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Thread: High percent of unincorporated population: is it sprawl?

  1. #1

    High percent of unincorporated population: is it sprawl?

    If a state has counties where the percentage of total population that resides in unincorporated areas exceeds 50 percent in many/most cases, and in lots of cases is 70-80% (sometimes more) of the total population in the county, would you consider that to be sprawl, on its face?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
    Feb 1998
    Greensburg, Kansas
    One indicator, to be sure. One could argue that it has more to do with annexation statutes and policies. Could your argument be turned around, whereby a city can claim 'no growth' or 'sprawl containment' while just across the boundary the county population doubles? Does a community control sprawl if the surrounding counties are wide open?

  3. #3

    May 1997
    Williston, VT
    I agree with Mike that no general conclusion is possible based solely on the share of population in unincorporated areas. I'd be more interested in looking at the change in that statistic. If it increased noticeably between, say, 1970 and 2000, I would guess that some sprawlis happening there, although even that conclusion should be confirmed by other measures.

  4. #4
    Aug 2001
    I agree with Mike, yet I would say chances are that it would be considered Sprawl. Typically, it is the case, however just because there is growth in an unicorporated area does not mean it HAS to be Sprawl, but usually that is the case. I recently read an interesting figure, it is roughly 16% of all growth is due to increase population... That number hits home the need (for me) for urban revitalization, infill housing, redevelopment of CBD's, etc...

  5. #5
    I'd agree with Mike and Lee that it is one indicator. Another would be to chart the population growth along with the consumption of land as it goes from rural/agricultural to developed. Over time I'm sure it would show an increase in the rate of consumption
    In my life, I have met men both good, and evil. I defend my self against them all...

  6. #6
    Good input, thanks. I certainly wouldn't use the cited statistic as a sole measure of sprawl. And of course, there could be lots of variables geographically, like all of the unincorporated growth confined to a small urbanized area, though I know that is not generally the case. And sure, development could leapfrog right over the unincorporated area of a county and into another, thus not looking like sprawl in one county. I think the idea for looking at change over time is good too--I'm looking for easy measures right now, and the land consumption data are not available except by looking the numbers up in comp. plans. It helps to bounce that measure off on you and it seems it is reasonable to use, with qualifications.

    What I believe is safe to assume from these "unincorporated" numbers, at least in Georgia where I am working, is that the majority of growth in rural portions of the state(outside MSA's)is not occurring in cities, and because few rural counties provide urban services, that the vast amount growth is on septic tanks in a scattered pattern. And the implication is that, to continue this, will be more of a rural sprawl pattern than it would be to begin to direct a greater percentage of the future growth into incorporated areas or their fringes with the proper urban services. It does suggest infill and redevelopment, and other growth management strategies are needed.

  7. #7
    Here in Kentucky, I call that the "4 S development pattern. Single acre lot, single wide mobile home, septic and (s)cistern".

    It has a vast array of negative impacts, not the least of which is that it hurts the agricultural viability of farms surrounding, and erodes the lands ability to support itself financially. Which is an incentive to subdivide it, creating a vicious circle of sprawl.

    It takes political will to use straight zoning to curb this. Set the agricultural lot minimums to whatever it takes to be a real farm. Too many areas, if they have county wide zoning, set the lots at one acre, and 90% of their growth goes onto rural road frontage lots.
    In my life, I have met men both good, and evil. I defend my self against them all...

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