Urban sprawl is the outward spread of development from urban centers into rural areas. It is typically unorganized and poorly planned, making it an unsustainable form of development. Urban sprawl wreaks havoc on the natural land, ecosystem and community. “Inefficient distribution of land and failure to reduce space between and around developments leads to fragmentation of the habitats that are left after the development,” according to Ball State University. Fortunately there are solutions to urban sprawl in smart growth, new urbanism and community involvement.
One of the biggest problems concerning urban sprawl is lack of education. If communities are educated about the negative impacts of urban sprawl they are more likely to take action to prevent irresponsible development. Communities need to understand the drawbacks, including increased traffic due to an increased number of commuters and lack of public transportation resulting in increased pollution. Community and family owned businesses are affected as they are replaced with large retail stores. Other problems include higher taxes and farmland being transformed into housing developments and shopping centers. Once the community is educated, it is more likely to act.
The community can be a solution to urban sprawl through involvement and action. The community can challenge local project lobby councilors to vote in favor of more sustainable development methods. Members of the community can also challenge the local government to partner with organizations that promote smart growth and new urbanism. If there is enough community involvement, government is much more likely to side with voters. Investors can purchase land that is in the pathway for sprawl, while local media can play a part in drawing attention to the downside and effects of urban sprawl. Business owners and locals who are affected by development can also make their position known by providing examples of how urban sprawl has affected them or will affect them in the future.
Smart growth is designed to combat urban sprawl by developing in a way that does not jeopardize the land or community. Planners and architects who promote smart growth seek to develop a stronger sense of place through a more compact way of development, also known as mixed-use. Mixed-use development combines residential areas with places of employment and commerce instead of isolating individual areas, allowing for more pedestrians and public transit as opposed to traffic and pollution. Communities can also consider implementing smart growth audits, which provide an assessment of the region and community to evaluate how well existing policies meet the principles of smart growth.
“When focus turns from the suburbs and toward the inner city, growth can happen without the pollution and landscape destruction that comes with sprawl,” according to Ball State University. This is the principle behind new urbanism. Revitalization of existing urban centers and towns helps to preserve the existing natural environment, thereby reducing urban sprawl. New urbanism seeks to turn existing communities and neighborhoods into diverse districts, cleaning up polluted and dilapidated areas.