Urban Sprawl

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"Urban Sprawl"
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Many of the problems associated with urban sprawl can be mitigated during the planning stage, or by residents and authorities afterwards.  The main criticisms usually fall into one of the following areas, and they nearly always have solutions:

Aesthetic concerns 

The first criticism most people make of urban sprawl is the ugliness.  True enough, open countryside transformed into either the grim looking suburbs built during the communist era in Eastern Europe, or the soulless expanses of cheap identical houses and strip malls that sprung up throughout North America during the last century is unpleasant.  

However new developments need not, and usually aren’t, like this.  Clever planning can make them very attractive places full of greenery and attractive architecture.   Even existing suburbs can be transformed with things as simple as trees and paint.  Today, new developments are regularly planned with local history, architectural style, and ecology in mind.

Habitat destruction

This is one of the areas where the reality is often a lot better than the appearance.  Land is used up for new suburbs but it wasn’t always of great ecological importance to begin with.  Planners do consider the environmental implications, and particularly important areas may be preserved as nature reserves within the development.

Green spaces, trees, shrubs, and ponds providing new habitats and are a part of most plans.  In some cases a new suburb may actually improve the land it is built on, providing new habitats for wildlife.

Increased car use 

One of the major problems associated with urban sprawl is increased dependence on automobiles.  There are often no viable alternatives to driving and facilities are a long way from homes.  People have to commute ten or more miles to work every day, drive to do any shopping, children need to get to schools, students to colleges and everybody to the doctor or dentist at some point.

The result of this heavy car use is disastrous.  The emissions result in high local air pollution, which can exacerbate or trigger lung problems in children and adults.  Carbon dioxide emissions are causing acidification of the oceans, which may lead to mass extinctions.  Of course there is climate change to consider as well.

Mitigating the potential damage is mainly the responsibility of local authorities, both during the planning of a new development and afterwards.  Neighbourhoods need to be pedestrian friendly, there should be cycle lanes to make this a safe option, and reliable public transport should be provided.  Resident can also play a part by making use of alternatives, car pooling and avoiding any unnecessary trips.

Urban sprawl is not going to go away and where criticisms are warranted they should be considered during the planning process and later.  It is possible for a suburb to be easy on the environment, attractive and a healthy place to live.  We are getting there, although suburbs are by no means perfect yet.

More about this author: Judith Willson

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