Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!

    Terrifying and mind numbing pictures...


    Is Urban Sprawl Really A Problem?
    YES.
    Cheers,
    UrbanRunner
    :)
    _____________________________
    WWJJD
    "What Would Jane Jacobs Do?"

  24. #24
    Cyburbian prudence's avatar
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    AASHTO

    It is ALL obviously their fault. Their guidelines screw us all. There is a policy or guideline for everything except common sense.
    "Dear Prudence...won't you open up your eyes? "

  25. #25

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    I myself am bothered by the lack of walls between each individual suburban living module. Where are the six-foot tall wood fences? How can midwesterners live like this, so OPEN, so EXPOSED to the peeping and prying gazes of their neighbors? Is life so public in the heartland-or is this mandated by law so that good God-fearing midwestern conservatives can keep an eye out for deviance?

    Plus, there is nothing to define each Patio Man's kingdom. How does he understand where his kingdom ends and the next realm begins?

    I also noted that some of the cul de sacs and traffic circles include little landscape islands in their centers. This, too is unacceptable. Three fire trucks may be unable to turn around simultaneously. And, they provide too much space for the black helicopters to land.

    Definitely flawed. Come out west, Slayer, and we'll show you how to build REAL suburbs.

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