The Effects of Urban Sprawl on America's Largest Cities Essay

Looking back in the past century in the history of the United States, the nation has experienced a tremendous amount of urban growth with the creation of numerous large mecca cities, interconnected highways and a boom with the ever-changing technology that becomes more available to society. While technology has simplified and helped our nation tremendously, this is just one aspect of the issue of urban sprawl in big cities across America. In recent years, the rapid expansion of metropolitan areas has been termed “urban sprawl,” which refers to a complex pattern of land use, transportation, and social and economic development.

The broad phenomenon of sprawl is a variety of issues related to land use, transportation, urban and regional design, and planning. As a result, critics often argue that sprawl has certain disadvantages including: the loss of farmlands and wildlife habitats, high car and technology dependence, air pollution and health hazards, increased and higher per-person infrastructure costs. This essay examines the effects urban sprawl has had on many large and rapid growing cities in California, Wisconsin and Georgia and some of the measures state and city governments are taking in order to help reduce the current effects of urban sprawl.

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One of the most affected environments would be America’s farmlands. Farmlands are being destroyed due to the creation of new highways, fringe industrial parks, and new sprawled housing developments. Since farmlands are being reduced, the ability to produce food, fiber, and timber has experienced a decline. In addition, the higher tax rates and costs associated with urban sprawl have forced farmers to close down business and sell their farms to companies seeking to develop new housing areas.

The loss of farmlands and farmers selling out to contracting companies is a problem that has severely affected the state of Wisconsin. In 1950, Wisconsin had roughly about 23. 6 million acres of farmland and as of 2002 only had about 16 million acres. Along with this reduction in farmland area, the number of farms in Wisconsin decreased from 178,000 to 77,000 from 1910 to 2002. Society is using up farms at an alarming rate across the U. S. , to create new highways, fringe industrial parks and sprawled housing developments. This oss reduces our ability to grow food, fiber and timber. In many areas, urban development pressure and increased property taxes are forcing farmers out of business. Farmers often sell their farms for housing developments, to provide financial security for their retirement. This decrease in farmland is not only seen in Wisconsin but also the rest of the country. Between 1992 and 1997, the nation converted more than 13. 7 million acres of farmland to urbanized areas. The loss of wildlife habitat has also been impacted by the changes of urban sprawl.

Wild forests, meadows, and wetlands are also disappearing that are replaced by pavement, buildings and sterile urban landscaping. After the reconstruction, the remaining habitat is smaller, degraded and more fragmented, making survival of certain wildlife species very difficult as they try to reach breeding ponds, hibernation sites, feeding locations, or to establish viable nesting areas. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, important habitat types are disappearing. Grasslands, for example, have been depleting as an effect of urban sprawl.

Wisconsin has only 0. 5 percent, approximately 13,000 acres, of its original grassland ecosystem remaining in a relatively intact condition, but much of this remnant acreage has been degraded to some degree. In addition, more than 50 percent of Wisconsin’s original wetlands have been lost. Along the lower Bay of Green Bay, more than 90 percent of the wetlands have been entirely depleted. The move to the suburbs reflects a lifestyle preference that became a popular trend that was shared by many Americans.

Such a major shift in the nation’s demographics and in the form of the environment might also be expected to have health implications, both positive and negative. Some of the effects relate directly to heavy reliance on automobiles: air pollution, automobile crashes, and pedestrian injuries and fatalities. Urban sprawl has contributed greatly to air and water pollution as well as increased water and energy consumption. Since urban sprawl places people outside of walking distance to shopping areas and work areas, they are forced to rely heavily on cars for everyday transportation.

This over reliance on vehicles has contributed significantly to air pollution and greenhouse gases becoming more abundant within the planet’s atmosphere. Pollution from vehicles is often the number one cause of pollution in many urbanized cities, such as Los Angeles. Another thing to take into consideration are the recent heat waves that have been experienced in the past few summers across the nation. People fail to realize that urban sprawl and pollution, which is a by-product of urban sprawl, have contributed significantly to the higher temperatures large cities have experience over the last few years.

Urban sprawl increases the amount of concrete and asphalt, thus holding in the heat and making it even warmer than it would have been had sprawl not occurred. Another part of this would be that pollution leads to higher levels of humidity in the air and in turn exaggerates the effects of greenhouse gases. Motor vehicles are a leading source of air pollution. Even though automobile and truck engines have become far cleaner in recent decades, the sheer quantity of vehicle miles drove results in large releases of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and hydrocarbons, in the presence of sunlight, from ozone.

Nationwide “mobile sources,” mostly cars and trucks, account for approximately 30 percent of hydrocarbon emissions. However, in automobile-dependent metropolitan areas, the proportion may be substantially higher. For example, in the 10-county metropolitan Atlanta area, on-road cards and trucks account for 58 percent of emissions of nitrogen oxides and 47 percent of hydrocarbon emissions. These figures underestimate the full impact of vehicle traffic because they exclude emissions from related sources, such fuel storage facilities and filling stations.

With the aforementioned statistics, the city of Atlanta and local government have started to take actions in order to help slow down these pressing issues from urban sprawl. Although Atlanta’s metropolitan sprawling growth over the last 30 years has taken precedence over Greenspace preservation, Georgia’s state and local governments are now actively pursuing Greenspace preservation. In 2000, the Georgia legislature passed Senate Bill 399, which established the Georgia Greenspace Program.

The statute assigns responsibility for program administration to the Department of Natural Resources and creates a five-member Georgia Greenspace Commission, which reviews and approves Community Greenspace Programs submitted by eligible counties. The statute defines “greenspace” as permanently protected land and water, including agricultural and forestry land, that is in its undeveloped, natural state or that has been developed only to the extent consistent with, or is restored to be consistent with, one or more listed goals for natural resource protection or informal recreation.

This program makes annual grants available to qualifying counties for the acquisition of land that will be permanently protected and preserved as Greenspace. To participate in the program, counties must prepare Greenspace plans for their jurisdictions that describe in detail how they will permanently protect at least 20 percent of their jurisdictional area as Greenspace. Local governments in Atlanta also have additional incentive to preserve Greenspace. The Arthur M.

Blank Family Foundation will award approximately $30 million over the next few years to qualifying local governments, nonprofits, and neighborhood groups for the preservation of Greenspace inside Metro Atlanta’s perimeter highway. The city of Atlanta has a Greenway Acquisition Project that requires the city to spend $25 million over an eight-year period toward the purchase of Greenspace along selected portions of streams that have been designated as vital for water quality protection.

DeKalb County, one of Atlanta’s largest and most populous counties, recently passed a $25 million Greenspace bond that will allocate funds for Greenspace preservation over the next 20 years. California adopted a new piece of legislation Sept. 30, 2008 that discourages urban sprawl in hopes of helping the state curb its greenhouse gas emissions. Senate Bill 375 directs the state’s Air Resources Board to develop regional greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for cars and trucks for 2020 and 2035, which are the single largest source of greenhouse gases in California.

Because of its rapidly growing size, California must address urban sprawl in order to achieve its greenhouse gas reductions targets. California’s population is approximately 38 million and is projected to grow to 46 million by 2030, a very large increase in a matter of 20 years. The new measure was drawn up to help the state meet greenhouse gas reductions goals it established last year. In 2007, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a measure calling for the state to reduce carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, a 25 percent reduction.

Mandatory carbon emission caps for large generators will begin in 2012 in the state of California. Another effect urban sprawl has placed on individuals in general would be the fact that taxes are becoming increasingly higher. Urban sprawl can cause increased traffic making work commutes longer and which causes vehicles to use more gas, which in turn creates more pollution. Air quality often tends to diminish, more pollution is caused by an increase in automobile use and air allergens can allow air to become toxic for people.

For example, in the Washington, the state periodically experiences times where the air quality is poor and people who are on oxygen or have other health related problems are advised to not be outside. This is a problem directly caused by urban sprawl. Urban sprawl is problem that is arising in various large cities across the United States. While there are positive effects from sprawl, there are several serious and alarming issues that cannot be overlooked that directly involve the safety of our nation’s citizens as well as protecting the environment.

This essay examined large cities including Atlanta and Los Angeles as well as what state such as Wisconsin and Washington have implanted into policy in order to help reduce the growing problem. After reviewing the information gathered from various cities and states across the country, I feel that urban sprawl is an issue that needs to be considered by politicians and policy makers. It is apparent that although urban sprawl can produce positive and helpful changes to large, growing cities, there also are numerous drawbacks to urban sprawl.

Government officials need to weigh out the pros and cons of the projected ideas that are offered by the change from urban sprawl and verify that the changes will be beneficial for the cities as a whole. Urban sprawl will always be an issue that will arise as technology and the world begins to advance. I believe that urban sprawl can be a very good thing to help improve big cities. However, I feel that policy makers and politicians take a look at the decisions they implement and make sure the changes will benefit the city, citizens and the environment. Resources: CWAC. Land Use and Urban Sprawl.

Retrieved 28 Apr 2010 from http://www. cwac. net/landuse/index. html . Fackelmann, Kathleen. “Studies tie urban sprawl to health risks, road danger. ” USA Today. USA Today, 28 Aug. 2003. Web. 29 Apr. 2010. Frumkin, Howard. “Urban Sprawl and Public Health. ” Public Health Reports. Center for Disease Control. May-June 2002. Web. 02 May 2010. Geiselman, Bruce. “Calif. Passes law to halt sprawl, cut GHG. ” Waste News. 13 Oct. 2008. Web. 01 May 2010. Giarrusso, Tony. “Combating Urban Sprawl in Georgia. ” Georgia Institute of Technology. ESRI, Dec. 003. Web. 29 Apr. 2010. Jones, Kristina. “The Problems with Urban Sprawl. ” Associated Content. Associated Content. 03 Jan. 2007. Web. 01 May 2010. Katz, Michael B. “What is an American City? ” Dissent. Vol. 56, Iss. 3; pg. 19-27. Web. 01 May 2010. Petix, M. (2006). Urban Sprawl, Pollution Cited in Temperature Rise. Retrieved 7 Aug 2006 from http://www. sgvtribune. com/portlet/ article/html/fragments/print_article. jsp? article=4113891. Tox Town. (n. d. ). Urban Sprawl. Retrieved 7 Aug 2006 from http://toxtown. nlm. nih. gov/text_version/location. php? name=urban+sprawl


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