April 11, 2005

It’s the Sprawl, Y’all

That's the intriguing headline on a Sojourners magazine piece with the subheading: Why suburbs-on-steroids are wearing out their welcome.

While the article focuses first on the new Hunters Brooke subdivision in Charles County, where some disgruntled nearby residents expressed their disgust by burning down some houses being built, the piece also takes a look at the anger being sparked by "design that pays little or no attention to its surroundings. While it chews up meadows, deserts, and soybean fields, sprawl either drives out the animals (people included) already living there or drastically alters their lives."

And this is no longer an issue solely for liberal environmentalists. "Nearly two years ago columnist Mark Paul of the Sacramento Bee described how polls in some Republican-leaning California cities placed better management of growth and development as one of the top concerns of citizens, 'right up there with police protection and keeping taxes affordable,' " the article notes. "There’s scant evidence that what’s awful for a wetland is somehow good for anyone or anything else, unless you limit your measure of 'good' and 'bad' to the financial profit or loss for a few."

Sprawl causes more than traffic snarls and erasure of open space. "Other effects, less obvious, are detrimental to the economic health of local businesses and communities: increased taxes in outlying areas to pay for new services and infrastructure; tax hikes on city residents to compensate for a declining tax base; dying downtown businesses as suburban malls and big-box stores draw customers away; and the concentration of poverty in urban centers and close-in older suburbs." Studies also show that residents of non-walkable communities tend to have higher rates of obesity, high blood pressure and other health problems.

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