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Urban Sprawl: Issues and Alternatives


{Nature_and_Environment.12.1}: Kai Hagen {kai} Thu, 04 Mar 2004 21:31:23 CST (HTML)

There are a lot of opinions about the causes of urban sprawl, as well as the degree to which it is necessary or avoidable...or should be.

While there is a growing number of working/living models of alternatives, it's also true that they remain the exception to a remarkably common and widespread development model. Even major regional, topographical, and climate differences seem to have little impact on the modern cookie cutter patterns of development - communities in all regions that are virtually indistinguishable from each other in many ways.

What's happening where you live? How does it affect you and your community? Is it a source of local poltical conflict and controversy? Are you involved in it, one way or another?

What's not working? What does work?

What are your thoughts about it?


Those who are registered for the Cafe can read through an earlier iteration of this topic in the old Nature forum, now archived: {Nature.Old_Nature.208.1-}


{Nature_and_Environment.12.2}: {wren1111} Fri, 05 Mar 2004 00:37:37 CST (1 line)

Thanks Kai, more later


{Nature_and_Environment.12.3}: Kai Hagen {kai} Fri, 05 Mar 2004 06:26:19 CST (HTML)

I'm looking forward to the discussion.

Here are a few related links to start with:

Sprawl Watch

Smart Growth Online

Sustainable Communities Network

NRDC: Smart Growth & Urban Sprawl

National Geographic | New Suburb?: Sprawl vs. "Smart Growth"
Virtual smart growth suburb depicts new urbanist ideas for fighting sprawl: mixed-use zoning, pedestrian-friendly streets, transit, town centers... sprawl/index_flash.html

Urban Sprawl: the Big Picture
Earth-orbiting satellites are collecting valuable data that reveal the environmental impact of fast-growing cities


{Nature_and_Environment.12.4}: Richard Witty {gisland2} Fri, 05 Mar 2004 07:40:06 CST (3 lines)

In my home area, the best farmland east of the Mississippi (the only
good farmland in New England) is being covered with very large
suburban tract homes.


{Nature_and_Environment.12.5}: Kai Hagen {kai} Fri, 05 Mar 2004 08:15:58 CST (HTML)

Unfortunately, it's been true for a long time that urban/suburban.exurban sprawl is largely on the better (and best) agricultural soils.

It isn't surprising, really, given that metropolitan areas and such soils tend to be in lower and flatter areas, near rivers.

It's true where I live, too.

Land: Agriculture and Urban Sprawl

"According to the American Farmland Trust, the United States is losing as much topsoil to urban sprawl as it is saving through programs like the Conservation Reserve Program. According to the Trust, from 1982 to 1992 Texas lost approximately 489,000 acres of prime farmland to suburbs—more than any other state during that period. Two regions in the state were most affected: the Texas Blackland Prairie and the Lower Rio Grande Plain."


Sprawling over croplands.(urban sprawl eats up agriculture)

"Urban sprawl has been grabbing headlines because it lengthens commutes, creates heat islands, and alters local weather (SN: 3/27/99, p. 198). Less attention has focused on what the cities sprawl over. Satellite surveys now indicate that the best croplands are disproportionately giving way to cement and asphalt."


Assessing the Impact of Urban Sprawl on Soil Resources in the United States Using Nighttime "City Lights" Satellite Images and Digital Soils Maps

"The conversion of natural systems to agricultural production has been the primary basis for the successful growth of human populations for the last 9,000 years (Kates et al. 1990). The conflict between urban and agricultural land use, however, is only now becoming a subject of controversy. The transformation of productive agricultural land to urban use under burgeoning populations has become a contentious element in debates over sustainable development and food security (Ehrlich 1989; Daily and Ehrlich 1992; Ehrlich and Ehrlich 1992). As more land is converted to urban uses, the question arises as to whether this trend represents a systematic reduction in our ability to produce food by placing our infrastructure on the most productive soil resources. A disturbing consequence of this urbanization process is a growing dependence on ever greater yields per unit area (on soils that remain) or a reliance on more distant soil resources and agricultural production."


California Planning Roundtable: Sprawl and Agriculture

"Suburban growth in the San Joaquin Valley has had a significant effect on farmland acreage. From 1987 to 1992, according to the most recent Census of Agriculture, close to 459,000 acres were lost. Over the 10-year period of 1982 to 1992, the decline of more than 870,000 acres represented 8% of the Valley's agricultural acreage and 27% of all farmland lost in the State.

Interestingly, these changes may not fully describe the effect on agriculture because they do not take into account the quality of soils lost or gained. Prime agricultural lands in the "flatlands" (which are located near existing urban services) are preferred by those engaged in both agriculture and residential construction. Hence, one of the consequences of development on the urban fringe (the dominant pattern) has been the loss of prime farmland and the addition of lower quality soils to the agricultural inventory."


{Nature_and_Environment.12.6}: {jonathan68} Fri, 05 Mar 2004 08:50:09 CST (20 lines)
{name removed by kai Tue, 14 Sep 2004 10:28:10 CDT}

Here in the UK there's a school of thought that says new housing
can actually be a blessing for wildlife.

Intensively cultivated farmland, which is what covers most of
lowland Britain, is becoming increasingly hostile to wildlife, a
hostility that's likely only to be intensified by the use of GM crops.
Domestic gardens - so the argument goes - are becoming
crucial refuges for increasingly scarce butterflies, bees, reptiles,
wildflowers, birds and so on. Remarkably long species lists
have been drawn up for some gardens.

Saying wildlife-friendly gardens can be better than power-farmed
fields is not to deny other effects of sprawl.

These are likely to include the impact of new roads; increased
flood risk; increased demand for water, which is at its most
scarce in Britain just where building pressures are greatest; the
destruction of traditional town centres; and the loss of
architectural diversity with one new housing development
becoming indistinguishable from another 100 miles away.


{Nature_and_Environment.12.7}: Kai Hagen {kai} Fri, 05 Mar 2004 09:37:29 CST (HTML)

All real issues/problems.

> Here in the UK there's a school of thought that says new housing
> can actually be a blessing for wildlife.

I can see how that woould or could be so in much of the country, given that gentile England has long since lost the megafauna that would be most dependent on larger tracts of more wild land.

In agricultural zones, I know one of the big issues on England has been the removal of long established and often vital hedgerows, as more modern farming techniques and machinery ratchet up the consolidation of smaller fields.


{Nature_and_Environment.12.8}: Suzanne Griffith {sggriffith} Fri, 05 Mar 2004 11:23:21 CST (3 lines)

Yes, a nice little cottage garden is very good for small animals,
but 20 miles from me we still have bears and beavers. They need more


{Nature_and_Environment.12.9}: Jan Rickey {jrickey} Sat, 06 Mar 2004 11:04:13 CST (4 lines)

Kai, several months ago, maybe even a couple of years ago now, I seem
to remember reading an article in the Utne Reader about a guy in
California who had an organization supporting the idea of No New
Roads. Do you remember that? If so, was there a website?


{Nature_and_Environment.12.10}: Kai Hagen {kai} Sat, 06 Mar 2004 12:21:02 CST (HTML)

No clue.

the only organized campaigns I know of that would fit that description are connected to the efforts to prevent new roads in wilderness study areas and National Forests and whatnot.


{Nature_and_Environment.12.11}: Marcus {coyote13} Sun, 07 Mar 2004 20:19:51 CST (28 lines)

I wrote a little piece on the 'Ecology of the Urban Fringe'.

The Uk has 'Green Belt' which surrounds all major urban areas, and
small towns and villages for that matter where development is
severely restricted.

The ecology of the urban fringe is v interesting and typical of the
margins between any two habitats. (they used to be called ecotones)

vis they give rise to species and activities not normally found
anywhere within the city limits or in the wider countryside (the two
habitats in question). In the uk this varies from scrap-yards, heavy
transport depots golf courses, riding schools, garden centres and
more recently shopping malls.

To develop policy there should be an understanding of the higher
ecological guides which are there to see. Find the right places for
things and define limits for what seems an unending greed for land
versus 'defenseless' nature. [globally]

The answer lies with the old masters, Ian Mc Harg and Patrick Geddes,
not to mention old man Muir! Great Scots!

Surround your cities with glorious beautiful parkland, too valuable
and amenity to build houses or factories on.

And we had the new town movement(s) but I guess that's what's been
happening in the usa for a few years now.


{Nature_and_Environment.12.12}: {coyote13} Sun, 07 Mar 2004 20:21:43 CST (0 lines)
{erased by coyote13 Sun, 07 Mar 2004 20:21:56 CST}


{Nature_and_Environment.12.13}: Suzanne Griffith {sggriffith} Sun, 07 Mar 2004 21:00:41 CST (2 lines)

I was in an airplane over London a few years ago, and I couldn't
believe the amount of green space. Well done!


{Nature_and_Environment.12.14}: Marcus {coyote13} Sun, 07 Mar 2004 21:11:16 CST (12 lines)

When I was in LA I was amazed at the lack of green space. So
There is a serious loss of school playing fields, but the focus is on
*brownfield* sites. Old industrial land as the focus for development,
esp housing and *new* industries, call centres and retail parks.

There is a very powerful environmental lobby, and tradition in the
uk, but when it comes to aeroplanes the rules are thrown away.

We have a new airport in Sheffield with about one flight a month.

Oh, and more roads. Crazy!


{Nature_and_Environment.12.15}: Suzanne Griffith {sggriffith} Sun, 07 Mar 2004 21:27:52 CST (1 line)

You wouldn't naturally have green space in LA. It would be brown ;-)


{Nature_and_Environment.12.16}: Marcus {coyote13} Sun, 07 Mar 2004 21:48:33 CST (3 lines)

like the air!



{Nature_and_Environment.12.17}: Suzanne Griffith {sggriffith} Sun, 07 Mar 2004 21:50:05 CST (1 line)

No, the air is red! ;-)


{Nature_and_Environment.12.18}: Kai Hagen {kai} Sun, 07 Mar 2004 22:38:25 CST (HTML)

> It would be brown ;-)

True enough. Most of the time, anyway...being a desert and all. There is a short stretch that's relatively green! :-)

You know, the Los Angeles area is an interesting one. First of all, the greater area is an unbelievable stretch of modern, urban and suburban landscapes, with very little old bits and pieces (especially compared to the eastern US...or even moreseo, by European standards).

It's rate of growth is part of what is so amazing. A hundred years ago, there wasn't much there, literally.

Los Angeles, California Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Area (CMSA) which includes the Orange County Primary Metropolitan Statistical Area (PMSA), Riverside- San Bernardina PMSA, and the Ventura PMSA, has somewhere between 17,000,000 and 18,000,000 people.

That's bigger than the London metropolitan area, which is around 14,000,000. But not much, really. Same ballpark. Both near the top of the list. But it would be hard to find two huge and modern metropolitan areas in any more stark contrast.

You can almost pick any category - age/history, climate, density, interior open space, mass transit (or lack thereof), ethnicity and race, and so on - and find dramatic differences, if not practical opposites.

And, it's true that LA probably has less park space than most big cities in the country (if not all of them).

And yet, for all the lost opportunities to preserve more open space in the developed area, including stream valleys, coastal wetlands, scenic hills and more, it's amazing how immense and how wild are the open and rugged landscapes adjacent to it all.

Visible from LA when the air is clear enough...and easily accessible...are hundreds of thousands of acres - a few million, really - of remarkable public and private wildlands. Nine and ten thousand foot mountains certainly helped draw the line, as it were.

I'm glad there were some significant natural barriers to growth in the least in some directions!

> No, the air is red! ;-)

You really can be brown.

I've flown into LA on the most stunningly crystal clear days, with huge views of the mountains and ocean on the way down, only to desend in the inversion-capped brown haze over the basin. See for miles one instant. Barely make out the approaching ground the next.


{Nature_and_Environment.12.19}: Kai Hagen {kai} Sun, 07 Mar 2004 22:42:16 CST (HTML)

Check out this amazing image:


{Nature_and_Environment.12.20}: Marcus {coyote13} Sun, 07 Mar 2004 23:03:48 CST (3 lines)

I remember it brown

SF was cleaner, or may be I was lucky that weekend.


{Nature_and_Environment.12.21}: Kai Hagen {kai} Sun, 07 Mar 2004 23:16:42 CST (HTML)

It can get pretty bad in the SF Bay Area now and then. But it's generally not as bad a Los Angeles.

For one thing, the mountains around the SF area are a lot smaller, not more than about 4,000 feet, and mostly less.

Where the air quality has really been degrading in California is the Central Valley, one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world:

From " display.html?ID=96"

"Threatened with lawsuits from Earthjustice and clean-air advocates, in October 2001, the EPA redesignated the San Joaquin Valley a "severe" ozone region, a change in status from "serious" that reflects the smog problem as well as the lack of progress in solving it. The reclassification means that the 25,000-square-mile valley becomes one of the 11 most polluted regions in the nation. Concentrations of ozone and airborne particulate matter from Stockton to Bakersfield rival pollution found in Los Angeles and Houston."


{Nature_and_Environment.12.22}: Suzanne Griffith {sggriffith} Mon, 08 Mar 2004 10:42:43 CST (2 lines)

I was half joking about the red, but the smog was kind of a reddish-
brown color on the bad days when I lived in Southern California.


{Nature_and_Environment.12.23}: Kai Hagen {kai} Mon, 08 Mar 2004 10:43:44 CST (HTML)

...and it certainly contributes mightily to red sunsets!


{Nature_and_Environment.12.24}: Suzanne Griffith {sggriffith} Mon, 08 Mar 2004 10:57:55 CST (6 lines)

My worst LA smog story: My parents moved there while I was in
college, and I drove from Oregon to Long Beach in June, spent the
summer there, and returned to Oregon in September.

It wasn't until the following Christmas that I saw the San Gabriel


{Nature_and_Environment.12.25}: Kai Hagen {kai} Mon, 08 Mar 2004 11:08:45 CST (HTML)

I supervised an office in LA when we lived in the SF area, and had to fly down regularly. I didn't see the mountains until my third trip. And then, when I did, it was particularly stunning, because they really are big mountains and they really are close.


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